A perfect storm: Business software and millenials

Millennials are the first group in history to have grown up with computers and the Internet as natural, ubiquitous parts of life. Through the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, this generation has grown up in a digital age with technology intertwined in every part of their lives.

This is good news for makers of consumer software as they have an infinite pool of early adopters eager to be the first to get on board “the latest thing”. For businesses, however, whose software is exclusively designed to support work, it is a quite different story.

In fact, the combination of the high expectations placed on software usability by millennials and the oftentimes cumbersome and unattractive enterprise applications that employers are offering (albeit on shiny devices) has all the hallmarks of a perfect storm. This is a storm that will likely cast many employers as “tyrants” who force its young workers to use slow, MS-DOS-esque business systems, in which the company is heavily or irreversibly invested.

But it would be too simplistic to limit this discussion to mere design or layout preferences. It is the very manner in which millennials communicate and consume content that is profoundly different from older generations. For example, millennials do not email friends asking if they want to go to the movies. Rather, they send PMs via services such as WhatsApp. Similarly, a millennial does not primarily turn to traditional media to find out what is happening in the world. Instead, the millennial consults his or her social media feeds for the latest news.

Ensuring employee retention through business software, then, does not seem like the obvious way to the millennial’s heart. And for any company whose attitude to ERP can be summarised by the tautology “it is what it is”, that is certainly true. For organisations that are more agile, however, the business system could be fashioned into something elegant, intuitive, and personal.

User experience is the answer

So here are some points for company decision-makers to consider:

Hardware isn’t enough to retain young talent. If you want to appeal to the millennial generation, don’t forget to complement hardware investments such as smartphones and tablets with similar investments in software. Speak with your software vendors about the possibilities of transferring commonly recurring processes (for an ERP system, this might be something like time & travel reporting) from the back-end system to mobile applications.

Usability is king. This point cannot be overstated when talking about the millennials’ expectations on their work tools. Drawing on our own experience as an enterprise applications vendor, it is abundantly clear that offering an intuitive, appealing, and highly configurable work environment plays a major role in user satisfaction and, in the long run, employee retention. IFS Lobby, which was released in IFS Applications 9, is one example of how businesses can ensure a positive user experience. IFS Lobby offers a clear and tailored view of the business or situation as it relates to a role or process, providing fully customisable and actionable information relevant to each unique user.

Active engagement with the ERP system. As mentioned above, millennials’ have developed their own way of communicating and consuming information. Why fight it when this instinct can be harnessed within the bounds of the business system? For example, at IFS we launched IFS Streams for this type of user. It is a notification feature that actively alerts the user when a change happens in an item or process that relates to the employee’s work. These alerts are pushed out to the user’s screen of choice - be it a smartphone, a tablet, or a smartwatch (an innovation that IFS was the first to bring to the ERP sector). To action these alerts, millennials do not want to be restricted to clicking or tapping to navigate the system. This is why IFS Applications is also being fitted with a voice-activated control feature called IFS Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) that lets users search for and update data in IFS Applications by only using their voice.

Tap into the potential of social. Millennials gravitate toward teamwork rather than independent problem solving. Nowhere is that observation more apparent than in social media, where all aspects of life are posted, photographed, tagged, and shared. So why not harness this instinct to improve internal communication and cooperation in your business? We at IFS had a good think about this and came up with IFS Talk, which offers a platform for communicating with colleagues, Twitter-style, within the secure walls of the ERP system.

Don't worry, they come in peace

Like any generation, millennials want to work and prosper on their own terms, using the tools that they trust. In the context of business, this entails quick and easy access to data, visually appealing, fully customisable interfaces, and - if at all possible - a way to communicate with colleagues in a social media setting. Given the sheer size of the millennial generation, that seems like a small price to pay if it means happy and loyal employees.

Martin Gunnarsson, Director, IFS Product Strategies & IFS Labs

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright