Opinion: Lessons learned from a Hollywood zombie flick

Opinion: Lessons learned from a Hollywood zombie flick

There’s a battle raging between app-hungry Gen Ys and the last defenders of enterprise computing, says National Film and Sound Archive CIO Miriam Waterhouse

Brad Pitt in Hollywood zombie apocalypse blockbuster <i>World War Z.</i>

Brad Pitt in Hollywood zombie apocalypse blockbuster <i>World War Z.</i>

After sitting through two hours of Brad Pitt and the hordes of zombies in the latest Hollywood blockbuster World War Z, I got to thinking there’s a similar plot line being played out in many businesses today.

While it isn’t quite as apocalyptic as the aforementioned cinematic feast (pardon the pun), the implications for business computing are hugely significant.

I call it World War Y or the conflict raging between masses of social network crazy and app hungry millennial or Gen Y employees against the last bastions of traditional enterprise computing.

But unlike the inevitable conclusion to horror stories where either the human race or armies of zombies are annihilated, there are strategies we can employ in IT to ensure that the conflict delivers lasting and sustainable advantage to everyone – provided of course we first understand our ‘battlefield’ scenarios, which include:

We’re all infected. It’s not only Gen Y that carries the social and mobile virus, and unlike being attacked and bitten from a flesh-hungry zombie, we’re all infected whether we like it or not.

If you slavishly nurture your LinkedIn connections at work, you’re bitten. If you crave that latest company allocated smartphone or even sneak in your own to check your Gmail, update your Facebook page, or even access a document you’ve worked on at home from Dropbox, once again you’re bitten.

It’s not a case of being able to prevent an outbreak, but rather understand how the mobility and social ‘infection’ works for or against your employees and your organisation.

Zombie diplomacy always fails. Cinematic history and the zombie genre show that you can’t argue or have a rational conversation with the undead. They just want one thing – you.

Similarly, Gen Y craves access from their mobile devices to the sources of nutrition that fuel their social appetite, and yes, even support increased workplace collaboration. These are of course apps, and if the enterprise can’t deliver or provide secure access, employees will, and often do source their own.

It’s a behavioural thing. Believe it or not, and unlike the walking dead, Gen Y and millennial employees don’t mindlessly shuffle around the office. Rather, they can bring their behaviours into the workplace, exploiting their proficiency in mobile related technologies, social networks and even cloud computing to support better work practices and increasing their own personal productivity.

This however breaks down when elements supporting these millennial positives collapse, such as failing to provide mobile access to enterprise systems and app stores, enforcing restrictive bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies or encroaching on employee privacy. This is where the productivity ends and the shuffling starts – like from those random two hour social network breaks.

So, as business computing professionals, how do these considerations help us drive better business outcomes from the adoption of new disruptive technologies? How do we ensure that the behavioural positives of a younger, dynamic and increasingly innovative social workforce are fully exploited?

There are three simple but perhaps surprising steps:

1. Stop being the gatekeeper. Gen Y and millennial employees work in fundamentally different ways that many from the older IT school of thought find perplexing and threatening. But surely the ability to incessantly multi-task, communicate and collaborate in exciting new ways and quickly exploit innovative tech is a good thing – of course it is, so stop being the gatekeeper of what you don’t control anyway.

Accept that you’re no longer the ‘expert’ in everything IT-related and start working with and mentoring your gen Y into how their behaviours and new technologies can be better leveraged – remember too that they can actually have more expertise, but you can provide the secret sauce - business skills and context – that’s an unbeatable combination.

2. Think beyond mobile devices. The majority (77 per cent) of CIOs responding to a recent McKinsey survey said they planned to allow employees to use their own devices in the workplace.

However, and as we know, many of employees already do so anyway. The issue therefore is no longer controlling the devices, but focusing on what the enterprise actually owns – security, compliance and the end-user experience.

Thinking beyond BYOD involves working with your business peers to understand what policies, controls and infrastructure are needed; ensuring the benefits of BYOD are not negated by additional support costs and overheads. It also involves understanding what additional services IT must deliver to accelerate the productivity gains while mitigating risk.

3. Incubate the innovation bug. If you ever take the time to watch your Gen Y and millennial colleagues you’ll notice that they’ll often work in different ways. They’ll no longer be tied to one physical device or computer, but rather work with whatever screen is in front of them at any point time (if you have teenage children you’ll know exactly what I mean).

The goal therefore is to nurture these behavioural characteristics and a good place to start is in the IT department itself. Here you can make mobility and social computing part of your service delivery strategies, using innovative mobile methods to support your users and even incorporate facets of social computing to communicate, share information, and empower.

Remember too, that the ultimate consumers of your services – customers, partners and citizens are all infected too, and expect to interact with your organisation in the same ways. So while mobility becomes part of your mantra, multi-channel should become a key component of your enterprise DNA.

Trying to maintain the traditional ‘IT walled garden’ with you as the gatekeeper of all things technical is doomed to failure. Mobility, social and ubiquitous computing has changed how IT service is perceived by our employees, customers and citizens, who let’s face it, might be just as technically savvy as we IT professionals think we are.

The trick therefore is not to ignore the onslaught, but understand how you can orchestrate value from disruptive trends and behavioural dynamics. Failure to do so is dire – you’ll be eaten alive!

Now excuse me while I update my Linked In profile and then prepare for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

Miriam Waterhouse is the CIO at the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.

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