Age affects SMB attitudes about technology

Results from an Ipsos-Reid survey unveiled Friday by Mississauga-based Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ)reveal a generational divide between small business owner’s attitudes toward office technology.

HP found that older cohorts of business owners are less comfortable with technology than younger generations and are more attached to desktop PCs, whereas younger generations demand mobility and flexibility.

Understanding these differences will help channel partners sell more products, said Michael McAvoy, director, small and mid-sized business, HP Canada.

“The information from this survey will allow resellers to tailor their selling strategy to small business owners and help each customer find a more customized solution.”

The survey polled 1,000 small business owners across Canada, with “small” defined as one to 99 employees. The respondents were then broke down into four generations for analysis: generation Y: under 30, generation X: 30-42, baby boomers: 42-61 and veterans: over 62.

Each generation is based on a watershed event: the Great Depression, the World Wars and the introduction of the PC and Internet, making the new generation fundamentally different than the previous.

“This study showed us amazing things about the attitudes between generations that many sellers know little about,” McAvoy said.

The biggest difference between generations is their attitude toward mobility. Flexibility is one new demand of the younger generation. The survey found that spending priorities for mobility decrease with age.

Overall 81 per cent of survey respondents indicate that fixed computer stations are critical to their ability to do business. But it’s the older generations clinging to desktop PCs — because that’s what they’re comfortable with, McAvoy said.

“You see older generations, with the purchasing power, clinging on to older technology, where they could be more productive with newer, more mobile technology,” McAvoy said.

Eighty-four per cent of those between 43 and 61 say that fixed computers are critical in comparison to 65 per cent of those under the age of 30 saying the same thing.Security is a major concern for all generations of business owners, with 76 per cent of small business owners saying they are very concerned about this issue.

But generation Y is the least concerned with security, having more of a laissez-faire attitude toward security issues, said Dr. Linda Duxbury, professor at Carleton University’s School of Business in Ottawa.

“Look at what they put on Facebook,” she said. “They have the attitude that if someone wants to get your information, they’ll find it one way or another.”

The conflict in attitudes between generations could be problematic for recruitment and retention in small businesses, Duxbury said.

“For the next 25 years, for every two people leaving the workplace, there will be only one available to take their place.”

This means small business employers will need to try and meet the demands of generation Y over the next few years in order to retain the best employees.

Something all generations are concerned about is speed, said Jean-Paul Desmarais, senior marketing manager of business printing at HP.

“Speed is a surrogate for productivity — something that all generations embrace.”

However, generation Y values speed for its energy and efficiency, whereas older generations value cost-savings. Women are also more likely to value energy-efficiency, with 84 per cent of women saying green technology is important and only 68 per cent of men saying the same thing.

All generations say they are fairly comfortable using technology, said Desmarais, but 20 per cent more generation Y and X said so than boomers and veterans.

“If the purchasing decisions are made by veterans, who are less comfortable trying new technology, it can affect what is being bought and how productive the small business is,” Desmarais said.

Desmarais encourages resellers to provide customers with the best solution based on their attitudes, and to also use the data to improve their own business.

“When we talk with our channel partners, most are small businesses, and they will face the same issues of hiring and retention.”

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