As London Technology Week gets into full swing, all eyes have been on the UK following the EU referendum. London is, currently, a thriving tech hub; its status as the world’s fintech leader is something they are particularly proud of. The UK economy is boosted by £145 billion a year from digital technology, according to a report from London First, and ‘in recent years has attracted more venture capital and created more companies valued at over $1 billion than any other European city.’
It stands to reason, then, that the city’s government should have a digital head, a CDO. New York City has one, Washington has one, Chicago has one, San Francisco has one, Los Angeles has one - the list goes on. Colorado was the first US state to appoint a CDO back in 2010, with NYC following suit just a year later, and the position has multiplied across the country as governments look to modernize, to harness the power of big data.
A city needs a CDO just as much as a business does, and the reasons for the widespread adoption are roughly the same. For what is, in the grand scheme of things, a small expense, cities can accelerate their shift toward a digital future. The benefits are vast - if operations can be digitized, overheads can plummet, and taxes that originally went to teams of civil servants and administrators can be diverted back into health care, transport, housing or education, for example. Jobs will be lost, yes, but the city of tomorrow will be a more efficient machine that offers different opportunities.
One of the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s, key issues to tackle as London mayor will be how best to implement improved data analytics, mobile, embedded devices etc, to improve efficiency in the capital and facilitate the challenges of London’s rapid growth. The city already crops up on many ‘World’s smartest cities’ lists; its long-standing partnership with O2 has helped launch the largest free wi-fi network in Europe - London Underground has fairly extensive wi-fi coverage, too - and the city is home to the Smart Cities research center at Imperial College. The foundations are laid for a CDO to come in and help steer an already functioning ship.
The report from London First argues that a London CDO’s role should be focused on three key areas, namely to provide policy advice and digital expertise, to champion a digital transformation across London government and to seek out and share best practice. The CDO will report directly to the mayor, so will help guide Sadiq Khan’s decision making and ensuring a digital-first mentality. Khan, writing in City AM, said: ‘Data and innovative tech solutions can help deliver public services more easily and efficiently.’ The CDO will be responsible for overseeing these changes, as well as ensuring that London’s rapid technological growth doesn’t suffer a slowdown.
The name of the person taking the job has not yet been made public but, according to Andrew Collinge, assistant director at the Greater London Authority, an announcement is imminent in the coming weeks. A good CDO for the city will encourage innovation, anticipate the impact of major disruptive technologies and be aware of any cyber-threats. In the strive to keep London ahead of the global competition, there are very few more important roles.