Five Ways Generation Y May Reinvent IT

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-03-18

They depend too much on their parents' money, they need constant hand-holding, they have no job loyalty, but do show remarkable acumen for demanding more than they're worth, showing disrespect for older employees, and displaying stunning naiveté about corporate culture.

The backlash against Generation Y seems to be in full swing while the ink on their college diplomas is still drying.

Much discussion has centered around the expectations and work habits of this particular generation, with some pundits fretting about whether their casual attitudes will sink enterprises in the long run.

*For more on what to be worried about with Gen Y on your corporate network, check out these stats from a Symantec study.

But what if the opposite is true?

Perhaps, instead of wreaking havoc, their different working styles might cause foundational changes in the way enterprises run, especially when it comes to IT. Here are five ways that Generation Y could pull up the roots of information technology in favor of something new.

1. More Savvy Technology Purchasing
Generation Y grew up with technology, and at this point, the Millennials and their gadgets and laptops are like hockey players and their skates and sticks, notes Kirsten Chapman, principle at KC Associates, a marketing and PR firm specializing in B2B IT products and services.

When Gen Y begins to hit middle management levels and find themselves in charge of budgets and purchasing, it could significantly change the way marketers and salespeople need to sell to them.

"These buyers know more about the benefits of technology than most of the product or service companies they're talking to," says Chapman.

In the past, Baby Boomers, and to some degree Gen X, have had to justify their technology love, in many ways. "We've had to convince the rest of the business that a certain technology was important," notes Chapman. "But Gen Y will be doing the opposite. They'll have an inherent understanding of where technology makes sense in an enterprise and implementing it."

Because of that fundamental connection to tech, Gen Y will be using technology to solve business problems far more aggressively and progressively than has been seen in the past, Chapman believes. And this type of buyer behavior could cause a shift in technology adoption curves, she adds.

2. Changing Job Roles and Responsibilities

The average timespan that a Gen Y employee will spend at any single job is about 18 months, notes Ryan Healy, founder of Brazen Careerist, an online career site aimed at Gen Y.

To keep a Millennial interested, companies will have to create an atmosphere for them that replicates the first six months on a job, over and over. "Most jobs provide you with a learning curve that's steep at first, then all of the sudden you're doing the same thing every day," says Healy. "It gets boring, so you leave."

The result could be more mentorship relationships, job share duties, and additional responsibilities created at a speedier rate than in the past. In particular, Gen Y will work to become managers at an accelerated rate.

"Everybody in my generation wants to be a leader," says Healy. "There are 22 year-olds who already say they want a leadership position, and they're ready for that. I think it's a pretty cool thing."

Putting Gen Y on the fast track to upper management -- particularly in IT -- may require an overhaul of current corporate culture, but it could also lead to fundamental shifts in hierarchy as well. Many executives espouse the virtues of collaboration, meaningful work, and a "flat org chart;" Gen Y will hold them to those ideas, and threaten to walk if they're not made manifest.

3. Greening Up the Data Center
The move toward environmentally-friendly products has affected nearly every strata of society at this point, with moves toward banning plastic bags in grocery stores, and boosting energy efficiency.

Although those in IT have been examining the issue, and seeking ways to love the earth while positively impacting the data center, Gen Y's commitment to the environment could cause a huge push for green efforts.

"You're going to see people getting very serious about green initiatives like power savings and server compaction through virtualization," says John Baschab, author of "The Executive's Guide to Information Technology." "This is a trend that's just going to increase in momentum."

4. Ending Consumer vs. Enterprise
IT departments have been adjusting to the wave of consumer technology coming into the enterprise, and with Gen Y, those distinctions may be erased.

Much was made of the "enterprise ready" capabilities planned for the consumer favorite iPhone, but there could come a time in the not-too-distant future, when everything is enterprise ready.

Leadership consultant Deborah Gilburg recently noted that companies will need to work out how to accommodate new technologies as Millennials enter organizations, since they'll gravitate toward organizations that give them access to hardware and software that they can use in both their personal and professional lives.

When a workforce is completely mobile, after all, what's the distinction between work and home? Certainly, it's not an office setting, and Gen Y sees no problem with using the same device to create a PowerPoint presentation and to whip up a video blog about a recent vacation.

5. Bridging the Gap Between Business and IT
The much-discussed chasm that lies between enterprise goals and IT has been a source of increasing tension in many companies. The executives in other departments don't understand why so many technology shifts are necessary, or how IT objectives tie into larger business goals. Experts, meanwhile, have noted that IT types haven't exactly been stellar at articulating that information.

That sandlot fight could soon end, though, once more Gen Y types are in desks instead of college classrooms.

"All the technology-driven people I encounter are really interested in the business side of an enterprise," says Healy. "They actually go into IT because they want to be entrepreneurial, not because they they're especially technical."

Also, forget the type of silos that are created within an organization, where sales and IT only encounter each other during upgrade cycles or in the lunchroom. Gen Y wants to know everything about a company, Healy says.

"They like to know what's going on, all the details, they want to know what makes a company operate," Healy notes.