The rise of technology natives
Business Chief speaks with Wendy Rowe, Director of Product, Vision and Strategy for Cloud Strategy Operations at Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting (Europe) on the first generation to grow up with technology: Generation Z.
Generation Z (Gen Z) is the first generation to grow up with technology. The older members of this generation have likely experienced the frustrations of dial-up connection at the turn of the century, through to the ease of making payments via Alexa at the start of this decade. This is a generation that is often welded with its Millennial predecessors, both in misconceptions and tastes. To discuss this further, we speak with Wendy Rowe, Director of Product, Vision and Strategy for Cloud Strategy Operations at Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting (Europe). Rowe’s experience in the industry bears a holistic understanding of Gen Z’s technology preferences and how the generation has fared in the workplace in recent years.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your career?
I got into accountancy after college, working as a tax assistant and then as Tax Senior at Ernst & Young. I quickly became a software champion for the organisation’s personal tax software and in 1990 I joined Datasolve as product manager to produce the company’s first true Windows Personal Tax system. I then moved into further digitally focused product management roles at companies including IBM.
In 2000, I joined Wolters Kluwer, directly managing a large team and influencing a number of areas of the business. Under my leadership, we launched CCH OneClick; a set of complementary integrated cloud tools for accountants and their customers to communicate and collaborate. I’m proud of my accomplishments surrounding the strategy and execution of CCH OneClick; as this innovation has enabled our customers to experience the benefits of cloud using a software solution they trust from Wolters Kluwer, allowing it to thrive in the UK market.
In early 2019, I was promoted to Director of Product, Vision and Strategy for Cloud Strategy Operations, leading the vision and strategy of our cloud software product portfolio across nine European countries. As each country can support a different market and therefore different needs, I support and coordinate all the countries in developing growth strategies to accelerate their journeys to the cloud.
How would you define Gen Z?
S the ‘Snapchat generation.’ They seek and accommodate quick and constant communication, not because they have a short attention span, but because they categorise and prioritise more than any other generation. They ask questions with specific purpose, rather than trying to be experts in everything.
Are there misconceptions about Gen Z, particularly in the workplace?
The most common is that Gen Z is entitled, or afraid of hard work. In reality, they’ve grown up in an age where internet entrepreneurs have enjoyed great success – often in their late teens and early twenties – which has inspired them to ask for what they want. This might be flexible hours, working from home, or accommodating charity work into their weekly work schedule. The workplace has evolved. Forward-thinking employers will accommodate Gen Z requirements and will, as a result, capture some of the best talent of this generation.
Gen Z has grown up with the internet, seeing the increased importance of cybersecurity. As this generation now begins to enter a GDPR-driven workforce, how do you think this will position the value of cybersecurity and shape the workplace in the future?
The regulatory and threat landscapes have really shaped how Gen Z views cybersecurity. For this generation, cybersecurity is a must because, when it comes to data breaches and other cyber events, it’s a ‘not if, but when’ situation.
Cybersecurity will become a common thread within every business process in the Gen Z future. We’re already seeing that with product development. You simply cannot bring a product to market without considering and highlighting its cybersecurity strengths. Gen Z is also the first generation that will receive ‘threat from within’ training as the norm, which will completely re-shape day-to-day information handling as the threat landscape accelerates.
Does Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting have a particular road map for Gen Z customers?
We certainly have Gen Z in mind. CCH OneClick isn’t a platform; Gen Z doesn’t want platforms. They want workspaces where they can access everything they need easily and work virtually with clients from a single place. These are visual spaces where both they and clients can log in and communicate and exchange documents easily throughout the year. Live Chat, social media-like feed updates: these are all priorities and it’s a nod to the emerging real-time dialogue communication tools that they expect to see in both their personal and professional lives. Another key focus at Wolters Kluwer is being able to leverage new technologies like AI and Blockchain to drive greater automation for Gen Z as well as provide the tools the intelligence to assist Gen Z by proactively raising actions, options and possible advisory discussions that Gen Z should be having.
Are other companies adapting their business strategies to suit this particular generation?
We’re definitely seeing our clients adapt to the requirements of Gen Z, through the adoption of software solutions that fit their working preferences, and also to other requirements, such as remote working and flexible timings, where they need accessibility to all functionality regardless of where they are. Gen Z will often work during evenings and weekends but will also expect to be able to action personal and charitable tasks in the middle of the day if the need demands it.
What changes have you made within your workforce as a result of Gen-Z?
The biggest change we’ve made is in implementing our Living Leader programme within Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK, which recognises each and every person as a leader amongst leaders. The programme helps employees develop and fine tune their personal and individual leadership styles. It’s directly aligned to accelerating the career paths of younger employees and helping them to understand that at some level.
What challenges do you feel await Gen Z in the future with regard to technology, in what is a heavily saturated market in Europe?
I think that the biggest challenge is: how will they use that great entrepreneurial spirit to make a difference and to make their ‘offer’ stand out? We’re lucky in that we’re in a high growth and high demand industry, but in order to keep up, we have to be 100% in touch with our customers and their clients to understand their pain points at all times. An ability to do this with agility will be the biggest challenge in the future. Advanced technologies can help, but relating to and understanding our clients is what’s critical, and Gen Z will have to continue on this path in order to keep up.
How do you feel that AI and automation will affect job prospects in the future?
I think all of Gen Z would agree with me when I say that AI and automation are going to improve their job prospects. It’s not a generation that fears the robots and it needn’t be. Gen Z expects to see analytics and predictive analysis applied to pretty much everything so that they can work faster and smarter and deliver new services based on optimised insight.
Gen Z is here and now, and it’s really changing the workforce for the better. What’s up next is Generation Alpha, born from 2010 onwards. Consider it – your 10-year-old who pines for your smart phone and can’t fathom an Alexa-free existence – is the future of our workforce. 2030 is going to be interesting!
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