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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bridging the Generation Gap

I had a deja-vu experience the other day, nothing like seeing a cat cross my path twice or similar, but suddenly realizing I am now in my parents shoes from some 15 years ago. Put simply, the education I gave to my parents on how to use their mobile phone was being given to me by my kids on the use of my Tablet. My daughter comes to me and says “Dad, I can’t access YouTube on your tablet.” I reply that well sometimes it doesn’t work over the Internet. Her response: “That’s ok Dad, if you download the YouTube application onto your tablet over the Wi-Fi you will find it works better and then I can always access my favourites!” To this, I respond: “Yes I know, when I have time I will set it up for you”. She then highlighted to me, “It’s ok Dad, just give me your password. I know how to set it up for you and then I can even save your favourites for you too!” Well that clearly wasn’t going to happen; she is only four by the way. Then you also have my son who somehow knows how to access the Nintendo Wii that we have and reset all of the high-scores except his to ensure his character is shown at the beginning of each game that he plays in front of his family and friends.
Now I remember as a kid the most high tech device I had was a computer console that let you play tennis, hockey and squash in black and white. I was amazed by how cool it was with all the sophistication of a single button and a dial to move your bat up and down the screen. In contrast, I now get asked by my eldest daughter to help her load music from a CD onto her iPod because it’s a bit old and she wants to listen to some of her parents music which she can’t get as mp3 tracks from her friends. When did the digital era end? The technology market has clearly changed!
The key dynamic in all of these technology changes is the user experience and what I find interesting is the growing gap in terms of the market demands by end users. For Generation Alpha it is clearly all about immediacy and own preferred technology, whereas for the Baby Boomers it is all about ease of use. These are two very contrasting views and the challenges for technology companies and integrators alike is to find a way to manage this balance, enable personalization but retain core components which are intuitive and don’t require the ability to reconfigure a device or platform to interface with their own technology. At this point I expect there are two groups pausing here and contemplating one of two things:
1) Well of course you integrate a new technology with what you have - that is how you maximize the new widget whilst at the same time retaining your own preference in platforms.
2) Why am I integrating something, it just works right?
Or perhaps there is a third group – you want to connect what to what?

You should be able to identify with one of these scenarios and interestingly, the third group is actually the oldest technology engaging generation and at the same time, the youngest. We may understand the reasons for the former, but it is the next generation that simply expect it to work, it’s all about immediacy and me, the simple expectation being I connect a new technology to my existing devices or technology and it just works because the interfaces are already designed to speak to each other. For this generation the Android vs. Apple debate isn’t even a topic - they are focused on the application and service layer.
At the point it might sound like I am referring to the obvious and also provide businesses with peace of mind that they don’t need to worry as this is why their technology is targeted at a specific market segment and if it does not reach all users, this isn’t a concern due to the size of each of these addressable markets. However this is where the slap in the face comes in. If you are trying to introduce technology into a business environment where there is a mix of users, it must be viewed as usable by all. I had one experience where what one person thought was a great conferencing platform that could integrate with all of their devices, another person felt that this required a science degree to have it work on more than one configuration.

Technology is definitely an enabler for businesses but any technology firm seeking to introduce new offerings into a business environment needs to adhere to three clear guidelines:
1. User Experience: The technology must be able to shape to individual preferences.
2. Adoption: It is not enough that one group in a business adopts the technology, it must be used by all otherwise it will ultimately fail to see sustained use.
3. Relevance: Every user must be able to translate how a new technology will improve their working environment.

Now these might sound straight forward but look at your own development teams. Can you see a mix of generations being engaged in developing and introducing a new technology to market? If yes, then your teams should be able to answer the above questions for the different generations with ease. If they look at you quizzically then be afraid, as without bridging the diversifying generation gap, your great technology or business idea will ultimately fail and you will be recognized as having developed a great technology or platform but a technology/platform that could not be used within a business environment. Businesses are often challenged with adapting to the markets they seek to operate in - it is time technology providers started to consider the same for the growing diversity of technology users within a business as well. There is a simple analogy here for technology firms, as far as survival in an Enterprise environment for technology. It is a case of adapt or die.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nathan, that is a great post and very relevant to what I am going through at my new organisation..... moving an older, established organisation into the digital age. Great article! Nancy

Nathan Bell said...

Thanks Nancy, It is definitely interesting to see how businesses who may have had a Digital presence are now truly starting the path to migrate to a Digital world! Nathan.