Generation Y, or those born between the years 1982 and 2001, have been dubbed the ‘Net Generation’ and have been found to use technology at a higher rate than members of any other generation, says David MacFarlane, Chief Technology Officer, Azzurri Communications.

A 2007 study by U.S. academics Reynol Junco and Jeanna Mastrodicasa entitled ‘Connecting to the Net.Generation: What higher education professionals need to know about today’s students’, found that 97% of 7,705 American university students surveyed owned a computer and 94% owned a mobile phone. 76% per cent used instant messaging, with 15% of those logged on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 34% reported that Web sites were their primary news source, 28% reported owning a blog and 44% reported reading blogs.

69% said they had a Facebook account, which they typically logged into twice a day. All very interesting trivia, but what does this have to do with the unified communications sector and our businesses? Actually, it’s at the heart of it. By 2012, Azzurri forecasts that 52% of the UK’s working population will be members of Generation Y, and they will be avid users of social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Unified communications will be beyond the merging of fixed and mobile but adoption and control of true multi-channel communications across multiple devices used in multiple locations.

Generation Y members are used to being ‘instantly gratified’ in a communications sense and don’t want to wait to contact their peers and be contacted. These people are hugely mobile and socially oriented, and want to be connected all the time. It is exactly this kind of social behaviour that is going to drive true unified communications, and this is why we educate our customers about embracing it as opposed to banning it because they don’t understand the huge business value of these tools and new way of working brings.

As consumers of these social networks, these people are turning up to work at an enterprise and simply expect that social networks will be at their disposal. Many will find that companies have blocked these sites to protect productivity and efficiency. Those companies who block the use of social networking sites just don’t know how to utilise them appropriately to leverage their business. There are big companies out there that have embraced them, and have been using social networking tools for years, tapping into the collaborative working opportunities that are available via the Internet.

Staff who have access to these tools can communicate with clients via instant message. They could join the Facebook groups of client companies or follow them on Twitter. Millions of people are using Twitter to connect with their industry peers. Also, think about the power of a manager being able to connect with employees immediately regardless of where they are. The value of collaborative tools such as social networks is immense and that is why we have encouraged enterprises to allow such applications to be used on their handsets as part of bespoke packages.

Things are shifting radically beyond standard mobile e-mail, into peer to peer applications. Unless you provide integrated voice, data and mobility solutions, you can’t deliver true unified communications to your customers. We are starting to see true convergence move from PowerPoint to reality. Customers are seeing the value of a single communicative path and being contacted the right time, the first time. Unified communications and Web 2.0 is ready for the Generation Y explosion.