The thing about millennials and technology

Steve Tzikakis explains how millennials are driving major changes in how businesses approach the use of technology

Some 25 years ago I went to work for the first time with a handheld device in my hand: a Casio calculator. I thought I was the man. Today, the new generation of workers turning up for their first day often have a better grasp of technology than senior management.

That scares some companies. Me, not so much. I’m excited – because I believe there is a huge opportunity waiting for companies that start viewing their enterprise technology the way millennials do.

Most companies I talk to today either have a strong technology stack, or they’re on a ‘digital transformation journey’. Many have enterprise software that can give them real-time dashboards of any aspect of the business, from what’s happening in a specific location at any time down to how many tea bags they used last week. Some have customer relationship management suites that can practically predict their customers’ behaviour. They’ve got productivity software that can allow everyone in the business to collaborate and share like never before. Big data is simply their currency.

But here’s a harsh reality. While we’re busy high-fiving each other because we have the latest version of SharePoint, millennials are looking at us and thinking: did we just get caught in a time warp?

And this is the problem. When most companies tell you they are undertaking a ‘digital journey’, what they really mean is that they want to use technology to make their business faster, more efficient and more profitable. What they often end up doing, however, is either automating bad processes or using clunky technology that makes their people frustrated and unhappy.

Millennials, on the other hand, look at technology in a totally different way. They’re not particularly interested in making existing processes better; instead they want to make existing technologies better.

They’re not excited by a multi-year rollout of the latest enterprise software. They want their technology to work quickly and intuitively. They want immediate access to information, from numerous sources, in a way that makes sense to the way they view the world. They want to connect easily to the people they work with, and their broader networks, without having to worry about whether the company prefers Teams or Yammer.

Let’s face it; enterprise software hasn’t exactly always been the cool kid of the technology world. But that’s changing fairly rapidly, as businesses – and their users – start to see the possibilities that are unlocked by technologies like in-memory computing, which basically allows us to make sense of the tsunami of data that washes over us every single day.

Suddenly, at the prompting of millennials, we’re seeing enterprise software increasingly delivering and embracing the type of social communication that people use every day. This doesn’t just make businesses better at doing business: it also makes them more dynamic, vibrant places to work.

The influence of millennials on technology isn’t only limited to ‘big business’, though. In emerging economies across the world, we’re increasingly seeing small and micro-businesses using enterprise software in their day-to-day operations. Their success is not only in building a new breed of entrepreneur in emerging economies across Africa, the Middle East and Europe – in many cases, it’s growing entire economies. Many of these micro-businesses are being run by millennials, who are meeting the challenge of unemployment in traditional job markets by creating their own future.

In a recent Wired article on how millennials are changing product development across the globe, Mathieu Turpault hits the nail right on the head: “What most of the analysts I’ve read don’t get is that millennials are the first generation to truly live by its own set of consumer and business rules. As consumers, they expect the brands they follow to share their principles (much as Gen X and Boomers did before them). But as entrepreneurs, they’re also able to deliver on it.”

Steve Tzikakis is president of South Europe, Middle East, and Africa at SAP