The next generation of staff will help to make the workplace a freer, more informed and less controlled place, says Nick Kirkland.

We’re at a point now where students coming through from university have never known a world without the internet and computers – in other words, they’re digital natives.

Their arrival presents a real challenge for the corporate CIO. Not only does the new generation look at the world differently, they look at technology differently. Consequently, despite conforming to many accepted norms, digital natives will help accelerate the consumerisation of corporate IT.

As this change happens, the role of the CIO is likely to alter, becoming less focused on the technology itself and looking more at governance, control and strategy.

iPad on the tube

The new generation of staff expect to be always-on, and that desire has implications for security and privacyPhoto: Shutterstock

Speaking at the CIO Connect annual conference last month, Katie Bell, marketing director at Middlesex University, presented the findings of interviews with students, using those findings to advise the assembled CIOs on how best to cope with this change.

The younger generation, she argued, multitasks with ease across a variety of platforms, so CIOs must think about how such interaction will affect both the internal workplace and external customer relationships.

This generation has clear technology requirements. They expect to be always-on and that desire can create implications for security and privacy.

But while some view this as a problem, others see the benefits of a generation that arrives at work already able to multitask effectively.

Another speaker at our conference, Ian Sherratt of IT services company SCC, played down concerns associated with consumerisation, arguing that these are not insurmountable issues in most organisations – even though the transformation does present a challenge. He rightly points out that if you want good people to join your organisation, you can’t land them in front of a seven-year-old laptop and say, “Collaboration can’t happen here.”

Device dependency could be a real issue for the CIO who hasn’t taken this onboard. Our research has shown that 53 per cent of under-25s check their Facebook status before even getting out of bed. So if these people enter the workplace to find…


…a beige box on their desk which can only be used in a limited number of ways, it will present something of a culture clash.

From a CIO’s perspective, even if they welcome the consumerisation of IT, there are certain boundaries that must remain in place.

Commercial confidentiality, for example, is a major concern because even though the younger generation may be digital natives, the world of work and its codes of conduct are likely to be foreign to them. As such, there must be clear guidelines on the sharing of information with those outside the organisation, something that appears countercultural from even a cursory glance at Facebook.

However, there are signs that this generation does understand that what is acceptable online in one context is not appropriate in relation to being in or seeking employment. Using different email addresses for different purposes, for example – so that an email arrives in a potential employer’s inbox under a real name, rather than a comedy nickname.

Social media is another key area about which much has been written – largely by employers – concerning the need for young people to hide inappropriate content that might damage their employment prospects.

Personally I feel this is overblown, and I would ask those employers who discount candidates based on such evidence a simple question: would you rather employ somebody who has no life outside work?

The future workplace will almost certainly be freer, more informed and less controlled. While the CIO will still be responsible for overseeing policy on issues such as lockdown, it will be for the wider business to adopt new ways of working, measuring value by output rather than time spent at work, for example.

Bringing young people into your organisation with an innate understanding of this way of communicating, sooner rather than later, will help make this a more natural transition.

Nick Kirkland is CEO at CIO Connect, whose members represent a significant proportion of the FTSE 350, the private and public sectors, and overseas organisations. Its goal is the development of senior IT leaders and their teams. Kirkland is an experienced CIO, having served on the board of Penguin Books as information services director and as head of IT for Sony in the UK. He was also a group vice president at analyst firm Gartner.