There have been endless articles penned about the troubles of a new generation of workers entering the workforce. Invariably, there are concerns about poor communication, lackluster work habits, and lack of respect for authority and traditional leadership structures. What few have discussed, and which has a huge potential impact on CIOs, is that the newest entrants to the workforce are the first generation of do-it-yourself technologists IT leaders have had to deal with en masse.
If you look at how the technology industry and even the broader consumer product industry have evolved, there's been a clear trend toward self-help and self-service. In IT, if you've been around for more than a decade, you probably remember software arriving in massive boxes, with a pile of floppy disks and a set of manuals that could buckle a shelf, explaining each and every feature and nuance. I remember being handed the box to Borland's C/C++ compiler, a 20+ pound affair that felt worthy of the princely sum the software commanded by virtue of its heft alone. Now, even the most complicated software might provide a box with a DVD and admonishment to download the manuals "when available," or little more than an email with a download link.
Free technical support for most products has long since vanished, and if one can even find a phone number, you are presented with a hellacious round of phone prompts and hollow robotic voices endlessly chanting "I didn't understand that, please try again."
Most young people I know don't even consider the possibility of receiving free help from the provider of their technology, and check Google before trying the actual manufacturer should they run into a problem with a device. This generation has had to succeed in an environment where you're the first few tiers of tech support, and might be expected to do everything from installing software patches to adjusting OS settings merely in order to make a product work.
Corporate IT doesn't do DIY
While most corporations profess a deep love for DIY services due to the cost savings, most corporate IT is inherently designed to prevent DIY. Software is locked down, access restricted, and everything from a password change to a software patch is restricted to a central authority. There are obvious benefits to this practice, but a very real culture shock for workers accustomed to providing their own frontline technical support.
While some demographics of your workforce may appreciate being able to ring the helpdesk and speak with an actual human, the DIY generation may find it frustrating that they can't fix a problem on their schedule, or must wait several days for a helpdesk ticket to work its way through the system, for a fix that they could perform themselves in moments.
The solution to this culture clash is obviously not to provide anyone and everyone wholesale access to all internal systems, but to take a hard look at existing policies, availability of self-help tools, and options for things like Bring Your Own Device.
If you demand that every employee create a helpdesk ticket for every incident, then underequip your helpdesk, you're creating a recipe for disaster regardless of how many DIY-oriented employees you have. Combine this with an environment where users are forced to employ IT assistance for every minor incident, for example by creating a different password policy for every application, and you've built the IT equivalent of a bridge to nowhere.
Consider accommodating the DIY generation by supporting their propensity to help themselves. At this point, most organizations have self-help tools for basic tasks like password resets, but consider building your portfolio of self-help tools, and beef up things like self-service status inquiry on helpdesk tickets. If IT is transparent and fast, you're less likely to generate frustration. You may even consider piloting tiered access to corporate IT, perhaps in conjunction with a BYOD initiative. Allow users more control over their individual computing environment, with the caveat that any major support or security problems will result in privileges being revoked and a return to the standard corporate tools.
Like any cultural shift, the DIY generation presents opportunities for new ways of working, along with a fair share of intercultural frustrations. If you can leverage the former and mitigate the latter, the DIY generation might actually make IT support easier.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.