Building a new London Office for Technology & Innovation

Smart London
May 24, 2019 · 9 min read

Chief Digital Officer for London Theo Blackwell and interim LOTI Director Omid Shiraji describe the set-up of the new London Office of Technology & Innovation (or ‘LOTI’) as we prepare for launch on 10 June

In June London Councils, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and 15 London boroughs will launch the new London Office of Technology & Innovation.

As we prepare to launch, here’s how LOTI came about, how it will work and what its focus will be.

What is LOTI?

LOTI a new collaborative body to strengthen the ability of London’s 33 boroughs to innovate, build common capability and to scale-up digital innovation across the city.

LOTI will provide support to all boroughs in London, but the work of a smaller group of councils known as ‘Core LOTI’ will set priorities.

LOTI’s draft mission statement sets out our ambition:

We will build a shared capability with our Core membership, to improve London’s capacity to experiment, collaborate on digital and data innovation and to scale application across London’s public services. We aim to help all London Local Authorities lead, promote, learn from and replicate digital innovation across the capital.

The problem we want to solve

By the middle of the next decade London’s population will be the largest its ever been, and is estimated to rise by 2 million by the 2040s. To meet citizen needs and expectations London’s public services must be ready for future technology developments.

But to do this we need to think about what we need as a city to support better ways of working to enable us to work better at scale.

The promise of the new LOTI starts and ends with the citizen — and its focus will be on projects which directly meet citizens’ needs — and support public services to do so.

Fixing the plumbing

London is rich in pilots and smart infrastructure initiatives at a council level, but wider adoption of what works has proved challenging.

This is partly due to fragmentation across 33 boroughs and differing capabilities (and digital maturity) of each borough.

Although many councils face the similar challenges, approaches to digital change — whether through their technology estate, how they treat and use data or design (or buy) digital services – differs considerably.

#fixtheplumbing

Ultimately the citizen — and the taxpayer — ends up worse-off when public services can’t easily take advantage of new innovations which work elsewhere. If we keep relying on the same expensive and often inflexible technology or only tried-and-tested ways of working we will fall short.

This challenge is not a new one and various solutions have been attempted.

IT shared services between boroughs— popular over the last decade — are proving difficult to scale beyond a small number of councils, and in practice are more limited in scope (IT rather than services) and often come with heavy governance requirements.

Innovation programmes to adopt new technologies for service improvement at greater scale inevitably encounter different embedded approaches and capabilities of participating boroughs, regardless of the initial enthusiasm or sponsorship.

What we have lacked is an approach which focuses on building common capabilities more flexibly together, what the local digital community calls ‘fixing the plumbing’.

This ambition is expressed well in the MHCLG Local Digital Declaration launched last year (and now signed by 21 London boroughs):

We know that one size doesn’t fit all, but by developing common building blocks local authorities will be able to build services more quickly, flexibly and effectively. Only in this more open and flexible market will we unlock our full potential for innovation.

How we developed LOTI

In 2017 the GLA and London Councils jointly-funded a scoping exercise — won by a consortium of Arup, FutureGov and Stance. This engaged 20 of the 33 boroughs directly with one-to-one input from either the Chief Executive or the CIO with 4 workshops attended by over 60 participants from boroughs.

LOTI from scoping in 2017 to launch June 2019

The findings were published and presented to London Council’s Chief Executives and Leaders’ Committee at the start of 2018 and publicly in a progress report.

While this established support for the principle of LOTI, further refinement was commissioned in summer 2018: the GLA and London Councils considered in greater detail what sort of animal LOTI would be (independent body, or located at the GLA or London Councils); where LOTI would be based; the size of the team and some provisional work.

The evidence led us to the LOTI model we’ve set out below and adjust our proposals.

An important factor we weighed up was the ability of LOTI to mobilise a critical mass of councils, quickly. LOTI is effectively an elaboration on the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government, which since 2016 has worked with 30 Scottish councils to be a centre of excellence in data, technology and digital, working with the councils to help them with their own transformation and ensuring they are creating top class digital services for citizens.

We felt that this approach combined the necessary elements of being (a) a new city function (b) accountable to a trusted body already established by London’s boroughs (London Councils), with (c) the ability to establish new ways of working but also (d) be able to seek partnerships with outside bodies.

In August, courtesy of Accenture, we workshopped proposed LOTI workstreams at Accenture’s Innovation Hub with London CIOs, helping us refine our pitch to potential Core LOTI boroughs. As well as developing potential Year 1 projects in more detail, the learnings stressed that LOTI work should provide a balance between projects with a clear-cut business case (e.g. cashable savings) but also allow space for those experimental ideas that push-the-boundaries which boroughs alone might not have the available capacity to support.

