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The millennialisation of technology

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

In October 2005, analyst firm Gartner pronounced that the consumerisation of IT would be one of the most radical trends to affect business to business technology.

It’s hard to cast your mind back to a time when there was a significant user experience disparity between desktop and mobile systems. However, this was an age when Windows XP was the dominant operating system, the iPhone wouldn’t be released for another two years and platforms like Gmail and Facebook were just starting to make an impact on how usable the next generation of innovators thought technology should be. Gartner’s prediction was, of course, spot on.

Unfortunately, security woes were also commonplace; as consumers brought their own technology into the workplace, it became almost impossible to secure the corporate workplace in the same way as it had been in the past. The tales of IT managers supergluing USB ports shut to prevent data being stolen on USB sticks were by no means exaggerated.

Of course, today, the impact of the consumerisation of IT is not just well-established, it’s part of daily life. After Microsoft’s disastrous flirtation with a unified mobile and desktop approach (remember the Metro interface?) most organisations have learnt that good UX and design is of the utmost importance. And as Anne-Marie Verdin, Director of Digital Marketing and Communications at Value Retail (Bicester Village), says, this development is moving from marketing to mattering. It’s not just something new, shiny and novel – it’s business as usual.

What is millennialisation?

The millennialisation of technology is the next step on this path. It’s not just about using a MacBook in the office or chatting to your colleagues in Slack or tracking projects on Asana. It’s about re-imagining software and hardware from a fundamentally culturally different point of view. Think about it for a moment – the earliest millennials were born at the very start of the 1980s, technologically, the Sony Walkman, ZX Spectrum and Nintendo Entertainment System years! Technology has always been a part of their lives. Their first email was Gmail.

This age grouping also means that millennials are really, really important right now. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of startup founders today is between 31 and 37, putting around half of millennials firmly in this group. In fact, according to Forbes, by 2025, millennials will make up around three quarters of the workforce.

Similarly, because millennials grew up with tech, once they gain power and confidence in the workplace, they won’t be afraid to make changes – and many of those changes will be revolution, not evolution. Many millennials will be respectful of initiating change too quickly, but when a rapid change can represent a significant market opportunity, then any business leader worth their salt will jump at the chance to move things forward for the better, however disruptive.

Thankfully, some of these changes – and consequently, lessons on how to adapt to the needs of millennial business leaders – can be extrapolated from what we know about this generation.

A new age of technology

We’re constantly told that millennials – and even more so, Generation Z – have shorter attention spans and are always looking for short-cuts. That means that if they’re in flow, they’re not going to stop what they’re doing to record something, they’re going to expect the tech to keep up. If I buy a travel ticket online, I expect my iPhone to have it in my wallet without being told. My Starling debit card is contactless – and to be honest, I don’t even need the card to make a payment. This is exactly what millennial technology needs to be if it’s going to be successful – smart, frictionless and non-interruptive.

Millennial technologies are mobile-first and have user-friendly analytics built in. They’re clean, easy to use and have a high degree of integration. I’m wary of saying ‘integration with social networks’ because that’s not always the case – and all too many technology organisations have learned that social integrations and content can be the equivalent of fast food: tasty but forgettable. Technology organisations should instead make sure that integrations serve a purpose, that they’re reliable, and are comprehensively tested.

Similarly, these integrations often lead very naturally to a high degree of automation. However, this must be approached with caution and tested comprehensively; in a saturated market, an application or tool that falls down on usability will quickly fall by the wayside with its audience. Millennials are less patient with technology than previous generations, especially after the consumerisation of IT.

Finally, where possible, millennial technologies should aim to be ethically sound. Millennials and Gen Z consumers are more likely to question the ethics of a company and more likely to hold this as a deciding factor in their purchasing decisions.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to run out and find a charity or cause for your organisation to support – but you should think about the place of your technology in the wider world. For example, signature and digital transaction service provider DocuSign is helping companies to reduce how much paper they use in the workplace through its electronic contracting and agreement services, as well as making the entire process much easier!

Where next?

I don’t believe that the different cultural views held by each generation represents a marketing fad – the different experiences that people have had growing up shape them into the professionals and business leaders that they are today. It’s not a cliché to say that people thought about work and life differently fifty years ago – but it’s not just technology that has changed this. The social and cultural changes in society have also had a profound impact on how we work together, how we collaborate and how we handle change.

The exciting – and terrifying – challenge is that this process never ends. Already, we have a new generation, Generation Z, those born after 1996, entering the workplace and shaping how we do business. In fact, some of these early innovators are already founders and CEOs in their own right, starting to change the world.

Thankfully, I don’t think any of us in the technology industry joined the sector because we wanted to keep doing the same thing every day, using the same tools and ignoring ways to make things better. Technologists are change-makers, and it should be both our duty and our pleasure to support the next generation of innovators.

Morgan Norman, CMO, Copper