Engaging the millennial workforce by modernizing enterprise applications

Can improved recruitment and retention in the right areas be used in the business case for modernizing applications and/or front ends?

Few would expect to arrive on their first day and use technology as old as they are, but they may be surprised. US research group iDatalabs found 18,000 companies using SAP R/3, a product first introduced in 1992, which retains an 11% share of ERP installations. So, enterprise software can be the same age as a young millennial; the very group businesses are trying to attract.

As of 2015, Millennials became the largest generation in the American workforce, making an average of 35% of employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a result, businesses are striving to attract and recruit the most talented of the generation born between 1980 and the mid-1990s.

Although companies continue to run legacy applications because they remain fit-for-purpose and are too costly to migrate, the ageing technology interfaces and poor user experience can create a negative impression on the millennial workforce, says Dimple Agarwal, Deloitte’s global leader, organization and transformation. After all, they have grown up with consumer technologies and slick ecommerce websites, and expect the same from workplace technology.

“Millennials join an organization for the culture and the experience. While they don’t know about the kinds of technology an organization runs when they are recruited for a job, once they have joined, it could really put them off. Once they have a bad experience, then they use that as a lens to a lot of other aspects of the experience. They would ask, ‘Is this the organization I want to work for if it is not making the right technology investments?’”

Flexible working driving productivity and well-being survey finds

Millennials in the workplace say they want flexibility in how they access enterprise information, rather than solely through desktop-based applications. According to The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, based on the views 8,000 millennials questioned across 30 countries in September 2016:

67% feel flexibility has a positive impact on productivity

66% think flexibility improves their well-being, health and happiness

65% think flexibility increases their levels of engagement with work

62% feel flexibility has a positive impact on their organization’s ability to meet their objectives

A focus on employee experience

Agarwal says businesses are creating new front-end for applications, as a means of making the employee experience more acceptable without ripping and replacing applications. “We are seeing a lot of demand for modernizing platforms in enterprise applications. The employee experience is at the front end of the agenda. If they are not ready to replace applications, then they will look at the front end.”

Research from PwC shows how millennials’ place the importance of the technology experience. Its survey of 4,000 graduates in 75 countries shows 54% say that older senior management did not understand the way they use technology at work. Millennials in the financial services sector, for example, place a great deal of emphasis on the technology used by their employer, with 66% saying that state‑of‑the‑art technology was important to them when considering an employer.

One approach to improving the employee experience of enterprise applications is to automate repetitive tasks, says Rob Hughes, vice president of global field marketing with software firm Automation Anywhere.

He says there is a growing market for automated software bots that can help workers with mundane parts of their job which require using ageing technology. Bots can have their own logs-ins to any enterprise applications and collect data on behalf of the user.

“It is not intended to appeal to the younger workforce, but that is a side effect to make work more attractive. However, you still have to manage the robot just as you would the employee. You need to layer manage the digital workforce from a central place. Most users only see it as a button on a laptop into which they can key instructions,” Hughes says.

Mark Balloch, a technical consultant with Fruition Partners, is developing bots to help offer users a better experience when using enterprise portals, which the company has created to ease access to enterprise applications. They might help with repetitive tasks such as password resets, avoiding the burden on helpdesk employees’ time, he says.

He is expanding the technology to cover common finance and HR tasks using Google natural language processing. He says it gives a consistent experience of the service desk around the clock, without having to employ more staff. “It also has the benefits of improved user experience and happier employee base,” he says.

However, Dave Sohigian, chief technology officer, EMEA, with Workday, a provider of cloud-based HR and finance software, says there are limits to the benefits of improving the user interface and automating interactions using bots.

“To have a common user experience, you need one data model for all recruitment and talent. That is true throughout the application. Selling bots and machine learning to bring together applications is like magic pixy dust. In truth, the data is very hard to get to.”

Sohigian says Workday’s customers are attempting to appeal to millennials with talent and on-boarding applications.

“Even in some surprising industries, such as manufacturing, they see usage for mobile applications at 60% and the population they are after is millennial. That is a big part of their focus on Workday: they want to make sure that they are serving that audience well.”

Marcus Mossberger, senior director of human capital strategy for enterprise application firm Infor says applications have to be designed as intuitive and mobile ready, from the ground up.

“People don’t want to stop and fill out a 10-page review form. They want to see something personalized that uses use predictive analytics to anticipate some of their answers,” he says.

Those businesses that create a better experience for millennials using enterprise application may see knock-on benefits in driving adoption of other technologies, says research firm Forrester. Its report, Harness The Potential Of Millennials With Your Workforce Technology Strategy, says: “Millennials can be a catalyst to get started with enterprise social. Enterprise social platforms like Salesforce’s Chatter, Slack, or Microsoft’s Yammer can connect employees to one another in Facebook-like fashion,” it says.

Many businesses face an uphill struggling in modernizing enterprise applications to meet the expectations of the millennial workforce. But the effort will be worth it, not only in engaging this vital group of employees, but also in spreading more technology adoption through all age groups.