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Millennial Culture Drives Agility & Flexibility

There is no doubt that millennials will change corporate cultures. Smart companies should act now to leverage the impact that young professionals will have on software interfaces, service delivery, and work style.

Millennials are changing corporate culture. Their way of looking at the workplace and their expected working style will blow a fresh wind through staid, traditional organizations. Most people are aware that they will have significant influence on software user experience, service delivery, and workspace design.

But it is much more. The next generation’s motivations and behaviors are substantially different from those of Generation X, which has put its stamp on today's corporate culture. We are mainly wired to pursue long-term goals, well-planned career paths, and strong commitments to the employer. In two years from now, 47% of the workforce will be very different.


Amira Polack and Ben Christensen, two true digital natives, recently shared their outlooks and experiences at this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW show in Orlando, Florida. Here are some excerpts of my conversation with Ben and Amira about cloud computing and what it means to millenials.  

Sven Denecken (SD): Ben, what drives your personal cloud experience?

Ben Christensen (BC): My personal cloud experience comes from a resistance to things that slow me and my teams down. Time is the only resource I can't increase. Efficiency in what we are all doing is key. During my studies, I discovered that collaboration through a shared document in real time has shaped my expectations accordingly. Not only input from teammates but the whole document history is available. This behavior has spread to all my project work - to the extent that all input should be saved instantly, to become searchable, analyzable, and sharable. Micro-blogging a team-learning journal makes every moment a collaborative knowledge management reference in our project journeys.

Ben: “My excitement for cloud comes from a resistance to things that slow me and my teams down. Embracing the informational agility and its associated risks [helps] free my mind and hands so I can focus on the problem space."

I guess the point that resonates with me about the cloud is embracing the informational agility and its associated risks wherever possible, and auto-logging opportunities that free my mind and my hands so I can focus on interacting directly with "my people" and our solutions and problem spaces.

SD: Amira, how about your personal experience?

Amira Polack (AP): I work at SAP in CSR and Communications. Outside the company, I run a social business in South Africa and chair a non-profit organization. I’m a recent college grad and I enjoy face-to-face socializing (not just Facebook and texting), spending time with my family (I consider myself a decent big sister), and spinning. 

My cloud definition is broader than most of my peers define it today: The cloud needs to help me be a better me and bring my whole self to any context. The easiest way to scope the cloud is within my daily interactions, favorite services, and even contexts where I’ve been confronted with cloud-less environments. Especially in valuing face-time, the cloud plays a strong role: Google maps app (not GPS) to visit friends, Uber/Lyft (cheaper taxi alternative, mobile pay) if I don’t have a car or don't want to drive, or Venmo to split the bill.

In this sense, the cloud means connection, collaboration, being synced… but also physical enablement to get around more effectively, enjoy moments with people I care about instead of feeling bad about hassling the waiter to split the bill ten ways, etc.

And don't forget security: In college, I studied abroad in South Africa, often called the world’s “crime capital.” Mid-semester, my apartment was broken into and my valuables stolen, chiefly my Macbook. All my photos, videos, music, college assignments – “my life” since university started – gone. All had been backed up on a hard drive, but the burglars had stolen that too, Dropbox wasn’t as prevalent at the time. Facebook and Gmail saved my skin! So what is “secure?” I think it can be more risky to not opt for cloud.

Amira: “If valuable time is wasted on operations, analytics, and administration that ought to be on the cloud, you get restless millennials. It’s the 21st century.”

SD: As an employee and expert, what do you transfer into your working life?

BC: I'd hope for some flexibility among my department/team/project space. A working environment should be as flexible as the people who are expected to work there.

Boundaries and inflexible structures drive focus away from a creative pursuit. We can't just float around in white space or empty rooms. We hope that physical and process structures are reconfigurable in a Lego-inspired style. Let's see how green bricks fit in with gold bricks, and add an expert-level blue brick against an orange brick. Mutually reconfigurable for collaborative results, and the journey traceable and self-logging, so we can quickly analyze and share what works and what fails to inspire new productivity.

