As if we haven’t heard enough about the so- called millennials (or generation Y), who grew up alongside the first phase of the web, there’s already a new generation making them look old-fashioned.
Generation Z – born in 1995 or later – arrived into an internet-ruled world, and grew up alongside the first phase of social media. As they now begin to enter the workforce, this represents a far greater challenge than what comes after Z in the naming of the next generation.
The millennials were known for their entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. The World Wide Web opened up a world of opportunities to anyone savvy and brave enough to embrace it, and we subsequently witnessed millennials lead a wave of internet companies that revolutionised industries.
The most significant result of this was the creation of juggernaut social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, whose rise coincided directly with the upbringings of Gen Z.
Meanwhile, the introduction of smartphones and tablets has made Gen Z the first digitally innate generation. Now, the first studies of Gen Z are coming through, and the results are striking, although probably not very surprising.
Much more than previous generations, a large proportion of Gen Z want to be entrepreneurs and start their own business, rather than being employees.
They feel pressured to gain professional experience at a young age, hop regularly between jobs and multitask across multiple screens.
In a world of likes and retweets, they crave gratitude and believe that their opinions should be heard. They are determined to make a difference and have an impact on the world, and turn their hobbies into full-time jobs.
But what does all this mean for IT, and how can CIOs ensure that they are creating an environment whereby their business gets the most out of these employees?
‘Gen Z expects their interactions with IT systems to work seamlessly and deliver top-quality user experiences,’ says Frank Palermo, senior VP, global technical solutions group at Virtusa. ‘Raised in the social media age, they’re competitive and like praise, immediate gratification and rewards.’
They are high in self-esteem, are eager to network, and have an intense interest in new communication technologies. They’re also very brand conscious and tend to group together and follow the latest trends.
‘Gen Z has grown up in a world where rapidly evolving smartphones, laptops, tablets and other high-tech gadgets have become the norm,’ says Michael Allen, VP of APM at Compuware.
‘This generation expects to be able to communicate quickly and easily through instant messaging, social networks and email, rather than the means of communications of the past.’
While in the early noughties employees might have been prepared to wait ten minutes for their PC to boot, this generation has a need for speed, and expect technology to work at the click of a button or the tap of a screen.
For example, Compuware research found that 80% of today’s consumers expect a mobile application to transact in three seconds or less, while another study found that they switch between devices and platforms 27 times per hour – a statistic that also bears consideration in the office.
Most signi?cant to IT, Gen Z is used to being able to access personal and business applications with easy-to-use interfaces.
However, it’s imperative that a balance is struck between usability and secure performance, in order to appeal to both the IT team and end-users.
‘A sleek user interface is nothing if the body of the solution doesn’t properly support employees in solving their day-to-day issues,’ says Paul Steiner, EMEA MD at Accellion. ‘This is a serious challenge facing developers, who must now aim to strike a balance in their work.
‘Gen Z might be pushing this issue of mobility even faster, but the key for enterprises is that all their employees are moving towards mobile work.’
Such a transition is happening faster in some organisations than others. But generally speaking, enterprise IT applications are currently not up to scratch in empowering Gen Z workers.
‘We need to provide applications, systems and platforms that allow these employees to engage in their work operations while replicating the format and devices that they use in their everyday life,’ says Zahid Jiwa, VP UK & Ireland at OutSystems.
‘The gap between work and home is getting smaller, the lines are becoming blurred, and the style and way that young people like to work needs to be compatible and conducive in order for them to feel empowered and engaged.’
Aid and empower
So for organisations that want to fully empower generation Z, what must CIOs do to prepare?
With their high expectations in mind, ensuring a high-quality experience of enterprise IT is essential.
As such, IT departments need to monitor every single application transaction, from the data centre right down to the user’s screen and back.
‘Integrating this monitoring with crash analytics can also help to quickly identify and triage the source of any glitches that could be causing users to experience poor IT performance,’ says Allen.
It is also important to consider the variety of devices that Gen Z are using, ranging from tablets and laptops to smartphones.
These devices no longer run on one set network, connecting through anything from ?xed line or Wi-Fi to mobile service providers’ 3G and 4G networks.
These differing factors now mean that one employee’s experience of an IT service can be very different from another’s, depending on how they access applications.
‘Businesses also need visibility across all devices, networks and platforms,’ Allen adds, ‘with the ability to identify how these varying factors are impacting upon the user’s experience.’
Two key elements that lead to a better technology experience for Gen Z are predictability and adaptability. Gen Z is used to getting a customised technology experience that’s often predetermined for them based on previous behaviour, without any action on their part.
The enterprise is fully capable of offering this experience, as the organisation already holds much of the information necessary to predict a user’s technology needs – in most cases, upwards of 80%.
