What are Millennials and Why Should an IT Pro Care?

Before yesterday I had never heard the term Millennial.  I was at an event for UK/Ireland MVPs and this was the topic of the keynote.  It’s a term to describe the current generation of people.  So we had the baby boomers in the 50’s, Generation X in the 60’s and 70’s, Generation Y in the 80’s and 90’s, and since then, the Millennial generation has been entering the work force.  They are very different to the baby boomers.

Baby boomers expect everything to be locked down, controlled by policy, restricted, and so on.  Colleagues who worked with me when I was last a domain admin know that’s how I liked to run a Windows network.  Users had no administrative rights unless they had a valid (and approved) business case.  IT did everything when it came to changes.  We minimised the effort by using things like GPO and System Center.  This is how Baby Boomers like it … and the folks in charge right now are Baby Boomers.

People who are entering the workplace are not baby boomers.  They are the Millennials.  They’ve grown up with PCs in their bedroom, phones with always-on Internet access, netbooks with wifi hotspots and 3G cards, and the ability to download and run apps on an as-needed basis.  They are entering the workplace and finding it stifling.  It’s choking their ability to work.  Why?  Because we have implemented a baby boomer infrastructure and expect younger people who think very differently to work in an environment that is 100% alien to them.

Why should the business care?  I’ll keep it quick with 2 arguments.

Employee Competition

Even though there is massive unemployment and graduates have next to know opportunities, there is still some recruiting going on.  Those companies want to hire the very best graduates.  Given the choice, will an employee join the company with the tied down, IBM-esque suit-and-tie environment, where they wait 6 weeks for a laptop, have no administrative rights, can’s use social media, and have forbidding IT usage policies that threaten them with unemployment if they dare look at a news website?  Or will they choose to work for a company that has a more liberal working environment that favours results over appearances, where IT is seen as a tool instead of a 10 foot wall, and where they are free to use their imagination to accomplish their goals?

Business Flexibility

Imagine this: a user is given a task that requires using an application tool set that is not available to them right now.  They need to do some research to find out what is best.  They can reach out on Twitter or Facebook to get some advice.  Now they find the best tools to use.  They check the IT-maintained library, and request an application.  A workflow starts and their boss approves the request.  The application starts installing immediately.  They may need another tool.  This could be available online as an app that can be downloaded or run in the cloud.  They subscribe to it and now they can start working.  They get the results the business needs and they accomplish it in a timely manner, making profit for the company.

Compare it with this.  A user identifies a need for some applications.  They have no means to research what is the best tool, other than vendor sites full of marketing material that glorify their wares.  The user identifies four possible alternatives and requests IT to look into them.  IT gets some demos and sets up a trial for the user after a week or two.  The user picks two tools and a purchasing process starts.  Security get involved to validate the tools, Internal Audit have their say, and after a few more weeks the tools are purchased.  By now, the user has had to give up on getting the tools and attempts to accomplish their goals in an inadequate fashion.  The results are late and the company fails to win the business.

Sound familiar?  It’s the basis of cloud computing.  In other words, IT cannot predict the needs of the business, and the result is that IT becomes a blocking force for the businesses need to change and compete in a fluid and competitive world.

We baby boomer-ish IT admins and decision makers need to adopt new technologies that cater for the desired working environment of the Millennials and provide the business with a flexible working environment. 

I’ve heard it discussed before that we need to consider letting them bring their own computers to work.  I know that some major corporations are looking into this.  That causes complications about ownership of applications and data.  Maybe Remote Desktop Services or VDI are the answers here.  Maybe App-V is.  Maybe a client hypervisor with a company virtual machine is.  Or maybe we don’t have the correct solution yet because this is a new challenge.

Old school thinking on network design needs to be reconsidered.  If users are bringing in their own PC’s then they need to be isolated from company resources.  We have to validate the machines for security and health (MS NAP/Cisco NAC?).  Internet usage policies need to be opened up to allow for social media.  Businesses need to be more concerned about results than clock punching.

Mobility is a huge factor.  The traditional team has gone by the wayside.  Teams are dynamic now.   A person floats between teams on projects.  They can be a member of many teams at once if they work on many projects.  This impacts collaboration (Lync and SharePoint), mobility (wifi) and work presence (home, mobile working, and hot-desking).

Microsoft often refer to their Netherlands office as a new working place.  Back in 2001, I worked in the new DVG campus in Hannover, Germany.  It’s a huge version of that same concept.  It was effectively a giant glass canopy, with buildings, gardens and pathways beneath it.  Employees were assigned to a floor in a building.  They came in the morning and either took and office or an open area desk depending on the type of work they were doing.  They system I worked on enabled their application toolset to follow them from one PC to another (laptops were still very expensive), and they used “mobile” phones that charged overnight in a locker.  IT was using technology from 10 years ago but it was way ahead of what many companies do today.  And I have to say it was one of the most relaxing work places I’ve ever been in.

We IT pros, architects, consultants, and decision makers have a lot to think about in the coming years.  Business requires more flexibility than ever to face up to the current economic challenges.  We need the very best employees and they need the very best tools.  We have to change how we deliver IT to the information worker.

Things to check out:

  • App-V
  • System Center Configuration Manager 2012
  • Remote Desktop Services Session Hosts
  • VDI
  • Private Cloud Computing
  • DirectAccess
  • Network Access Protection

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