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The term Digital Native was originally used by Marc Prensky in his seminal article, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants", where he applies the term digital native to a new group of students enrolling in educational establishments referring to the young generation as “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, and social media etc. Generally this term along with Millennials and Generation Y is applied people born between 1980 and 2000 who have grown up in the digital world.

Digital Natives

A lot has been written about the expectations of digital natives coming into the workplace and how difficult it can be for digital natives and digital immigrants to communicate. However, the difficulty is not necessarily an issue of technology or digital adoption, where ‘the older people don’t get digital’ but more to do with two different views of how and what to communicate. Digital natives do not tend to think in hierarchies or silos, but in a world where all people are equal, with equally valid opinions and where they embrace collaboration and sharing. It is the same in the business world, where digital natives instinctively collaborate and share information across silos in case it may benefit others, rather than work in organisational silos and sharing information when asked. They also often reach out beyond an organisation’s boundaries to other organisations in order to collaborate, something that is especially evident in the start-up business world.

Understanding this change is critical for businesses to plan. Remember that by 2025 digital natives will account for 75% of the global workforce and digital native managers will significantly influence how their teams and businesses work.

We are well on the way to that point. In today’s business environment, many digital natives are in or will soon be in management positions, and it is likely that some are already in senior management positions. This change in an organisation’s management demographic will accelerate the rate of change of how organisations will use and share information across their business, which will prompt a wide range of questions for CIOs and their peers:

  • What collaboration tools does the business need?
  • How will you enable knowledge to be captured and shared across the business, whilst also maintaining security of your information at a business level?
  • What cloud services will the business use and how do we gain and maintain visibility and security around them?
  • How will the business want to use and share data across the different business functions?
  • What training tools will the business use in the future, how will employees consume learning and development content?

None of these are trivial questions and there are many more that need to be explored.

With the majority of current CxOs not being digital natives, they struggle to plan for the future business world. Have you thought about how your organisation will gain the insights needed to understand how you will work once digital natives are in charge?

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Digital Practice

CGI's Digital Practice

At CGI we work with clients to define the right digital transformation journey through to achieving its effective delivery. Our experience of delivering complex, mission critical systems ensures the strategy and roadmaps we develop and implement are realistic, achievable, and bring value to the organisation. ...


I think the key will be the true inclusion of the Digital Natives in the business planning and visioning process actually lead by the Digital Immigrants in the Enterprises. So applying a collaboration and shared leadership appproach for the planning of our Enterprises of tomorrow. Looks easy and requires a truely open leadership approach. May be try it out in pilots! What do you think ?

Submitted by Eric LeBel on 05 December 2014

Eric, I agree, including Digital Natives in that process is the ideal situation. For some organisations this will be easy, as you say, but for others it will take time for the culture of those organisations to change to have an inclusive planning process. I believe that currently there are lots of organisations in the later, 'non-inclusive' category

For me, this rate of change will start to accelerate when Digital Natives start to occupy those senior positions..

In terms of pilots, yes it would be a start and we'll see that happening more and more as Digital Native managers start to 'do their own thing' by using cloud services, whilst they wait for their organisation to catch up......which will be discussed in my next blog

Technology is not the barrier it once was. Even my mother can get email on her smartphone. But I would not suppose that, just because someone was born after 1980, they automatically have the desirable traits mentioned above (instinctively collaborating, sharing information and reaching out across silos to benefit the organisation). This is something that doesn't just happen from having youngsters around. It needs to be fostered in the organisation. If it isn't, then any inherent collaborating tendencies in the millennials might be snuffed out from coming into contact with the pre-1980's dinosaurs.

Submitted by Christiaan Murphy on 05 December 2014

Christian, I agree with your doesn't happen by having youngster around, it does need to be fostered in the organisation and technology isn't the barrier. I do believe however, that through a combination of 'critical digital native mass' and a large number of those digital natives in management positions it will accelerate the rate of change and because of that, the underlying technology used by organisation will need to rapidly adapt to support that changing culture.

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