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If London needs a chief digital officer surely so do other cities

London mayor Sadiq Khan has launched the search for a chief digital officer for the capital. It’s well-paid, we’re talking six figures (so the successful candidate is already in the crosshairs of Khan’s party should it win the election on the 8th), so this means the authorities are taking it seriously.

The job spec is on the link above and of course we wish any New Statesman Tech readers every success should they choose to apply (and if you succeed we’d like the first interview please).

We do wonder, though, why London suddenly needs a chief digital officer. Also we wonder what the priorities will be in the first few months.

Chief digital officer or chief security officer?

The spec is clear enough. “There is so much more we can do to transform the ways in which we plan, discuss and deliver public services and government for Londoners – making them more accessible, efficient, and better suited to the needs of our complex and diverse city,” it says. It continues to state that there need to be common standards among service providers and the chief digital officer will be implementing these.

So far so predictable. London wants to be a leading smart city, we get that. However, as this article in the Harvard Business Review confirms, smart cities are not an unalloyed success. Dependent as they are on the Internet of Things, they are subject to the same security glitches as anything else in that field. On a city-wide scale this can be serious.

The spec says you’ll need to be an advocate for technology. We might add that you’ll need a healthy scepticism about some of it. That’s not all.

Is London so special?

London is the capital city of England of course, but we couldn’t help noticing a number of mayors were elected to different regions only last week. How Andy Burnham and the other newly-inducted personnel are going to feel about London having a chief digital officer when they don’t remains to be seen.

Our guess is that they’ll start looking for them soon. Plus London isn’t the only capital city in the UK, the other three countries have theirs as well even if they don’t have mayors as such.

Here’s a suggestion: instead of having a named individual with a fancy job title, how about ensuring that “digital” and “smart and secure” is shot through the DNA of every modern city in the UK? Only a thought, and we’re not in charge. But making everybody responsible for it rather than a single individual might achieve actual transformation rather than run the risk of ending up a tick-box exercise.