William Jackson | Leveraging the IT skills of a new generation of workers

Cybereye ' commentary

Cybereye columnists
William Jackson

Rightly or wrongly, the millennial generation ' those born after 1980 who are now entering the workforce ' has gained a reputation for being difficult to manage. They want to be coddled on the job, resist direction and generally have an inflated sense of entitlement, the critics say.

In their own defense, the millennials say that in an economy with no job security and precious few benefits, a little consideration from management is the least they should be able to expect.

An interesting study by Symantec indicates that there are real differences between younger and older workers, particularly in their approach to using information technology on the job, and suggests that IT managers might be missing out on opportunities to take full advantage of this new tech-savvy generation. By fighting the adoption of cutting-edge consumer technology in the workplace rather than harnessing it, IT managers could be exposing their systems to greater risk than is necessary.

According to the study, 'Millennial Workforce: IT Risk or Benefit,' young workers across the board are more likely than their elders to be using new technology in the workplace, either for their jobs or for personal use. This includes tools and toys such as social networking and other interactive Web services; iPods, iTunes and iPhones; USB drives; instant messaging; streaming audio and video; and online gaming. Most have downloaded software for personal use on work PCs, often in defiance of policy, and 69 percent feel they are entitled to use whatever application or device they want on the job, regardless of policy.

This could be a recipe for disaster for IT and security administrators who are fighting a losing battle to keep control over the devices and applications running on their systems and to track data. But these new workers are not necessarily adversaries.

'I don't see them as being rebels against policy,' said Samir Kapuria, managing director of Symantec Advisory Consulting Services. They just do not see the logic and applicability of it. 'The proficiency that these guys have with technology is clearly tied with the consumerization of IT,' which has blurred the lines between personal and professional use.

Millennials just do not see any problem with downloading music or playing games on their work PC, or with putting company information on a smart phone. As a result, they say, they are happier and more productive.

Happiness and productivity are subjective things, difficult to quantify and measure. But will restricting the use of technologies that a growing segment of the workforce takes for granted help them on the job? What is the cost of welcoming these technologies into the enterprise?

A degree of order in the workplace is necessary so that systems can be adequately managed and secured. But at the same time, the real job of IT and security administrators is to help workers get their jobs done. Security is a tool, not an end in itself. A constantly shifting and evolving environment complicates the job of management and security, but a static environment is neither possible nor desirable.

In the Symantec study, 36 percent of IT executives said they had not revised their IT use policies in the past five years. A five-year-old policy is essentially no policy at all. Five years ago, a cell phone was just a phone, people listened to music recorded on CDs, instant messaging was not a serious business tool and nobody talked about MySpace or YouTube. All that has changed. Ignore those changes at your risk. A blanket ban simply means that new technology will be in your workplace, unmanaged.

The solution is to constantly evaluate new playthings. Can something be an effective tool with adequate security? If so, allow it and manage it. Does this toy introduce few risks while keeping workers happy? Then manage the risks and allow it. If a risk is too great and cannot be mitigated, ban it, but make it clear to workers why it is banned.

The result might be more work for administrators, but it also might mean a more productive, happier workforce.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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