What Millennials Want

Enterprises must embrace the tech-savvy Generation Y.

Generation Y, broadly defined as those born between 1977 and 2001, presents a range of new challenges and opportunities for enterprises. Also known as millennials, members of this generation are accustomed to real-time information anytime and anywhere. A video posted by a teenager in Michigan can be viewed and critiqued within minutes by another in Japan. A recent college graduate in Florida can maintain relationships electronically with a network of friends and contacts across North America and Europe.

With the rise of this tech-savvy generation comes important implications for businesses, both as employers and marketers. What managers consider to be a state-of-the-art information system may be viewed as frustratingly slow, limiting and even archaic by a new, young customer service employee. Prospective 20-something consumers may be beyond the reach of newspaper advertising, broadcast marketing or direct-mail campaigns.

Defining a generation

Millennials were raised on the Internet. They tend to see global networking as part of their daily lives and don't pay much attention to formal hierarchies or communication channels. This huge demographic group, estimated at more than 2.3 billion worldwide‚ will have a lasting impact on how business is done.

Their predecessors‚—Generation X (made up of people born between 1965 and 1976)‚—are also known for tech-savvy and casual lifestyles, but Generation Y takes these attributes a step further, integrating ubiquitous, always-on technology with social mores. David Gootzit, research director with Gartner, observes that members of this group represents the first full generation of‚ digital natives, many of whom have never known life without the Internet or mobile devices.

A survey of 579 young adults, ages 18-25, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that they are likely to express themselves through social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. In essence, they are almost always connected. About 54% have used one or more social networking sites, and 44% have created a profile, the study finds. Among those who use social networking sites, 38% say they do so at least once a day. Likewise, 51% reported they had text-messaged within the past 24 hours.

In contrast, baby boomers (often defined as those born between 1946 and 1965), many of whom occupy corporate leadership positions, are considered digital immigrants. Older generations are catching up, in many cases still learning how to use communications technologies and communication styles‚ and these aren't yet embedded in their daily lives like with the millennial generation, observes Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist for Accenture.

Reaching millennials

Meeting this new generation's expectations will require more emphasis on enabling back-end systems to deliver analytics that can better meet their demands, says Ari Banerjee, director of enabling technologies for Yankee Group. Organizations must analyze and respond to transactions in near real time, as customers browse and make decisions‚ for example, while shopping for a new cell phone on a Web site. "Most of the time, they make impulse buys," Banerjee says. "You need the mechanism or the medium to act on and monetize that impulse." And because there are no, "normal business hours" anymore, companies need to react whenever such opportunities arise.

Expectations of 24x7 instant information and split-second responses require changes in how organizations communicate across channels with their employees and customers. Meeting these challenges will require Active Enterprise Intelligence‚ capabilities through enterprise-ready, secure data and applications.

When it comes to meeting millennials‚ demands, Banerjee notes, "there's a huge competitive advantage in analyzing data in real time."

Active in action

Companies reaching Generation Y through mobile and online channels can take advantage of integration with other applications, such as payment processing and real-time analytics. "Try to offer as much as you can online," advises Ari Banerjee, director of enabling technologies for Yankee Group. In the process, companies can employ analytics to better understand their history with individual customers. Even the ability to spot potential service issues can be turned into an opportunity.

For example, a telco may find that a customer has been trying to download a video for a few days, without success. "It could be the handset or the person's service plan. This could be an up-sell opportunity," Banerjee explains. "The telco could say, 'Let me upgrade you to a platinum plan where you could see this for an extra $5 a month.' Or: 'Your cell phone is very old‚ that's why you can't do it. We can give you a special offer for a new model.' This is an up-sell opportunity, but one you can't do without real-time analysis."


As this new generation grows in buying power, organizations need to expand business intelligence (BI) and analytics well beyond the bounds of their enterprises. The Internet is evolving from a collection of Web sites to a network of communities where value is created. Forty-one percent of respondents to a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit recognize that interactive online communities are the most effective way to serve Generation Y customers. Some companies have been quick to adapt, but many are still tied to traditional forms of communication.

