Chief Digital Officer for London — thoughts 100 days in

Smart London
Feb 2, 2018 · 8 min read

Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London

Chief Digital Officer for London — thoughts after 100 days in

Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London

This week marks my first 100 days as the new Chief Digital Officer for London. We marked it together on Tuesday by re-booting the London First and Centre for London-led group which had initially called for a Chief Digital Officer for London in 2015. The event was held at Bloomberg HQ, hosted by former New York City Commissioner Katherine Oliver and Todd Asher from Bloomberg Associates. Katherine developed the New York City Digital Roadmap — the first of its kind — for Mayor Bloomberg in 2011, and are helping London develop the next generation of smart thinking with their experience and international expertise.

Katherine Oliver on the New York City Digital Roadmap with representatives from business, government and civil society

As the Chief Digital Officer for London is a new role, it was important from the outset to outline the remit: each city Chief Digital Officer will have different priorities, for example inward investment or direct service transformation. In London importance of the city collaborating and mobilising its strengths in innovation to be ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ was a consistent call from business, scale-ups and public services and is the primary focus of the role.

The emphasis on citywide collaboration in part reflects the broadly strategic nature of City Hall. Much of my preliminary work is effectively B2B, assisting public services to develop stronger common foundations and capacity for future citizen-centred innovation based on our capacity to mobilise citizen engagement, data, assets and partnerships.

Below I give a few examples of how city-wide coordination is coming together — and starting to make a difference.

Public services working together — London Office for Technology & Innovation (LOTI)

A big-ticket proposal city hall and London Councils have been working on over the last 12 months is a potential new collaboration vehicle for London’s public services provisionally dubbed ‘LOTI’.

Although public services work together on joint digital services through the existing London Ventures structure, we lack the ability across 33 boroughs (or combinations of) to work together to develop our digital capacity or to innovate together nimbly. At its most basic level — and this is a problem across UK local government — there’s little clarity about what services councils and other public bodies actually use or plan to use to deal with the same services. This means we miss opportunities to buy or develop digital services more intelligently when contracts come up or needs arise, and are not very good at adopting or fashioning common standards or sharing data.

If this carries on we risk having different and less effective approaches to how we use data for the benefit of Londoners, cyber security or adopting new technology to deal with London-wide problems like poor air quality.

City hall and London Councils decided to investigate this and last week the combined findings of GLA research and a scoping study by Arup, Fututregov and Stance conducted in late 2017 was discussed with the Chief Executives of London Councils (CELC).

The scoping study gathered input from 20 of the 33 boroughs. A range of methods were used including a survey of chief officers from 12 boroughs; four workshops with 60 participants; and one-to-one interviews with CEOs, CIOs and transformation leads from 10 boroughs and input from the London CIO network.

Despite undoubted progress over recent years, there is a demand for greater collaboration around good practice in product design, testing, procurement and deployment. This was expressed both in terms of supporting boroughs to meet common challenges which are currently met alone, e.g. connectivity, GDPR, cyber security or new regulations, but also to have the space and time for more intensive and applied innovation. Current formal and informal pan-London professional networks were perceived as lacking the capacity to advance practical action and there was strong ask for a body which, in the words of one service leader “should focus on doing, not just meeting…”

We see a LOTI as having ongoing benefits, helping to transform digital services as the city grows. London’s growth will continue to put a strain on its housing, healthcare, transport and wider infrastructure. It also threatens the environment. Local councils also face very significant and ongoing budgetary pressures. Applying data and technology-driven solutions has the potential to help London respond to these challenges better. We hope through a LOTI London government can explore a more collaborative and anticipatory approach to digital transformation by using data to develop more effective solutions to citizens’ most pressing needs.

The aim is to progress a joint-funded innovation function for public services in the city, should they wish to participate, similar to the work of the Digital Office for Scotland.

Mobilising public assets for better connectivity

December saw an unprecedented collaboration between TfL, central London local authorities and public services to bid for government Full Fibre investment. Built upon a vision to deliver a revolution in London’s digital connectivity landscape, the Connected London Full Fibre Network uses London’s underground to deliver up to 20Tb/s capable fibre optic network. Ground-breaking in its ambition, scale and reach, the projects is led by TfL, and represents a collaboration involving the GLA, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden, Westminster City, The City of London Corporation; Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets councils, and the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation.