AP: Before my first project at SAP, my manager leveled expectations with me: “At least in the beginning, I’ll expect you in the office most days. I’m usually in Tuesday and Thursday, and leave around 2:30 – 3 p.m.” Awesome. Don’t get me wrong – I like to be as busy as possible. And as it turns out, I prefer working in the office most days, having lunch with colleagues and the like – people are the best part about work. But freedom and choice are key. Most of my meetings and teammates take place in other geographies and time zones. We host the meeting on cloud-connect, collaborate on storylines for key campaigns on Jam, keep content stores on the cloud for topics we’re working on, microblog in online communities… from everywhere.

I don’t have to be in the office at 6 a.m. But I can be in Mexico City to enjoy a weekend trip without taking vacation during the weekdays. 

I expect my working environment to be like the cloud-oriented one I grew up in, and meet my expectations of cloud-based consumer products. Millennials will transform their environments to meet their cloud needs… I’ve done so. 36% of respondents to a Fortinet survey of millennials said they’d break company policy restricting use of personal cloud storage. 79% have used personal cloud storage for work purposes.

SD: What is your advice to the audience? 

BC: Will we find an environment to flex our mutual information-sharing opportunities from ubiquitous connectivity? I hope we can use the storm of connected things by getting each of our minds merged in a pattern of solutions exploration. And standard, persistent commodity cloud technology will be the catalyst.

Millennials like us are well acquainted with navigating emerging technologies, and freshly pressed off some cool study programs. We still hunger for the depth of wisdom that the previous five generations, who are going to be colleagues, have built up from actual experience with real business needs and changing customer demands over the years.

And finally a note on generational diversity of employees: I hope it's true that millennials can add value by thinking differently;  we want and need to be exposed to the ways you all think differently when we approach your business and IT.

Working together across generations or across levels of seniority will improve our understanding as we mutually inspire, learn, share, and act in sync with our heads in the cloud toward our mutual business goals.

AP: Let's slip into the consumer's shoes for a second, because here cloud is a starting point, but to Ben’s point: Not all cloud opportunities are created equal. It’s necessary, but not the end-all. There are several examples where services are on the web but simply overtaken by others.

  • Spotify is a service of choice for music. You can listen to anything, and you can expand your repertoire with social.
  • Dropbox works, but it feels like every time a document syncs, I get a notification. Space allocation when sharing is unclear to most. Got a simpler alternative? I’m there.
  • Millennials don’t like email, even if on the cloud. They like Gmail – what my college and prior employer transitioned to.

As an employee, consumer technology sets the standard for the work environment. Catch up, or good luck keeping me around. For example, all my student organizations operated on cloud-based collaboration tools; this environment was what I expected entering the workforce. If valuable time is wasted on operations, analytics, etc. that aren’t on the cloud that should be, or on transferring things to the cloud, you get restless millennials. It’s the 21st century.

As an entrepreneur, be cloud-savvy, or prepare to get disrupted. According to a survey by Deloitte, 70% want to start their own businesses, and a key to affordable iteration/experimentation is the cloud – lowered barrier to markets and freedom to fail until success. I’ve found this to be personally true – whether founding a company, leading an organization, or networking for the next big thing – the cloud is my starting point.

SD: Thanks Amira, Ben – looking forward to hearing more from you soon.

Amira Polack works for SAP. Previously, Amira has worked in investment banking; at a garage-based startup in the Philippines; for her own social business, Ubomi Beads LLC in South Africa; and at a non-profit organization, Business Today. Amira is passionate about how business and technology can improve lives, and she aims to accelerate her acumen at SAP.

Ben Christensen is an IT-business student with a design disposition, a social habit, a circus hobby, and an entrepreneurial streak. He has lived, taught, studied, worked, entertained, and volunteered in various worlds, from stockrooms in Helsinki to Utah’s largest radio newsroom, from Taiwan concert halls to no-walled-classrooms in Mexico, from Copenhagen cafes to code-competition arenas, from virtual global conference rooms to local app design rooms, and from elected-student boardrooms to university dorm rooms. 

 This blog originally appeared on SCN. Follow us on Twitter @SDenecken and @SAPCloud.