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CIOs Look Ahead: Millennials, Consumer Tech and the Future

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
September 18, 2012 08:30 AM ET

CIO - It's 1 a.m. and Josh Robin is busy working.

"I'm kind of stir crazy, don't need a lot of sleep, so it's probably prime time for getting things done," says the fast-talking 25-year-old director of innovation at MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

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At any moment on any given day, Robin might be Skype-ing with interns, Tweeting work updates, or tapping on his personal iPhone to manage a cutting-edge mobile ticketing project. It drives him crazy that his workplace doesn't have Wi-Fi, which basically means he can't use his personal computer there.

Robin pays the monthly iPhone bill out of his own pocket, while a corporate-issued BlackBerry collects dust. "BlackBerries have become the metaphor for old-line IT," he says. "It would be a pain in the butt," if he was forced to use it.

If you think Robin is an oddity, think again. He is part of the next generation workforce known as the Millennials. They've been called many names: Always-On Generation, Gen Y and Digital Natives. They grew up right along with Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Apple's iPocalypse. They have different ways of working, different ideas about their jobs.

They're also the ones who will be running your company in the future.

Millennials and Consumer Tech

The Millennials, born between the years 1981 and 2000, are 85.4 million strong, outnumbering even the Baby Boomers, according to 2010 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Attracting the brightest among them requires understanding and, yes, even catering to their desires.

A big part of that is giving them technology freedom.

Like Robin, Millennials don't want to unplug from work on the weekends and after-hours like their older counterparts, and so they want technology that keeps up with this lifestyle. They're driving today's big tech trends, such as consumer tech and bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, which naturally blends work life and social life.

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Truth is, they want to be in charge of the technology they use at work and don't want to be told otherwise. And chances are they do have a better grasp of the power of technology than older generations that grew up with, say, desktop computer towers, numeric pagers and clunky Microsoft Office.

"Millennials have little patience for bad IT solutions," says a 20-something mobile manager at a Silicon Valley company, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press. "When I interview Millennial job candidates, I ask, 'Do you have any questions for me?' They almost always respond, 'Will I have admin rights on my computer?'"

What's at Stake?

Appealing to Millennials with new-fangled technology just might be a CIO's highest priority. Fact is, Millennials will either drive your IT policy or your attrition rate.

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.

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