On the 25th of August the mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan appointed Theo Blackwell as the city’s first Chief Digital Officer (CDO).
This announcement provides another sign of a market that is quickly maturing. Theo Blackwell will be London’s first CDO and in its role it will work to fulfil the Mayor’s ambition to transform London in the smartest city on the globe. More specifically, the CDO will be in charge of ensuring the city’s continuous growth as leading tech hub as well as guaranteeing that city’s services will become more accessible, efficient, and responsive to the needs of an increasing population.
The new CDO will work closely with the Mayor’s Smart London Board to create and develop a new Smart London Plan. The Smart London Board is responsible for shaping London’s smart city agenda and investment in data and infrastructure; the board’s role is to advise the Mayor on implementing new digital technologies improving the city’s infrastructure and on how technology should feature within the city’s strategies and wider policies.
Besides, working on the new plan, the CDO will be a pivotal figure in growing the collaboration across various boroughs (e.g. Camden, Greenwich, etc.) and businesses to drive digital transformation and innovation leveraging technology standards and data-sharing.
Key areas of focus for the CDO will be connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security, and open data.
Europe is one of the main smart city markets with 285 smart city projects tracked in IHS Markit Smart City Database as of June 2017, representing 35% of the global market. As of the second quarter of 2017 the United Kingdom was the country with the highest number of projects (45) in Europe, with London being its leading city with 10 smart city projects currently tracked in the database. London is one of the leading smart cities in Europe but also globally with projects including smart ticketing, smart street lighting, and many others.
London started looking for a CDO in May 2017. The creation and recruiting of the position show that the market is maturing and new specific roles are created to appropriately lead the development of the smart city push.
Data, data-sharing, and work across silos are the main pillars identified by London to support its development as a smart city. The fact that fostering collaboration across boroughs and businesses is one of the main responsibilities of the CDO shows that internal collaboration and working across silos is still one of the main challenges for cities. This is in line with the IHS Markit and United States Conference of Mayor (USCM) 2016 Smart Cities Survey which showed that collaboration between departments was seen by cities as one of the main obstacles in the development of smart city projects (along with ensuring financial resources to launch and sustain the project).
The dual focus on city’s services for the citizens as well as growing the city’s role as tech hub and consequently the city’s economy growth and job creation show the wide reach of smart cities. From one side smart city projects aim to improve the life of the citizens, to address their needs, and to optimise current resources and services, while from the other, smart cities are also a way to foster economic growth for the city and its businesses.
With smart cities increasing in scope, size, investments, and potential creating new position to ensure that all the goals and targets are met is a necessary step, especially for those high aiming cases such as London. IHS Markit expects that specific leadership positions to drive smart cities to the next step of their evolution will be a common theme in 2018 and beyond. This trend has already started, but will intensify in the coming years. Among others, Chicago appointed its first Chief Data Officer in 2011 and New York appointed a Chief Digital Officer in 2016.