These are confusing times. Value propositions, strategy and even purpose need to be reviewed almost on a daily basis. Given their dependence on IT, this puts inordinate pressure on the CIO. How are you supposed to provide a service given the ultra-transience of the business arena?

Back in the day, life was easier. We could almost run the IT function as a prison service, where you were the governor. Your prison, your rules. Service levels were imposed rather than negotiated. The inmates had the option of the set menu or starve. Your service desk comprised wardens (operators) who used their power over the inmates as compensation for their poor compensation. Job satisfaction and user experience were inversely correlated. A peculiar dynamic to say the least. But users had no choice but to endure what might be called digital-sadism.

Today the users have choices. They are typically more valued by the leadership, so the IT function has had to step up its service game. But the IT function wasn’t going to change without a fight. Evidence of this includes thin-client lockdown computing and IT service management. The latter covering every aspect of management, but being totally devoid of service, at least as far as humans are concerned. One might regard ITSM as a form of user-directed passive aggressiveness.

In any case the pressure is rising in terms of justifying the existence of the IT function, so there is no choice but to embrace the service ethic. My suggestion is that you shift the emphasis from prison governor to hotel general manager. I know some of you are already on this transition.

So how might we embrace the hotel model?

If we first consider security. Back in the Alcatraz days it was easy. Externals threats could easily be detected at the perimeter. Internal threats were very well documented, given that the majority of people inside the perimeter had prison records. Today the threat is equally likely to emerge from within the building, so the fortress model no longer works.

The hotel model is perfect in that it recognises that strangers will come into your building – the bar, restaurant and the foyer. However, it controls who can go into specific rooms and even who can go into specific cupboards. This compartmentalised security model enables the threat to be isolated and thus the impact to be limited.

Over time the industry may well start to embrace the star rating model. One star providing low-end desk top apps and basic enterprise applications. Five star providing a highly (seemingly) customised experience for the guests.

Perhaps we can draw parallels with breakfast and the user experience. Again at the bottom end of the market you receive the equivalent of burnt coffee, a stale croissant and yoghurt-like slime. But as the standard goes up, the guest has both more options and fresher produce. Perhaps the breakfast bar can be thought of as an internal apps store. The key role of the IT function being to source the best and the latest apps. Guests will prefer your options to going elsewhere because the IT function has tested them to ensure they are robust, secure are optimised for productivity, particularly if breakfast will be taken on the move, so to speak.

Upmarket hotels have concierges. Your concierge's role is to make the guests stay an enjoyable one. They may recommend a restaurant or a theatre. In IT terms they will handle enterprise application requests that go beyond what the hotel provides as standard. The concierge will of course encourage the guests to use the hotel facilities, where relevant, but will not stop the guests from going elsewhere.

So a good concierge will have strong relationships with third party providers. But be careful, some concierges have private deals going on with the taxi drivers, night club owners and so on. Ensure you pay them enough so that they don't have to supplement their income this way and thus compromise the best interests of the guests and the hotel.

A measure of the hotel's quality is the extent to which information services are provided in the room. Guests today tend to consume content with the same gusto as they do food. The extent to which you provide the users with analytics tools is the IT department equivalent.

Smart hotels also recognise that part of their value proposition lies in their guests. Having sophisticates lining the public areas goes some way towards this. Better still, create opportunities for the guests to make new friends, by creating a programme of guest social events. The IT department equivalent being the provision of user-friendly collaboration tools.

The exercise now is to clarify with the business leadership what type of hotel model is appropriate for the business. I think it is a simple metaphor with which to have some realistic budget discussions.

Though before you bring up the model, you are advised to do a quick survey to establish how the hotel staff and guests perceive you. Great if the general consensus is that you are a modern day Cesar Ritz. Less so if Basil Fawlty comes to mind.