by Thomas Wailgum

Millennials + Enterprise Software: Doomed to Fail

Oct 30, 2009
Enterprise Applications

Care about the future of your company? Ask a Millennial about how they use software today.

We can talk on and on about enterprise software ROI, TCO, upgrades, integration, delivery models, SaaS vs. on-premise, maintenance fees, but we tend to forget about usability. As in, are the employees who are supposed to use the software that costs the business so much money, that gives gray hairs to the IT implementation teams, actually finding the software to be usable and, in fact, are willingly embracing it?

Ahhhh, you mean the users, right?

Historically, most workers haven’t openly gushed about the usability of traditional, on-premise ERP, CRM, BI and supply chain applications. (For more on this, see Why Are Enterprise Applications Underused? Poor Software Design.)

Certainly the latest on-demand and SaaS apps have been designed to be more user-friendly. But as the next-generation of U.S. workers—the Millennials—continues to take over corporate America, the usability of enterprise applications will not only become paramount, it will be expected by the Millennial crowd. And anything that’s considered too cumbersome or inflexible will be tossed aside like a first-generation iPod Shuffle or MySpace account.

That point hit home with me after reading Forrester Research’s The Millennials Are Here! Are You Prepared? (subscription required), an October 2009 report by Senior Analyst Claire Schooley.

According to Schooley, 76 million Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000 (scary, I know) and are now infiltrating corporations everywhere—approximately 40 million already have, with an additional 35 million getting ready. “They bring sharp technology skills, a desire for challenging work, flexibility, mobility and an ability to work well in teams,” writes Schooley. However, she adds, “These new employees often meet a seasoned workforce that has very different work styles.”

When it comes to enterprise software today, just take out the word “workforce” in that last sentence and insert “application suite.” This unfortunate situation is going to be one of biggest challenges for old-school businesses with tons of legacy software and infrastructure. (Of course, it should help that the tech workers are going to be Millennials, too.)

Productivity is absolutely critical to Millennials, and waiting around is not, notes Schooley. For most, technology has been embedded in their DNA. They’re not afraid of it, like past generations. Technology frees them to innovate, and they enjoy it. (See how many of your users are enjoying using their SAP or Oracle ERP apps.)

Technology-induced roadblocks are nothing more than annoying obstacles to be circumvented if they prevent Millennials from doing their jobs. If companies don’t provide the right tools, Schooley writes, Millennials, who have grown up in a world of constant and instantaneous communication technologies, “will find a way around the policies.”

Clearly, for this generation, 12-month rollouts, software-integration excuses and Web 1.0 apps just won’t cut it. Not surprisingly, Schooley observes, many organizations are having difficulty recruiting and retaining Millennials.

So what do Baby Boomer-centric organizations need to do, if they care at all about the future success of their organizations? “Figure out ways to use social tools and networks. Work with IT to rethink policies,” Schooley contends. “Wikis, blogs, social networks, telepresence, tags and communities of practice are central to a high-performance workplace of the future.” To which I would add: User-friendly and highly intuitive corporate apps that are just as accessible from HQ as they are from an iPhone.

In addition, today’s IT and non-IT executives might want to tap into the views of a Millennial or two out in the cube farm. “Invite Millennials to work with managers and teams to rethink design of work environment, work processes, management systems and collaborative models,” Schooley writes. “Be open to a fresh look at job rules and procedures.”

Because guess what? Millennials are going to dominate the workforce for the next 70 years. And where will you be then?

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