IT chiefs are best placed to lead the public sector through the cuts crisis, ex-Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Blair told the Society of IT Managers (Socitm) annual conference in Brighton.
"You IT professionals are the best people in this crisis to lead organisations through what are going to be some very difficult times," he said.
"This is your time. There can be no better moment than the one we face for information management to step forward as the major strategic asset of our age. This must be the moment for the IT professionals of the public service to turn round and say, we can help deliver cheaper, more effective, more individualised public service."
The former Met Police chief gave the assembled IT leaders a lecture on the art of leadership, in an apparent attempt to prepare them for the coming spending cuts.
He cited Met Police CIO Ailsa Beaton as an example for other leaders to follow. She was "magnificent", he said, telling how at 48 she had become a special constable, working one day a week on the frontline so she could see what effect her decisions were having as CIO.
She had a can-do attitude, worked with the police organisational culture, and had rhetorical flair, describing the Met's IT system as an "upturned plate of spaghetti" and its supplier contracts "the best method she had ever heard for burning £20 notes of anywhere inside the M25".
She also had "contempt" for divisional or departmental barons who tried to keep their computer systems in their own separate silos.
Lord Blair derided the clichés of leadership science, the charismatic leader and what in his day was the police service's obsession with the example of military leaders.
The way to lead, he said, was by dedication to values and by doing the right thing. "Leaders must be dealers in hope," he said, quoting Napoleon. They must be optimistic and resilient, and not be discouraged by "events and naysayers".
Glyn Evans, Birmingham City Council ICT chief, said he was pleased to hear Lord Blair go on to talk about "fellowship", the art of leading well enough to create a following.
Another tip was "taking more time feeding the pig than weighing it". This was Blair's way of condemning performance indicators, which had weighed down the police service in his time at the Met.
Ailsa Beaton, Met Police CIO
Lord Ian Blair photo courtesy Rex Features