Recent market research points to a clear conclusion; the consumer-IT generation is set to storm the modern workplace and they are bringing their apps and smartphones with them.

There will soon be a billion ‘Gen Y’ workers in the global workforce and their attachment to personal mobile devices is set to transform the office of the future, triggering unprecedented demands for everything from work-specific apps to ‘distance learning’.

CompTIA’s recent survey, Generational Research on Technology and its Impact in the Workplace, revealed that almost two thirds of Gen Y employees use personal devices for work compared to less than a third of Baby Boomers, and it has major implications for the way they want to work and learn.

A digitally-autonomous generation who grew up with user-empowering consumer IT devices will not accept rigid traditional forms of learning and working.

Our survey found that Gen Y workers prefer the autonomy of e-learning courses to the confines of the classroom, and will choose employers that allow BYOD and ‘telecommuting’ over old-fashioned companies with desk-bound staff.

Yet, far from adapting to the new trend in enterprise mobility many businesses are applying the brakes.

Our 2014 Enterprise Mobility survey revealed that over half of UK companies don’t allow any BYOD, while using personal devices to access or save corporate data is either deemed unacceptable or explicitly banned by many UK firms.

Just 23% of small businesses offer any online training modules to staff, 16% have not yet moved their applications into the cloud and three quarters of UK firms do not provide custom mobile apps to employees.

One reason could be that businesses could be stalling due to a perceived clash between the needs of end-users and IT departments, a fear that they cannot control and protect corporate data across a ballooning array of personal devices and concerns over the cost of integrating corporate IT with mobile devices.

A Golden Opportunity

Yet, far from representing an added cost to business, there is an opportunity for organisations to save time and money while boosting employee productivity if HR and IT departments can understand how to turn digital autonomy to the advantage of the business.

For example, e-learning programmes, favoured by the mobile generation, can help small businesses save on the cost of expensive one-to-one training because the new breed of ‘intelligent’ online courses can adapt to each employee’s individual learning style and even allow employers to remotely monitor their progress.

Employees can now earn industry-leading IT qualifications without instructors through fully online courses.

The desire for digital autonomy among the BYOD generation also offers employers the chance to cut the spiralling cost of IT support; a fifth of 20-something workers believe it is their own responsibility to update their work devices and troubleshoot IT problems, while the most popular method of accessing IT support for younger workers is through a mobile app. Giving employees more digital autonomy also means giving them more responsibility and replacing expensive direct support with remote support.

And BYOD offers a tremendous opportunity to boost employees work-rate beyond the office walls and reduce spending on office space and desktops, by empowering staff to ‘work-on-the-move’ through personal devices.

A Transformation

To capitalise on this, businesses need to align their HR, marketing and IT strategy with the needs of the mobile generation.

This will not only mean relaxing the rules on BYOD but actively encouraging mobility by, for example, replacing traditional training with e-learning modules that allow employees to learn in their own way and at their own pace, or introducing remote IT support and custom mobile apps that allow employees to work remotely and fix IT problems independently.

Even the new generation’s desire to use social media at work can be encouraged, by enlisting employees to promote products and services through their personal social networks, transforming the consumer-IT generation into a key branch of the marketing strategy.

If business can strategically align the needs of the modern workforce with business objectives, they stand to reap great rewards.

By Todd Thibodeaux, CEO, CompTIA