The Thing About Millennials and Technology

25 years ago, I went to work for the first time with a hand-held device in my hand: a Casio calculator. I thought I was the man. Today, the new generation of workers turning up for their first day often have a better grasp of technology than senior management. That scares some companies. Me, not so much. I’m excited – because I believe there’s a huge opportunity waiting for companies that start viewing their enterprise technology the way millennials do.

Big Data is the new currency and companies I talk to today either have a strong technology stack, or they’re on a “digital transformation journey”. But what they really should be after is enterprise software that can give them real-time dashboards of any aspect of the business, from what’s happening in a specific location at any time down to how many tea bags they used last week. What they need is CRM suites that can practically predict their customers’ behaviour and productivity software that can allow everyone in the business to collaborate and share like never before.

But here’s a harsh reality. While we’re busy thinking that putting HR in the Cloud is part of a “digital journey”, millennials are looking at us and thinking: did we just get caught in a time-warp?

And here’s the problem: When most companies tell you they are undertaking a “digital journey”, what they really mean is that they want to use technology to make their business faster, more efficient and more profitable. But they often end up automating bad processes, or using clunky technology that makes their people frustrated and unhappy. Millennials look at technology totally differently. They’re not particularly interested in making existing technologies better; they want to make existing processes simpler.

They’re not excited by a multi-year rollout of the latest enterprise software. They want their technology to work quickly and intuitively. They want immediate access to information, from numerous sources, in a way that makes sense to the way they view the world. They want to connect easily to the people they work with, and their broader networks, without having to worry about whether the company prefers Teams or Yammer.

Let’s face it. Enterprise Software hasn’t exactly always been the cool kid of the technology world. But that’s changing fairly rapidly, as businesses – and their users – start to see the possibilities that are unlocked by technologies like in-memory computing, which basically allows us to make sense of the tsunami of data that washes over us every day.

Suddenly, at the prompting of millennials, we’re seeing enterprise software increasingly delivering and embracing the type of social communication that people use every day. This doesn’t just make businesses better at doing business: it also makes them more dynamic, vibrant places to work.

The influence of millennials on technology isn’t only limited to Big Business, though. In emerging economies across the world, we’re increasingly seeing small and micro-businesses using enterprise software in their day-to-day operations. Their success is not only building a new breed of entrepreneurs in emerging economies across Africa, the Middle East and Europe – in many cases, it’s growing entire economies. Many of these micro-businesses are being run by millennials, who are meeting the challenge of unemployment in a traditional job market by creating their own future.

In a recent Wired article on how millennials are changing product development across the globe, Mathieu Turpault nails it: “What most of the analysts I’ve read don’t get is that millennials are the first generation to truly live by its own set of consumer and business rules. As consumers, they expect the brands they follow to share their principles (much as Gen X and Boomers did before them). But as entrepreneurs, they’re also able to deliver on it.”

I have recently pushed my own organisation to dramatically increase the percentage of millennials in our workforce. We are doing this systematically, and most importantly, with great respect for our most experienced professionals. The results are unprecedented.

Unlike many previous 20th century market shifts, the digital revolution is unbelievably swift. There’s no doubt that empowering millennials will help business move from a state of planning to one of leading. Perhaps it’s time for us to let the digital natives loose on our enterprise software stacks. Our businesses may never be the same again, but they will more than likely still be here tomorrow.