The head of a toolmaker supposedly once noted that the company's customers really didn't care about one-inch drill bits; they cared about one-inch holes.
Even if that story is apocryphal, it's useful in illustrating something about how vastly different IT's approach to assessing technology is from that of IT's users. If IT were buying a drill, it would specify drill-bit hardness and revolutions per minute. It would want as many bit diameters as possible. It would calculate torque and evaluate warranties. It would start its search because it knew that its users faced tasks that require a drill, but it wouldn't try to determine which drill the users themselves would choose.
As for the users, if it were up to them, they would find a drill that could provide the sorts of holes they needed, but beyond that their main concerns might be things like how the drill feels in the hand and portability.
IT has been buying technology pretty much this way for years. True, we aren't as hung up on feeds and speeds as we once were. But IT remains a long way from adopting the holistic approach that today's consumerized technology market is taking.
Maybe your shop's technology purchase decisions are still primarily driven by performance. How many megahertz does the processor have? How many polygons a second can the chip render? What are the RAM and ROM specs, and how much can you upgrade? Everything in this approach is a matter of measurement, from the number of expansion slots to the pixel density of the screen.
Even with software, checklist items put usability behind features. It's an approach that gives points to every additional feature provided, regardless of whether few users will ever avail themselves of many of them. When you evaluate technology this way, all that matters is that a feature is on one vendor's checklist and not another's.
The consumerization of IT, combined with the growing impact of the end user on the technology decisions, is changing all this. Consumers care less about features than they do about the task they seek to accomplish. For them, whether a tablet has a single or dual core is less important than how fluid the user interface is. The amount of RAM on the device is just a number, but how well applications perform is the heart and soul of the device. Technical definitions don't interest consumers, but how fast they can get their work done does.
IT should probably just drop the feeds-and-speeds mind-set and instead show users an understanding for real-world experiences. Consumers are going to be increasingly involved in, if not directly responsible for, the technology purchases for their day-to-day work. That means IT should re-evaluate the language and checklists they've used to make purchases and think more like the users they ultimately serve.
Michael Gartenberg is a research director at Gartner. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @Gartenberg.