Companies seeking to reach younger consumers need to not only develop community-based strategies, but also recognize that a great deal of interaction takes place through mobile channels. The latest PDAs and smart phones are enabling new opportunities for social networking, games, messaging, and photo and video sharing. As multi-taskers, millennials are most often connected through social networking communities, mobile devices and e-mail. As a result, they are more likely to respond to targeted messages and offers sent to their cell phones or other mobile devices.

Accenture‚ Curtis observes that millennials spend about $110 a month on personal technology, which underscores their commitment to more digital lifestyles. "They use this technology extensively to research fashion, trends, what friends are buying and much more," he says. "To reach millennial consumers, companies need to understand, in a deep way, how to integrate their advertising, products and services into these technologies and habits."

In the workplace

As employees, this generation may be an enterprise's greatest asset as it cultivates the younger market. "Organizations that enable digital natives with technology will achieve a competitive advantage in some sectors," says Gootzit.

They bring to the workplace "an instinctive grasp of how technology fits into daily life‚ in pretty much all aspects," Curtis says. "This will influence consumer behavior for years to come, and learning from millennial employees will undoubtedly help companies better understand and serve their new customers."

Young people are accustomed to having information instantaneously, or quickly accessible via online search. When they enter the workplace, they are often frustrated with slower legacy systems. They have to construct queries‚ or worse, wait days for the IT department to build reports, for the information they need.

Do companies have the technology and wherewithal to satisfy the demand for instantaneous data and information? A recent Accenture study, "Millennials at the Gates," observes that millennials "are now bringing those expectations into the workplace‚ and turning IT policies upside down in the process."

"The differences between new workers and their more experienced colleagues are most apparent in their relationships with technology," Accenture's Curtis observes. "Millennials have grown up multitasking with an array of personal digital devices and the networking capabilities‚ like social networks‚ that the digital world enables. This intimacy with technology and networking has changed the way they see the world and the way they relate to others."

The Accenture study, however, finds a disconnect between enterprise technology and how young workers want to use technology and collaborate in the workplace. "The implications for enterprise IT organizations are potentially significant," the report concludes. "As millennials begin to exert more influence in the workplace, IT leadership teams will have to find a way to adapt their policies and procedures to accommodate the new technology these younger workers are demanding. And they must do so without putting the enterprise at risk."

For example, the Accenture study found that a majority of young respondents expect to use their own technology and mobile devices for work rather than those supplied by their employer. Up to one-third of those entering the job market do not feel that current enterprise technology meets their needs for collaboration and communication. Organizations need to find ways to accommodate new devices and applications in a secure manner.

Challenging norms

The democratic construct of social networking technologies is influencing management styles as well. "Across the board, they view organizations in general as needing to be more flat," says Gartner's Gootzit. "If you think about social networking, there's no hierarchy. They connect with whomever they can. And if they accept the connection, you're peers." At one marketing firm, the CEO met with some new hires to welcome them to the organization, Gootzit recounts. Within hours, he had received messages from some of the younger employees offering suggestions and complaints. "They thought nothing of bucking the traditional corporate chain of command," he says.

Curtis notes that millennials have the capacity to redefine how business is done. "Their instinct for collaboration could potentially change management and leadership practices for the better of all of us," he says.

Therefore, says Gootzit, executives should expect to see ongoing tension between digital natives' expectations and behaviors and those of existing corporate cultures. "Do they change the nature of the enterprise overnight? No, of course not," he says. "But their expectations are going to force enterprises to adapt a little bit. And as more and more of them enter the workplace, enterprise culture is going to evolve."

This evolution will place greater demands on organizations' data and technology both in the workplace and the marketplace, requiring the speed and power that only Active Enterprise Intelligence capabilities can provide.

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