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Expert Roundtable – Consumerization of IT: A Call to Arms for HR?


Innovations in technology used to emerge in government labs before trickling down first to enterprise organizations and later seeing widespread adoption in consumer markets. Today, even entry-level employees have access to powerful tools, applications and networks at home–on their smart phones and the Internet–and are coming to expect that same access in the workplace. Organizations are doing their best to keep up.

For human resources professionals, the effects are hard to miss. From employee and manager self-service portals to the growing number of social media elements in performance and learning management, the technology employees expect to find in the workplace is changing. How will this shift–the consumerization of IT–impact the way an organization recruits, engages and manages its workforce?

I've invited a few industry thought leaders to weigh in.

Bob Calamai, Director of HRM & Development at NYU/SCPS

As the director of the Master's in Leadership in Human Capital Management at NYU/SCPS, he encourages students to mix their coursework between the classroom and online, so that they have experience utilizing technology for learning management programs. Bob has 30 years of experience in HR, with his most recent role at IBM as the Director of HR for IBM.

Brandy Fulton, Vice President of HR Operations at Citrix Systems, Inc

A 13-year veteran of Citrix with 25 years in systems software, Brandy has been VP of HR Operations since January 2006. She oversees HR Communications, Learning & Performance Solutions, Organizational Development, HR Information Systems, and Workforce Analytics on a worldwide basis. She “workshifts” from her home office in Northern Idaho.

Rob Garcia, Vice President of Product at UpMo

Rob drives the product strategy and execution at UpMo. He is responsible for the vision, roadmap, user experience and interaction design of UpMo's suite of products. Rob has been creating innovative eCommerce, financial, and consumer-oriented web products for more than 12 years, delivering outstanding web experiences for companies.

Kevin W. Grossman, Chief Strategy Officer at

Kevin has nearly 25 years of leadership experience in various capacities: marketing, HR and recruiting, technology and higher education. He's currently the CSO at, a HR B2B marketing software and services firm. He's also the co-founder of the TalentCulture community featuring the highly popular #TChat and #TChat Radio Show.

According to a survey conducted by Avanade, 73% of executives consider the consumerization of IT a top priority, and 79% will make new investments in embracing this trend in 2012. What factors are driving this?

 Things that we used to treat as exceptions are becoming the new normal. From road warriors to an increasing number of workers working from home–mobility is huge. Add to that the generational expectations of a workforce who are digitally enabled from day one. If you treat each of these as an individual event, you have a dozen different problems and solutions you have to come up with. 

But If you look at it holistically, you'll see that there's a shift happening that you can enable by changing your infrastructure. 

Embrace the consumerization of IT, and the ability to provide people with the variety and flexibility and mobility they need–you can do all of that.

Garcia: Consumer technology is moving and improving faster than any powerful, all-knowing IT team can ever keep up with. The days of uniform and top-down IT infrastructure are far gone due to an inundation of consumer devices in the enterprise. 

Also, employees want to engage at work in their own terms, through the platforms they know best. I believe CEOs have finally realized this can work to their advantage, as employees are investing their own money in staying current, rather than company resources.

Grossman: It's all about improving efficiencies, reducing redundancies and increasing productivity and revenue. For example, lowering annual equipment expenditures by offering allowances for employees to buy their own devices for both business and personal use. Also providing self-service access to all sorts of internal systems for both employees and managers can make for a more adaptable organization regardless of size.

IT itself has struggled with this loss of gatekeeper control, but the sound fiscal results are changing the hearts and minds of the C-suite.

There's a widely-held view that access to consumer technology (social media, the Internet, mobile apps) will offer too many distractions, and negatively impact productivity. Do you agree or disagree?

 Though I sometimes share the concerns of my baby boomer cohorts, I'm convinced that those who use and embrace these technologies are equally adept at both determining what's useful in the workplace, and–as importantly–can navigate between personal and professional use. I don't think we give the Millennials enough credit for that ability to navigate. They're not waiting for boards to regulate social networking. 

They're using common sense and good business sense to do that–which is pretty encouraging.

Fulton: The Internet, email, social media, mobile apps–all of those things that potentially represent a distraction from business are also enablers of business. Where would marketing be without social media? Where would people who do research and development be without the Internet? 

You have to remember that employees love to be treated like adults. They want respect and trust and they want you to enable them to be successful. And if you’re giving them all of the tools to do their jobs, they'll appreciate it.

Garcia: Consumer technology definitely has the potential of becoming a distraction—all the more reason for executives to jump in and define policies that enable and encourage positive and productive usage of such technology. But I don't agree with this sense of ill-fated, inevitable negative impact to productivity. 

When aligned with company goals, the possibilities are endless: from allowing dispersed team members to collaborate more effectively, to tapping into the knowledge of the crowd, to even allowing the workforce to self-organize and fill job openings and project resource requests.

Where is the greatest opportunity for Human Resources to embrace the consumerization of IT in their organization? Recruiting? Learning and development? Performance management?

 We need to make sure that the systems we use to drive recruiting and attraction, talent management and performance management are stepping forward into the modern era. It's not that they have to look cool. 

More importantly, if people are able to do talent management tasks in a simple and elegant way, it saves them time and keeps the focus and the substance of the conversation where it should be–on employees relating to each other.

Calamai: Companies are slowly shifting away from the annual performance evaluation, and slowly moving toward less formal performance feedback. These types of sharing and information-gathering feedback mechanisms work really well and are easy to use for that purpose. 

There are products where teammates can comment in real-time on how a project is being executed. You don't have to wait until the end of the year for feedback from your boss—and that's really helpful.

There's a lot of conversation around the need for HR to position itself as a more strategic and consultative, rather than administrative and transactional, function. How might consumerization help (or hurt) efforts to that end?

 To me it's obvious: it'll help if it's executed efficiently and effectively. Improved technologies, predictive data analytics, autonomy, impulse control and self-management—all of this means less employee relations nightmares, less time spent micro-managing, and more time freed up to guide and grow the enterprise into the 21st century. 

To be able to identify what needs to get done where and why and by whom and how soon, and then actually do it with individuals and teams all over the world–that's how consumerization is helping today.

Garcia: It can help tremendously. The Human Resources function is about people. Social and consumer technologies are about people. A new employee-centric world is emerging and HR can be the hero of the day by embracing it and leveraging such technology to engage the workforce differently, more productively. 

It is a paradigm shift, though, so it’ll come with a transition cost in times and resources.

Many organizations struggle with the unique challenges specific to recruiting and managing an increasingly mobile and tech-savvy workforce. How can HR tackle these challenges head on, and support leadership in these endeavors?

 If all of the working parts in an organization are clear in what they want to achieve together–once you identify what you want to accomplish–then you join forces to make sure your plan addresses the people side of things, the procedural and policy side of things, and the infrastructure.

I think it is incumbent for IT to work with HR–and engage in an open conversation around the existing state of infrastructure and draw a path for improvement.

Calamai: We've come a really long way–from command and control management where if a manager didn't see you in your cubicle you weren't working. From a 5000 ft. level, HR needs to continue to help managers focus on results versus face time. We're moving more quickly toward a workforce that is more scattered, and there are some basic management principles that leaders need to keep in mind. 

What do employees want? Targets, feedback–what's expected and how they're doing. If we ask, "How can a remote workforce linked to technology impact those things–positively or negatively?" that will spark some interesting conversations with your leadership.

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Kyle Lagunas

About the Author

Kyle joined the Software Advice team in 2011. On the surface, it's his job to contribute to the ongoing conversation on all things HR. Beyond that, he ensures his audience is keeping up with important trends and hot topics in the industry.

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