How should IT deal with "digital natives?" With open arms

More and more, new employees will, in their own way, be just as sophisticated as the IT staff when it comes to computers. Smart CIOs will see this as an opportunity, not a threat

Dear Bob ...

I'm CIO of a 100-plus-person IT department. I'm asking for advice, not about a specific situation, but about a growing trend in our business: new employees who think that just because they've mastered World of Warfare and know how to download and play podcasts that they're experts in IT and shouldn't have to accept our policies, procedures, standards, and practices with respect to the proper use of their desktop workstations.

[ Fun with "us versus them": Check out InfoWorld's "Stupid user tricks" series and "Dirty IT jobs" series. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

I don't want to cause unnecessary hard feelings, but I can't afford to have a bunch of IT renegades running around, breaking security, and dumping huge volumes of MP3 files on our servers.

How can I get these people to understand they don't know as much as they think they know?

- Dealing with Upstarts

Dear Fellow Geezer ...

Hurts, don't it? You and I are "digital immigrants" -- we were adults when the first PCs hit the ground and middle-aged by the time business figured out the Internet.

Now we're having to contend with "digital natives" who grew up with a bottle of milk in one hand and a mouse in the other. For us, the computer and other digital gadgets are tools. For them, computers, smartphones, MP3 players, and all the rest are integrated into their lifestyles.

Which means they really do know things we don't.

Want them to respect the business restrictions you've placed on the use of desktop workstations and the other digital paraphernalia the business provides? Start by respecting what they know, by taking maximum advantage of it. Spend some informal lunch hours sitting down with groups of them. Talk about how the company currently makes use of its digital toolkit, and ask if any of them see opportunities the company might have missed because all of you don't know what you don't know.

And pay attention to them -- these employees are no different from any other employees in an important respect: They can smell a phony a mile away.

Once you've built some rapport you can ask for their help, in two respect. First, let them know it's time for a thorough review of the company's computing policies, and you'd like some of them to participate. This isn't a snow job either -- chances are good a lot of your policy doesn't fit the world of the digital native and puts handcuffs on creativity the company desperately needs.

And second, ask them to help explain to their friends why some of the constraints are necessary, once the policy review is complete.

It's as Eisenhower said a long time ago about someone he didn't particularly like: Better to have him inside the tent spitting out than outside the tent spitting in.

- Bob