IT faces stiff challenge from emerging workforce

The children of baby boomers will expect collaboration tools and less-structured processes.

Chris Scalet realized that the next generation of workers will likely require drastically different IT tools and policies as he watched his 20-year-old daughter studying for college classes recently.

Scalet, senior vice president and CIO at Merck & Co., noticed that she simultaneously studied, listened to her iPod, sent text messages and browsed through pages of the Facebook online social network.

"How she will work in the future will be very different from how we work today," Scalet said. "She is going to expect [collaboration] tools... to be able to work. We don't think that way today as corporations. We think, as baby boomers, [about a] very traditional, structured, formal [work process]."

Scalet is among a growing number of IT executives looking at what changes need to be made to adequately meet the needs of the 80 million children of baby boomers, who are just now entering the workforce.

Businesses must quickly find a way to adapt to new technologies that will be essential in what Don Tapscott calls "the next-generation enterprise." Tapscott is co- author of Wiki­nomics (Portfolio Hardcover, 2006), a book about how the Internet and mass collaboration are about to dramatically affect the global economy.

"Collaboration models are going to dominate the 21st century marketplace," he predicted. "If you don't understand that, you're going to fail."

Though Scalet said it's too early to say exactly how technology will have to evolve, he agreed that CIOs must "think very differently about how to build future capabilities."

"This next generation of employees will pull corporations toward it," he said. If companies lack the technology demanded by the new workers, "they will pack up and go someplace that does. IT has to take a leadership role."

But, warned David Berry, senior vice president and CIO at cosmetics company Coty Inc., such new technologies still must fall within corporate IT parameters in areas like security and governance.

Berry said he is already working to determine which of the new collaboration technologies can fit into a corporate environment -- and which cannot.

"Social networks, for example, in a nonworkplace environment might be OK, but what about managing it when litigation steps in?" Berry said. "Most companies are not geared to handle [social networks]. It is hard enough to handle inappropriate use of the Internet in the workplace."

New York-based Coty is using instant messaging and online forums, and it is gearing up to roll out a corporate portal with access to instant messaging, e-mail and company news, Berry said. He acknowledged that the effort so far is "sort of a Yahoo" first-generation Internet approach to technology that may seem "stale" to the younger set. Therefore, he added, the company is also integrating forums, wikis and RSS feeds into the mix.

Berry noted that as time goes on, IT managers will have to play the "good guy, bad guy" role in managing the rollout of these technologies. "It is also our responsibility to train the younger people in the proper use of technologies, to respect policy and process, and not only have fun with the new technologies," he said

Managers must also consider the cost of rolling out the new technologies. "The younger folks haven't had to deal with ROI or capital investments," Berry said.

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