The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has finally brought his hunt for a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to an end and fulfilled one of his key manifesto promises from last year with the appointment of Theo Blackwell.
In a first for the city, London joins the likes of Vancouver, Chicago and Boston in having its own CDO who will be charged with bringing together boroughs, businesses and other stakeholders to shepherd innovation and direct it to areas that will be most beneficial for the city’s development.
Blackwell himself as an extensive experience that crosses the boundaries between the public and private sector, having recently worked at the GovTech accelerator Public Group and headed up policy and public affairs at video games industry trade body Ukie.
Connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data have been explicitly identified as areas that Blackwell will look to capitalise on, with his appointment an attempt to harness the innovative energy already contained with London’s tech community.
Complementing the announcement, Khan said that Blackwell’s work had the potential for ‘improving the lives’ of all Londoners and formed a key plank in his ambitions to turn the capital into the world’s foremost smart city.
Blackwell said that the rate of technological change over the next ten years required public services to work more closely with private technology companies to explore how these innovations could benefit public policy and urban planning. He added:
“Our purpose is to fully harness London’s world-class potential to make our public services faster and more reliable at doing things we expect online, but also adaptable enough to overcome the capital’s most complex challenges.”
Will a CDO make any difference?
Khan and Blackwell both talk a good game, but what difference will a dedicated CDO actually make in the lives of Londoners?
Looking beyond the suitably utopian language, or ‘digital bollocks’ as the Register dubbed it when the CDO job description was originally posted, Blackwell could add real value in connecting the dots between policymakers and private business.
Perhaps most importantly, having a central figure who can also facilitate collaboration across 26 boroughs could make it far easier for tech firms to roll out their innovations London-wide rather than going through the painstaking process of striking deals with individual boroughs.
This isn’t just about lowering the barriers for entry either.
As we seen with the Obike debacle earlier in the summer, where the Singaporean startup was accused of ‘littering’ the streets of Wandsworth with unlicensed bikes, it’s about ensuring that the innovations that are introduced are truly in the best interests of Londoners and the services of the city as a whole.
A more joined up and collaborative approach can only help in this regard and has the potential to build on the good work already started with initiatives such as the London Datastore.
Written by: Billy Wood
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