Leveraging key information in HR systems, project management systems and other key business applications makes it possible for millennials to step into a workplace and have almost all of their technology needs already met. For the rest, self-service quickly becomes the standard.
‘Adaptability comes in as soon as they begin working, as their technology experience should continue to adjust in real time as their behaviour changes in any given day,’ says Mark Pooley, country manager at RES Software. ‘For example, changing locations or devices should signal an instant change in technology access or relevant services, and it should all happen automatically.
‘With predictability and adaptability, organisations can start to produce a technology experience that matches the expectations of generation Z.’
Those organisations that don’t adapt their organisations for the needs of Gen Z are treading on dangerous ground.
‘Basically, you are going to fail,’ says Jiwa. ‘If your organisation cannot be set up to work in this way, it will lead to a lack of productivity.
‘Externally, you want to be seen as agile and ?exible in order to gain competitive advantage. So if your organisation is not Gen Z friendly, this is going to cause a natural slowdown. Then you will ?nd yourself up against all those nimble digital organisations that do empower their workforce and operate in a highly productive way. Ultimately, you will be left behind.’
Indeed, in the age of digital communications, collaboration will no longer be con?ned to meeting rooms and phone lines; it will become entrenched in every activity across the business.
So without the IT infrastructure in place to support this evolution, businesses risk falling behind those that have already begun to empower employees with advanced collaboration tools.
‘Gen Z is incredibly adept at making the most of new digital technologies,’ says Brian Kracik, marketing director, cloud solutions at Oracle, ‘but companies will need to tie these IT assets together in a way that empowers employees to work in innovative ways.’
With Gen Z’s entrance into the workforce coinciding with new ?exible working laws, CIOs must also adapt their organisations’ IT environment to support this.
In the near future, workers on the move will want to begin an instant messaging conversation on their desktops, promote the IM to an audio call, transfer it to their smartphones as they leave their o?ce, and convert it to a video call on their tablet – all in a seamless fashion with no interruptions.
‘IT decision-makers will need to make sure the business can support this functionality,’ says Kracik, ‘and will be integrating technologies like UC&C in their communications infrastructure to achieve this.’
Ultimately, tapping into the attributes of Gen Z staff won’t just boost productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction, it will have wider benefits.
Empowering Gen Z will foster a culture of creativity, allowing a company to remain agile and execute on innovation.
‘Embracing the change that Gen Z promotes, both technologically and via shifts in business models, will stop businesses becoming dinosaurs,’ says Palermo.
‘In addition, trends that are second nature to Gen Z but that businesses are slower to adopt, like social, mobility, analytics and cloud technologies, will start to deliver real advantages.’
Taken together, these technologies will revolutionise business, placing an incredible amount of power in the hands of employees.
In other words, Gen Z will hold more sway and in?uence over their employers than any generation before. So even if they’re not entrepreneurs, they can still feel like them.
What the experts say
‘For enterprise IT applications to empower ‘Generation Z’ workers, they need to catch up with consumer applications – and they’re not there yet. These employees have grown up with apps that are designed for convenience and simplicity, and – thanks to mobility – are always available. Providing convenient access to these employees is vital. Ideally, you want to make accessing enterprise IT apps as simple as accessing Snapchat.’
– Adam Dolby, VP business development, Encap Security
‘The overall user experience needs to be obvious and appropriate for the task in question. The interface needs to be clean, uncluttered and optimised to the device and task at hand. Generation Z are connected all the time, they work in real time and so demand an real-time optimised user experience.’
– David McGrath, senior UX consultant, Cognisec
‘The war for the best talents is heating up, and this trend will continue. Not being able to provide attractive apps and IT solutions means that the business and its workforce will not be able to attract and retain the best talent resulting in lower productivity and poorer customer services. These are clearly serious implications and if you don’t address them then you will have dropped the ball, big time.’
– Ivo Totev, executive VP for global marketing, UNIT4
‘Nurturing this generation’s digital capabilities could bring significant economic value to UK plc and increase the UK’s competitiveness in the international market. The challenge is whether we can implement change – in our education system and the workplace – quickly enough to sustain this generation’s interest in the professions and industries that give Britain its competitive edge.’
-Gerry Carroll, director of marketing, Logicalis UK
‘At the moment, companies are still not adopting enterprise IT applications that can empower generation Z workers. Adopting technology that empowers and supports Generation Z will drive real competitive advantage through greater productivity, employee engagement and a reduction in costs, time and travel. Companies that have already adopted this type of technology are seeing a return on investment within 12 to 18 months.’
– Natalie Harris-Briggs, group marketing director, Steljes