How will the next generation of workers consume IT?

17 February 2016

If the next generation of workers see wireless access and cloud storage as the norm, what will their expectations be when they join the workforce? How will you support their potential?

Recently I attended a 'What's My Line' career speed-networking event at the Your Future Careers Day held in Worthing, which triggered a whole load of thoughts about the consumption of IT. At the event, small groups of 14-16 year olds had four minutes to ask me and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals yes/no questions to guess our jobs. We were asked to take along a prop to stimulate discussion and direct the students. The other ambassadors had various engineering roles - software engineers, a rolling-stock engineer, system engineer and a hydro-power engineer. I took a Cisco switch.

The first question everyone asked was: "Are you a coder?" When prompted to look at the hardware on my desk, all of the students guessed the switch was a wireless router: none used a wired device for their personal use. Some, when prompted, understood that the desktop PCs in their ICT rooms had wired connections, and a few remembered that Ethernet cables connected those devices.

Many of the students had never thought about what they were connecting to, and took their access to the internet for granted. Their frame of reference was definitely the applications they used, and they weren't really interested in any technology behind them. Many of the students used cloud services to store information, but only a few had thought about what 'cloud' might actually mean.

One thought Dropbox was at his home - I guess he meant his access to the service was limited to his home device, rather than that he had a Dropbox server in his garage! Perhaps not surprisingly, none mentioned the security of their personal data as a concern.

So what?

If wireless is this generation's primary experience of connecting to the internet, and cloud storage their common practice, then how will this impact on their expectations when they join the workforce in the next five years? In his blog post last year, Cisco systems engineer Brett Martin talked about how RSA has deployed brilliant wireless technology in its new premises to create a revolutionary flexible workspace. The company has saved millions of pounds on office real estate and given its employees easier access to each other and their primary business partners. It adopted this rule: if the device moves, Wi-Fi should be the primary network – if it doesn't move, plug it in.

The all-wireless office

If the students I met were anything to go by, these post-millennials barely know what a wired device looks like. Designing a completely wireless user experience will be essential for organisations who want to meet the expectations of their new workforce. The cost-saving bonus of enabling flexible working with less need for office space makes deployment of high-performance wireless a no-brainer for forward-thinking organisations.

Brett Martin discussed the best practices of the 'all-wireless' office in his recent Cisco TechHuddle session. Retaining some Ethernet in the background for non-mobile devices like printers will ensure ubiquitous high-quality user experience. Whether using corporate systems or cloud services, this generation of users will expect the same easy-to-access, uninterrupted service. Security should not intrude on user experience: it just has to work, so having visibility and appropriate control of cloud consumption will be critical to protecting organisations.

At Ideal this all feels very relevant, as we're introducing a flexible working policy to allow us to continue to work effectively in our current office while we secure a bigger space. To make this a success we will need to consider what Steve McKee of Cisco's Cross-Architectural Team calls the 'three-legged stool': discussing smart and connected technologies in the Cisco technology podcast, McKee explains how considering not just technology, but its adoption and your organisational culture is critical.

It'll be a big shift for us as a business: we've grown up as an 'everyone in the office' team, and while we are lucky to already have the technology in place to enable secure mobile working, our challenge will be changing that culture and expectation. Watch this space to find out how we get on - and, if you want help implementing your own mobile workforce strategy, get in touch.


Image: G. T. Wang/Flickr, Creative Commons