Gen Y workers: We know all about this IT stuff

CIOs who were once considered technology gurus by their coworkers can expect much different treatment from Generation Y workers who feel they are very proficient with IT tools, according to a national study conducted by IT World Canada and Harris/Decima.

Approximately 69 per cent of the more than 1,000 people surveyed in Freedom to Compute: The Empowerment of Generation Y said they regard themselves as highly proficient computer users. This was particularly true among those between 18 and 29 with a postgraduate degrees, 80 per cent of whom said they were highly proficient. Men also tended to rate their IT expertise highly at 77 per cent. Those who earn more than $100,000 annually thought they had a good grasp of computing hardware and software compared to those who earned less than $50,000.

The Freedom to Compute study involved Toronto-based research firm Harris/Decima surveying Generation Y workers about their attitudes towards technology. The results were presented to focus groups of CIOs and CEOs to explore the generation gap among older IT workers and future business leaders. The report said the issue around IT proficiency sparked a lot of debate in the discussion sessions.

“There was a fair amount of scepticism by IT leaders as to whether such an extensive number of Gen Y users are truly highly proficient, or whether these users simply view themselves as such,” the report says. Lise Dellazizzo, vice-president with Harris/Decima, said proficiency could be defined in a number of ways, and not necessarily those of the CIO.

“Proficiency in this group is thought of in terms of usage and customization – not software development,” she said. “The best way to understand this is to realize that we are not referring to one’s ability to develop applications or write code, but to the extent of one’s ability to use this software successfully.”

Because Gen Y employees tend to know the technology they’re working at least somewhat well, they have to ability to work around a lot of the security controls that organizations put in place, explained James Quin, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. Bouncing off an open proxy to circumvent content filters and gain access to blocked Web sites is one example.

“If I put a policy in place…working around that policy to get at it anyway opens me as the enterprise up to a lot more threats than it does on you wasting time on a social networking site,” said Quin.

The younger generation is more willing to accept a lower level of privacy than older people in the population, added David Senf, director of Research, Security and Infrastructure Software at IDC Canada. . “In the younger generation, they appear more promiscuous when it comes to willingness to share information, to expose profile information say on Facebook and MySpace, to other people,” he said.

IT departments should be a little more focused on Gen Y simply because of the products they own and use, said Tony Olvet, vice president of Canadian Communications, Segments and Channels Research at IDC Canada. “Their ownership of more portable devices – whether we’re talking about MP3 players, notebook computers, gaming handhelds or even smartphones – is anywhere from 50 per cent to three times higher than older demographics. That has implications in two areas,” he said.

“One is just their access and usage of technology is that much greater, so they are more comfortable and willing to take activities and actions that are beyond normal policies or activities of the average employee. The other thing is just the portability of these devices. Being plugged into a network, you can sideload and have data coming off the devices and/or viruses and other malware coming onto the network,” Olvet said.

Higher proficiency in technology may also mean users expect a more customized and personalised computing experience, the report said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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