LOTI CIO workshop at the Accenture Innovation Hub August 2018

The design phase allowed the GLA to adjust our original thinking around city wide data-sharing. The GLA and London boroughs were already collaborating on data-sharing through the London Office of Data Analytics (‘LODA’) pilot with Nesta in 2017 – but to ensure that transformation and data work with boroughs was more aligned, And to avoid duplication of effort, we decided to add a LOTI workstream on borough data partnerships. This, we feel, ensures solid links between LOTI and with the (newly renamed, for the avoidance of confusion, LODA pilot) City Data Analytics Programme at City Hall.

We then turned to LOTI mobilisation —funding decisions, recruiting Core boroughs, staffing and establishing ways-of-working. Mobilisation was supported of Bloomberg Associates, and led by Smart London Board member & LB Camden Consultant CIO Omid Shiraji with Guy Ware (London Councils), Theo Blackwell and Jeremy Skinner (GLA) and in consultation with the London Councils lead for digital, Mayor Phil Glanville of Hackney. Between October 2018 and January 2019 we marketed LOTI to all boroughs and met with those expressing interest 1:1.

Our agreed business model from design phase was based on a minimum of six councils joining as Core LOTI members.

As of May 2019, Core LOTI consists of 15 boroughs.

How LOTI will work

LOTI will initially be based at London Councils and will be funded over a three-year period through a combination of GLA and London Councils grant funding and membership fees from boroughs who sign up to be ‘Core members’.

The investment will be used to create a small, dedicated team within London Councils and a budget for capacity-building and special projects.

LOTI’s work will be supported by the Chief Digital Officer for London and the Smart London Team at the GLA. Boroughs will set the priorities assisted by an advisory board made up of borough CIOs with Chief Executives and Finance Directors and the Chief Digital Officer for London.

Core LOTI

LOTI’s priorities will be driven by Core LOTI, a group of founding boroughs. By working together, sharing risks and rewards, and concentrating resources, Core LOTI councils will be able to do more together than alone.

Membership of Core LOTI involves committing to £30k per council per year – this will be pooled with a London Councils and GLA investment of £100k each per annum – and signing of the Local Digital Declaration.

In the future we see more boroughs joining Core LOTI and the development of strategic partnerships with other public services and universities. LOTI’s engagement with tech companies will be on a case-by-case basis, with the principle that the work we do will be on open licence to promote sharing as widely as possible.

The membership of Core LOTI will collectively:

  • Prioritise across 6 LOTI workstreams
  • Decide projects for Core LOTI members
  • Establish and iterate ways of collaborative working

LOTI will have a potential budget of approximately £600k per annum for staff and projects.

Potential work plan

Core LOTI will guide the six strands of capacity-building programme for all councils, proposing and prioritising projects and allocating resources. Each workstream with consider projects that are either (a) pure capability building (b) existing projects which need adoption or (c) entirely new innovations.

LOTI’s six workstreams to build digital capability together

The LOTI team will work with boroughs to share technical specifications, tender documents, implementation guides and develop strong business cases around innovative technology.

Our work to establish a collective technology map of London on means Core LOTI will provide both the basis for market-shaping opportunities for boroughs to pursue together, as well as a picture of the technological expertise and skills we can look to leverage and scale.

All of this provides capacity for Core LOTI members to promote priorities that will benefit from collaborative working – in other words outcomes which can be achieved that would have been difficult, or expensive, to achieve alone.

Ways of working

As mentioned above, LOTI will work in line with the principles of the Local Digital Declaration which emphasises an open standards approach so products and services are reusable by all.

While opportunities for commercialisation may be identified, this will be down to individual boroughs to pursue rather than assisted by LOTI (an environment of closer working may assist such ventures take a life of their own).

It will also be important for LOTI to problem-solve in a more agile way than with the usual ways of working. Our proposal is that all projects will have a lifespan of 6 weeks, with larger, more complex proposals split up into 6 week chunks. This will enable LOTI to experiment but fail fast and move on when we have to.

LOTI is closely aligned with the Local Digital Declaration. LOTI represents our commitment to securing those benefits for London and, together with boroughs and the GLA, have agreed that membership of the LOTI should require commitment to the Declaration from all parties.

Setting up LOTI is London Government’s Local Digital Declaration Pledge

LOTI forms part of something bigger

Support for the new LOTI at London Councils is part of a wider move by London’s public services to be more open to innovation.

Over the last two years City Hall has build capacity through the Chief Digital Officer for London, a new unit at London & Partners to engage with the smart sector and TfL’s Innovation Team.

LOTI joins London’s public service ecosystem

Together these represent a major step-change in how city government can engage with the wider ecosystem.

What’s next?

LOTI will formally launch on 10 June with a small number of identified projects.

At our launch we will unveil:

  • The new LOTI Director & team
  • Core LOTI boroughs
  • LOTI’s first areas of work, designed with Core LOTI in the run-up to launch
  • Our launch partners — from organisations and institutions in London’s ecosystem

For more information contact Omid Shiraji at London Councils or Theo Blackwell at the GLA (@LDN_CDO)

Thanks to Omid Shiraji

Smart London

Written by

@MayorofLondon CDO & Smart London Board putting data & technology at the heart of making London an even better place to live, work and visit

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