The Connected London FFN addresses many of central London’s top connectivity problem areas and ‘not spots’ and is the first in a wider roll-out across the city

This initiative, put together by TfL and the boroughs in December and January, could directly impact over 9,500 premises which fall within a 50m radial of each existing public asset used, such as a school or station, or a new asset, such as a street cabinet. The network has a wider impact for 80,000 more premises that are within 200m of each asset.

Planning — a new framework and better data

As a statutory power, planning is one of the major levers the Mayor of London has to seize the opportunities and manage the pressures of city-growth and therefore is a real focus of our work.

The new London Plan draft contains much broader ambitions than before around data and connectivity, including the potential use of planning powers to agree and set technology standards in new developments. Section 9 of the Plan sets this out, including a requirement on boroughs to develop their approach to making their area more connected — at the moment not all boroughs even do this. What we should aim for is much more consistency across London’s 33 boroughs — like a wayleave framework for London or common standards for sensors in new developments.

There’s a lot of thinking going on about the application of technology to planning to improve consultation and to assist planning officers in their judgments. We are currently discussing next steps for 3d modelling to visualise proposed developments, ultimately leading to a tool which citizens (not just planners) can use to assess the impact of development and taller buildings on their area.

We’ve written to all boroughs to improve of the flow of planning data between councils and city hall. Currently boroughs each collect their own data on planning and development and then are required to enter a portion into the GLA’s London Development Database — this means planning data is time-consuming (data is often entered twice) and an incomplete London-wide resource. By improving the flow of information we can create a more effective enhanced resource for all boroughs — infrastructure providers can plan for expected growth and we can minimise road network disruption by coordinating construction.

Innovation — new approaches to GovTech and the private sector

A smarter city should consider how to give clarity to potential private sector partners who struggle to find routes-to-market in London due to the fragmentation of public services. On Govtech, the draft Economic Development Strategy currently out for consultation includes for the first time a joined-up approach to GovTech — including measures to support these sectors via direct investment and prizes. We are currently seeking to identify various pots from across the GLA group and government to maximise the impact of these initiatives.

GovTech features in the draft Economic Development Strategy

Digital leadership

To improve collaboration and digital understanding at a corporate level, city hall is partnering with Doteveryone on a pilot to develop a scalable model for self-directed, supported learning about leading in a digital world. It works like this: two cohorts of GLA leaders will follow a 6-month programme of supported, self-directed learning to develop their digital understanding and leadership relevant to the workplace. Participants will have regular access to a digital mentor who will help them explore their objectives.

The pilot will support Doteveryone to develop free, open, actionable content that others could use to support self-directed learning for leaders in their organisations.

A moment with the jargon…

This will be an initial pilot/research programme for 16 leaders combined with research and evaluation, from which City Hall leaders will have the opportunity to gain digital understanding.

Ultimately, we want to link with wider government initiatives around public service upskilling, for example the GDS Academy or other civil service initiatives.

A Smarter London Together

The measures are large and small steps towards making London a smarter city. Last week we launched the Smart London Listening Exercise, which runs from now until June — a long read setting out our objectives is here.

5 smart enablers for London in the Listening Exercise

We aim to launch the new plan and actions in June at London Tech Week — a strong focus for London, as highlighted in the New Statesman Tech, is the data economy and building foundations for the use of data for public services and growth.

What you can do

We’re keen to hear your ideas on how we build a more collaborative digital city.

Here’s how you can help:

Read our opening statement on smart — and give us your views and experiences.

Got something to show us? We’re keen to see real-life examples of tech making a difference for Londoners. As CDO I’m going to be out-and-about visiting the best of what London is creating, get in touch.

Join us in London Tech Week in June will be a major set of events, with work on leadership, AI, smart cities and #Behindeverygreatcity campaign to recognise the contribution of women in tech.

Find out more about A Smarter London Together here.

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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