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CIOs look ahead: Millennials, consumer tech and the future

Tom Kaneshige | Sept. 18, 2012
The most effective way to foster loyalty among Millennials is by supporting trendy consumer tech in the enterprise, from iPhones to social communication to BYOD.

Just ask Electronic Arts CIO Mark Tonneson. EA has been moving away from Windows-based Dell laptops and Hewlett-Packard desktops in favor of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones and Android phones. Some 10,000 smartphones fall under a sweeping BYOD policy. EA is even replacing cubicles and offices with open work spaces.

"This is a big push, and it's all in relation to the Millennials," Tonneson says. "As we look to bring on young talent, we're competing with Facebook, Zynga, Google, Apple."

EA's staff retention rate has never been better, Tonneson says, and consumer tech has played a crucial role in recruiting and keeping Millennials. It's certainly not the allure of stock options, since EA's stock has been sliding over the past year.

"They're staying because it's a great place," Tonneson says. "A lot of it is how we deliver solutions and services to them... and not encumbering them with old-line technologies."

Email and the Generation Gap

The effort to keep Millennials happy, though, has a dark side.

At last year's Consumerization of IT Expo, or CITE, in San Francisco, tech leaders spoke of the growing animosity between older workers and the Millennials. (For more CITE coverage, see BYOD: Making Sense of the Work-Personal Device Blur.)

When one company told its employees that they had to use a new enterprise social network to communicate with each other rather than email, older workers saw this as a sign that the company was prioritizing Millennials. Older workers felt their jobs were threatened.

The biggest difference among the generations is how people communicate, says Adam Noble, CIO at GAF Materials. Baby Boomers rely on the telephone, Gen X is all about email, and Millennials prefer social networking, instant messaging and even video chat. Tensions rise when, say, an old-line worker gets a video call across his PC from a Millennial worker.

"I often joke that if I email my teenage daughters, I'll never get a response," Noble says. "But if I put something on their Facebook page, I may get a response in seconds."

The challenge is to incorporate different styles of communication. Both GAF Materials and EA are working to integrate email and social communication to make the transition easier. Eventually, old-line employees will have to get on board with newer forms of communication.

"You can absolutely devolve into an argument of you-are-young-and-you-don't-get-it versus you-are-old-and-you-don't-get-it," says the Silicon Valley mobile manager. "But people who are the most creative and open-minded are going to adopt the coolest technology, regardless of how old they are."

Millennials Take Work Personally

If you don't embrace consumer tech, will Millennials bolt to a competitor?

Probably not right away, but down the road is another matter. The reason, say CIOs, stems from a common Millennial trait: Their identity is wrapped up in the job more so than older generations.


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