The era of the Millennial CIO has officially arrived. Earlier this year, Thomas Saueressig was named the new chief information officer of the business application software company SAP. At age 31, Saueressig is a Millennial and one of the youngest executives in the Fortune 500.
SAP has been touting Saueressig’s appointment, saying that having a Millennial CIO will help it serve new generations of customers. For his part, Saueressig believes being a Millennial gives him enormous advantage in relating to younger customers.
“I am of the generation that grew up with personal computers,” he tells Forbes. “I could write BASIC code at the age of six—long before I could write a grammatically correct sentence. This level of comfort with PCs means I completely understand and relate to how Millennials expect their work environment to function.”
SAP might be one of the first enterprise companies to appoint a Millennial to the corner office, but it definitely won’t be the last. Millennials are now the biggest generation in the workplace, and more of them are on the cusp of inheriting C-level roles. According to Joe Hamblin, director of IT at Sprint Business, 40 percent of current IT professionals will retire over the next 10 years, and Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.
How Millennial CIOs will impact technology vendors
Enterprise technology providers will have to adjust their approach when they sell to Millennial CIOs.
One important consideration is the fact that Millennial CIOs are grappling with IT’s evolving role in the enterprise. According to Hamblin, CIOs today are no longer just mere managers of IT—they’re becoming innovation partners in the business. Expectations from Millennial CIOs will only skyrocket in the future as customer-centric innovation becomes a priority for many companies.
Tech companies should also consider that Millennial CIOs have different priorities and interests than Gen Xers, who currently fill the role. According to a 2016 Vision Critical study, Millennial IT pros hold different attitudes compared to their Gen X incumbents. Younger IT pros, for instance, are prioritizing robotics, sensors and wearable computing—technologies that are not on the radar of older IT pros. Strategic planning, IT availability and integration of systems are also on the priority list of Millennial IT leaders, while older IT leaders are thinking about disaster recovery and cost control.
How Millennial CIOs perceive the major enterprise software vendors also deviates from Gen Xers. For example, Lenovo, Salesforce and Amazon—companies that have no strong association with Millennials—need to establish their brands among Millennial IT leaders. Another example: HP—which older IT leaders see as high-quality but Millennials see as ‘boring’—needs to reverse its reputation with the new crop of IT pros.
Engaging with the Millennial CIO
As more Millennials like Saueressig assume the CIO role, software vendors must get a grasp of the attitudes and priorities of this generation of IT leaders. Companies can’t assume that the way they do business with Gen X CIOs will work with Millennials. Engaging directly with IT pros, getting their feedback and delivering on their needs will help tech companies remain relevant in the era of the Millennial CIO.