Dude, CIOs Hip to Millennials' Desire for Real-time Communications

Ann All
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The CIO-Millennial Divide: Struggling to Keep Up with Younger Workers' Tech Support Expectations

In writing about the impact millennials will have on the workplace, I've often focused more on cultural impacts than technological ones. Yet there's no question younger employees' habits and expectations will change the technologies all of us use at work.


I may be jumping to wild conclusions, but I think the entry of younger workers may have influenced the responses of CIOs surveyed by Robert Half Technology, 54 percent of whom said real-time communication tools such as instant messaging, Microsoft's SharePoint and Yammer will be more popular than email in the workplace within five years.


This may be no surprise, given younger workers' low opinion of email. When IT Business Edge contributor Carl Weinschenk interviewed Constellation Research's Elizabeth Herrell in August, she told him IT organizations will no longer be able to employ one-size-fits-all strategies for communications systems, thanks largely to the influence of millennials. As anyone with teenage or young adult friends or family members knows, those age groups prefer texting to email. Said Herrell:

They believe in speaking back and forth to find real-time information. They believe using email is slow and cumbersome. Younger workers today usually will send a voice message to tell the person that email is important and they need to read it. They do this because they are not expecting colleagues to read their email. If they really want to talk to them, it will be in a text message. This is what changed. This is their normal way of communications.

All age groups increasingly use consumer technologies at work, but I think it's younger employees who are being more vocal in their demands for them. As I've written before, I think we'll all benefit from millennials' influence.


I think the general move toward mobility may play a part as well, as mobile devices are an ideal medium for real-time communications. Juniper Research in June predicted users of mobile instant messaging would exceed 1.3 billion globally by 2016, tripling the number of users in 2010.


Still, the CIOs weren't exactly ready to drive a nail in email's coffin. Just 13 percent said real-time communications tools would be "much more popular" than email in five years' time, while 41 percent said it would be "somewhat more popular."


As I've written before, ingrained collaboration habits die hard. (Yes, for most of us that means email.) In fact, so many folks cling to email that a company called Mainsoft sells a product that integrates SharePoint with email. As IT Business Edge contributor Loraine Lawson so tactfully put it when she wrote about it, it lets you have SharePoint and your boneheads too.


While real-time tools offer collaborative capabilities that trump those of email, they do still have shortcomings, a number of which I mentioned in last week's post on Salesforce.com's Chatter. The biggest challenge, making these tools more central to employees' workflow, relates to those ingrained habits so many of us have.


Looking ahead, as Herrell told Carl, some IT organizations may move toward a more comprehensive unified communications strategy, which should make employees happy with features like presence-aware applications while also giving IT more management capabilities and added security. She said:

It is not just a smartphone. It's all the business applications, presence, shared calendars, all business needs on that smart device. Just because it has cool things does not mean it has the same access as my company offers on a unified communications solution in which you can see presence, calendars and get messages. You want to have the smartness of devices integrated with your business systems. Then you have a powerful device.

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