Last month Ofcom published its annual Communications Market Report measuring our confidence in and knowledge of communications technology. According to the report, 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different communication habits to older generations, even the 16-24 age group. What's more, six year olds claim to have the same or a better understanding of communications technology as 45 year olds!
Much has been written about the Millennials or Generation Y and their impact on the world of work. However as the Ofcom report highlights, in just a few years a new generation - Generation Z - will be joining the workforce. With two billion people worldwide, Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2012), will be the first generation that has grown up with ubiquitous mobile phones, MP3 players and broadband - rather than dial-up internet. In fact, it is likely that the very beginnings of their lives were announced digitally via email or on social media.
As a result, this group has spent its entire life with immediate access to an abundance of data on any and every subject that crosses their minds. They have never had to experience the frustration or the effort of searching through the M-O volume of the encyclopaedia to find out about Olive Oil. They want information now, and thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices, they have the tools to get it. Generation Z also craves constant and immediate feedback. The days of leaving a voicemail or firing off an e-mail and awaiting a response are long gone, and were possibly never part of this generation's behaviour anyway. They are used to having a wide range of choices too - be they different information feeds, entertainment channels or apps.
Generation Z has a great deal to offer the enterprise, but how can businesses harness their potential in a company? I believe their desire for immediacy and choice are the key. For example, it is likely that rather than accepting the corporate suite of applications that are pre-loaded onto their computers, they will expect an enterprise app store, where they can browse, choose and instantly download the apps they require - just as they would on their personal devices. Many organisations have already embarked on this strategy and I am sure that many more will follow, complementing the range of available apps with network-based identity engines that ensure the applications available to each individual employee are appropriate and relevant to their roles.
According to Ofcom, children aged 12-15 are rejecting phone calls in favour of text-based communication. Its report reveals that three percent of their communication time is spent speaking on the phone, compared to 94 percent spent in messaging environments. These communication preferences are undoubtedly going to spill into the workplace, where the volume of traffic over IM and social business apps like Chatter will overtake that of email. However email and phone calls are not going to disappear, therefore businesses need to ensure that the single, unified communication interface they provide Generation Z employees with includes all these communication methods. This unified communication interface also needs to integrate a range of other business process apps and must conform with data protection and call recording regulations, which differ across industries.
Thirty years ago, business was more frequently done in person than on the phone; twenty years later email took over, turning our business relationships into words on the screen - with an occasional photo for good measure. With Generation Z, we are coming full circle with a modern take on face-to face meetings through virtual environments where we can simulate the level of immediacy and closeness that has disappeared. At The British Medical Association, video has become a critical tool for conducting both internal and external meetings, as well as for providing adhoc access to in-house and remote experts. Employees are able to use their webcam from their phone, laptop or tablet to join a video meeting anywhere in the world. As well as video conferencing, gamification comes into play here. For example, the MIT Sloan School of Management has been using AvayaLive Engage - a virtual avatar-based conferencing environment - to enhance its distance and online learning programmes. The tool enables an experience that is more dynamic and engaging and helps geographically dispersed people work together more effectively.
Underpinning all of this is going to be cloud computing, which allows businesses to deliver these apps in a flexible and frictionless manner. Generation Z, which expects a wide range and choice of immediate data, also needs a flexible way of storing, moving and delivering it. Cloud computing looks to be the answer.
With cloud computing, software is not stored on a physical computer or server in office building, rather cloud computing provides the same software or apps, via the public internet or a private internet-based connection. Traditional infrastructures serve a key purpose but usually require budget up front, and may not be flexible enough to support steady growth or seasonal spikes. Businesses are increasingly addressing these challenges by transitioning to nimble, cloud-friendly options that offer better scalability, flexibility and affordability; and this is set to continue as the amount of data we use increases, as does the variety of applications businesses offer employees. Most of us are already reaping the benefits of the cloud in our personal lives though services like Apple's iCloud and Dropbox.
Additionally, collaborative working is something Generation Z is expected to excel at. Cloud computing increases collaboration by allowing all employees - wherever they are - to sync up and work on documents and shared apps simultaneously, and follow colleagues to receive critical updates in real time.
Generation Z is already knocking on the door of the workplace. In a couple of years that gentle knocking will have been replaced by a loud banging and the flood of 'Z-ers' will force enterprises to offer new ways of working. Those that begin to evolve their underlying technology now, will be the ones that see the most benefit from this generation.