Young guns: Why millennials will redefine the GCC tech industry

According to generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe, millennials are, by definition, those born between 1982 and 1997. Widely recognised as the first ‘native technologist’ generation, their attitudes and expectations have already forced businesses across the world to transform, and this is just the beginning.

The Middle East in particular is renowned for inundated with young people immersing themselves in the GCC’s entrepreneurial mindset. But this evolving workforce, combined with huge shifts in the technology industry, mean that disruption is inevitable for regional organisations.

“Millennials are going to create major shifts in corporations over the next decade, and most organisations aren’t ready for the amount of change that’s coming,” says Shukri Eid, managing director,
east region, Cisco Middle East. “Millennials will force companies to be transparent; they want to create an honest and open culture where there aren’t any barriers between workers of different levels, and where everyone knows what’s going on in the company.”

But as expectations change and technology evolves, businesses, IT leaders and workers must be increasingly flexible moving forward.

“Millennials have definite expectations about how digital systems should behave, and see a significant gap between their experience of digital systems on the consumer side and the reality of what digital systems in the enterprise can deliver,” says Chris Pope, VP of strategy, Service Now. “IT must shrink that gap if it wants to boost millennials’ productivity and, more importantly, harness their talents to help differentiate the business moving forward.”

Unsurprisingly, young people within the workplace favour digital channels over the more traditional means of business – be it for communication, purchasing or research purposes. Forty-one percent of millennials that took part in a PwC survey said they prefer to communicate electronically at work, rather than face to face or even over the phone. “Previously, managers preferred face-to-face meetings, but millennials will be looking to embrace video conferencing in the future, especially as the technology becomes more developed,” says Eid. “They will expect a workplace technology ecosystem that includes social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, blogs and wikis.” These social tools will ultimately enable this generation to “instantly connect, engage and collaborate with cohorts and managers in ways that are natural to them,” leading to better productivity across the enterprise.

With the UAE’s mantle of having the highest smartphone penetration rate globally, this tech-savvy generation, equipped with business tools in their pocket, will soon perceive office attendance as archaic. “Working from home will become the norm, with more millennials wanting to work remotely, and on their own clock, instead of the confined nine-to-five workday,” Eid adds.

Digital by default

This digitally focused mindset can also be seen outside of day-to-day work operations. A recent study conducted by Visa Performance Solutions revealed that 61 percent of millennials in the UAE and 81 percent in Saudi Arabia spend an average of 3-4 hours a day on social media – significantly higher than their non-millennial counterparts. While non-work usage is frustrating for an employer, fear not, for this could in fact be a benefit and not a burden.

“In the UAE, 41 percent of millennials use social media to express opinions, 25 percent to make purchases, and 23 percent to browse product information,” says Kriti Makker, director of Visa Performance Solutions MENA. “This is a great opportunity for businesses, issuers and merchants to leverage social media as a channel to drive lead generation and registration, and create customer engagement.”

This opportunity can be applicable across industries, particularly financial services and retailers, and Makker believes that organisations must tailor their business models to four key areas if they are to extract the most potential from this generation. “First is personalisation and targeted offers, second is becoming digital by default and providing a voice to customers across digital channels. Third is having a multichannel focus and providing frictionless customer experience across channels, and fourth is to provide relevant communications with contextual offers to customers,” she says.

Eid agrees, and believes that, “Millennial customers are about to become the most important customers a business has ever seen.” Organisations must first “understand these customers if they’re going to be able to create millennial-friendly sales and customer experience,” he adds.

Various industries across the UAE have already sought to adapt their strategies in a bid to remain one step ahead of the competition, and consistently place their younger customers at the core of what they do. Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company recently launched the Virgin Mobile brand in the UAE, allowing users to choose their own mobile number and customise their data and minutes plans. Competitor Etisalat, meanwhile, unveiled its millennial-specific SIM card Swyp, with enhanced mobile data offerings over traditional SMS and minutes for a generation that favours communication apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Emirates NBD has also capitalised on this generation Y overhaul, and launched the UAE’s first millennial-focused digital banking app earlier this year. Users have the option to register for Liv. using their social media login or email address, and can take advantage of the lifestyle offers from partners such as Burger King, Costa Coffee and TGI Fridays.

Another major differentiator from Emirates NBD’s traditional app is that there is no physical branch attached to the Liv. intiative. This concept of moving financial services to being purely digitally based with no real need for branches is one we are increasingly seeing banks explore in the region, and it is no wonder when Visa’s research revealed that in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, millennials preferred phone calls and messages as the top communication channels when dealing with financial representatives. “Desensitising and almost de-humanising the approach is part of a larger generational shift where the outcome of a transaction of service is more important than the delivery or consumption of the service,” believes Pope.

Investment in these technology-based initiatives can also be seen through the evolving start-up space here in the region. The UAE and Saudi Arabia ranked 19th and 30th in the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017, and last year, the amount of cash pumped into tech firms more than quadrupled, reaching $870 million. However, the vast majority of this – $625 million – flowed into just two firms: online retailer Souq; and Careem, the Dubai-based rival to Uber.

Eid believes that this entrepreneurial culture within the region is one that millennials are particularly suited to, and one that we can expect to thrive as their desire to be their own boss develops. “Millennials value entrepreneurship and start-ups more than past generations, with the majority of young people loving the idea of being self-employed,” he says. “Entrepreneurs of this generation will seek to start their own business for three key reasons: a desire to be a master of their own lives, to turn their ideas into a reality, and to make money.”

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