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Enterprise Connect keynote: Cater to Millennials or cut them off?

At Enterprise Connect, attendees and speakers argued about whether to give Millennial employees the tools they want.

At a tech show, you can count on hearing the same handful of buzzwords being thrown around during keynotes, sessions, and on the expo floor. Enterprise Connect 2014 promised to bombard its attendees with "WebRTC-enabled," "cloud," and the old standby, "user experience." I wasn't expecting to hear the word "Millennial" brought up in almost every conversation.

This topic generally goes one of two ways. Either Millennials are entitled kids who expect to use their own devices and applications for work regardless of whether it makes sense for the business, or this more tech-savvy generation might show enterprises how to improve productivity. Personally, I'm not convinced we have to take sides, or that the argument is that black and white.

Millenials are already out of the basement... [and] attending #enterprisecon.

It started with the show's first keynote panel, when Fred Knight, publisher for and vice president and general manager of Enterprise Connect, suggested that enterprises shouldn't be bending over backwards to cater to the whims of a younger generation, and that Millennials should be "grateful to be out of the basement, and have jobs in the first place." While this is absolutely a generalization, and certainly not one that every participant on the panel agreed with -- as illustrated by several Cisco employee tweets, including: "Millennials are already out of the basement… [and] attending #enterprisecon" -- a practical reality underlies this school of thought. Enterprise IT teams can't be expected to support every application that an employee -- regardless of age -- wants to use for work. There are security implications to consider, especially when it comes to consumer-grade applications.

While the generational conversation has obviously stood the test of time, Millennials present a unique challenge. Younger generations of employees in years past may have entered the workforce armed with bright-eyed business ideas that incumbent generations rejected, but Millennials are coming in with new technology and devices. Those technologies can threaten network security and performance.

"Some businesses are thinking, 'Millennials are coming in with these expectations and we need to provide the tools,' but that's kind of ridiculous," said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC. "If we are already using certain tools, they can learn how to use them. The business has to take care of the business, and you need to make sure these tools are enterprise-grade."

But Millennials must be onto something, hence the enterprise social software market. LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook have proven themselves useful for enterprise communications, and the unified communications market has adapted.

Millennials would rather find the right expertise by crowdsourcing via a social platform rather than scrolling through a long email chain that may or may not include the right person. And expecting employees to only use a corporate-issued desk phone probably won't cut it for many businesses anymore.

"In our own personal lives, we are used to personalization, making groups for communication and configuring settings of who gets to see what kinds of content. Now that has to exist in the business world, too," said Hyoun Park, principal at DataHive Consulting.

The so-called "new ways of communicating" through channels like social tools or video won't always be the best way. Sometimes it's quicker and easier to pick up the phone and make a call -- something that younger generations are often reluctant to do, Pleasant said.

But it's not an either/or situation, and there doesn't have to be a tug of war between IT and Millennials, Park said. "It's about what's going to help you be productive, not if it will fit into the boxes that traditional technology has fit into -- like centrally managed [private branch exchanges] PBXs."

Perhaps both Millennials and businesses need to adapt. "When you need to call someone and have a real-time conversation, you should be able to do that. But sometimes you can be more productive sending a couple quick instant messages -- it's about being able to use the right tool for the specific interaction, and being comfortable with all the modes and modalities," Pleasant said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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