Chief Digital Officer for London 2023 Playback

Chief Digital Officer for London
7 min readDec 15, 2023

As 2023 closes, we see off a brilliant year of sharing and collaborating on digital, data and technology innovation across London and internationally.

Here are some selected (and unashamedly boosterist!) highlights:

Improving gigabit connectivity

In January London hit 50% full fibre connectivity (reaching 65% by the end of 2023). Full fibre broadband means that homes can access speeds of up to a gigabit per second — more than 10 times faster than some speeds available on legacy copper connections. Taking into account other provision, 90% of London’s homes and businesses can get gigabit speeds.

The Mayor’s Connected London team, established in 2017 when there was only 4% fibre connectivity in the capital, makes London more investable for telecoms providers by negotiating access to council-owned buildings and land to speed up deployment into surrounding neighbourhoods. New planning guidance to be published next year will require all new developments to be built with full fibre access and 89% of all social housing in London is ‘under wayleave’, meaning it has or can have access to full fibre.

On the underground system more and more travellers are able to access 4G and 5G, as 20-year TfL’s partnership with Boldyn Networks lays hundreds of kilometres of fibre across the network. A significant proportion of the entire Tube network remains on course to have 4G and 5G mobile coverage by the end of 2024.

This network in turn is starting deliver ‘above ground’ benefits as well, as this fibre backbone is used to power better mobile connectivity at street level and smart city enhancements like modern CCTV upgrades on high streets.

Digital access for all

Our work with the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) at London Councils and their partnership with Good Things Foundation to pilot and develop an easy way for Londoners to get the skills, data and device they need to get online.

So far, Get Online London has distributed 44,627 SIM cards and 3,490 devices to people in need and has supported 6,809 people to improve their digital skills on the free online learning platform, Learn My Way. The reuse of devices has also prevented a significant amount of CO2 emissions.

The GLA and LOTI held London’s second ever Digital Inclusion conference, bringing together practitioners from all boroughs, the third sector and business.

The London Office of Technology and Innovation’s 4th anniversary

We celebrated London’s new era of innovation collaboration when we marked LOTI’s 4th year at an event hosted by Bloomberg LLP.

LOTI now has a membership of 27 of London’s 32 boroughs, which now meet and deliver projects as a community. It’s difficult to understate the impact the LOTI team (of only 9!) has made from Guidance on Generative AI to discussing new service models in areas like delivering Net Zero and Adult Social Care, and more.

We will shortly publish an evaluation of LOTI, demonstrating the outsized impact the team has made over this time.

Open innovation progress

City Hall’s capabilities in open innovation — setting challenges or calls to the tech sector to solve specific urban challenges-grows. A retrospective on the use of open innovation during the pandemic was published, and City Hall continued to experiment with open calls around pressing themes, like the cost of living crisis with Barnet council. The innovation team collaborated with UCL to produce an innovation card deck, to start new conversations about design in policymaking.

London’s first ever Data Week

The Greater London Authority, LOTI and Alan Turning Institute held London’s first Data Week to engage data users and the public in over 30 discussions, workshops and exhibitions on the use and ethics of data and AI in cities, see more here.

We’re already planning for next year’s, bigger, series of events to be held in June 2024.

The Hot AI summer

London Tech Week in July was abuzz with the potential of Generative AI, which landed in the form of ChatGPT and other services. London continues to prototype and deploy artificial intelligence in its various forms, from AI used by TfL to reduce disruption caused by roadworks to successful local government use cases such as AI to enforce against fly-tipping or to mitigate against local floods.

The Mayor used his speech at Tech Week to talk about technology and purpose, underlining the critical role data and emerging technology will play in Net Zero and to manage climate change impacts.

Our wider message stressed preparing for AI and emerging technologies for good, and how London is building core strengths in infrastructure, joined-up data, collaboration and trust. Later in the year I had the opportunity to discuss much of this directly with OpenAI, and there a read-out here.

A new city data platform in development

Guided by the Data for London Board, the GLA is making real progress building a new platform for city data sharing and a user-friendly service to facilitate easy data discovery. The beta is expected early in 2024. We’ll also develop a new set of standards to foster collaboration between councils, universities, government agencies and others across the city.

The Data for London programme will make it simpler for people to share and use data held across London to improve the city and benefit Londoners. Data, ethics and standards are all fundamental building blocks for collaboration in better digital services, data and AI services for citizens.

In the future we want to expand the number of useful data services the city makes or works with partners to deliver. Examples include: the Planning Datahub, the country’s first live feed of planning applications; the Underground Asset Register, to speed up urban construction; and the Homelessness data service, to unify data and support work with rough sleepers.

TfL’s innovation continues: works with Google Maps to change cycling, for the world

Earlier in the year we celebrated TfL’s smart city innovation record by marking the 20th anniversary of the Congestion Charge, a smart city application before the term was even invested, which paved the way for today’s Ultra Low Emission Zone.

This track record continues. Driven by Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, and TfL’s innovation team: TfL teamed up with Google Maps to upgrade their navigation system.

The goal was to enhance the overall safety and comfort of cycling in London for everyone using the Google Maps app. TfL and Google worked together after a summit in July 2022, where they discussed challenges faced by cyclists. One major issue identified was the lack of up-to-date information in travel planning tools. Despite TfL and the boroughs creating over 340 kilometres of bike routes in London, existing digital planners often overlook them, leading to less-than-optimal cycling routes. The recent update aims to address these concerns and improve the cycling experience in the city.

Now, Google Maps gives priority to routes that are safer and quieter for cycling, thanks to data from TfL. This means users can find and follow bike-friendly paths more easily.

National and international engagement

In 2023 was a year of international re-engagement after the pandemic, with a big emphasis of sharing experience around data and AI, as well as city telecommunications. London had it’s biggest-ever presence at the Barcelona Smart City Expo a valuable benchmarking opportunity with other cities, as well as food for discussion now the UK has re-entered the Horizon Programme.

My reflection on ‘smart cities’ is that the days of semi-competition between cities are drawing to an end, instead cities face common challenges on how to use data safely, legally and ethically for urban innovation. As London CDO, I took part in knowledge-exchange with Dublin, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Bratislava, Glasgow, Sunderland, Helsinki, Kyiv, Singapore and others. No one is ‘100% smart’ and we are all on a journey building our confidence and experience delivering services safely, ethically and effectively.

Bratislava’s impressive record in urban innovation step-by-step

Why data matters in local government

My message this year for next concerns data and local government. For too long UK national government has neglected the potential of local government to drive change in the data space.

If we are to truly embrace the power of AI, next year we need to focus on a new data partnership between central and local government and the tech sector to realise this change for the benefit of citizens. Here’s an interview on Global Counsel’s Top in Tech Spotify podcast which elaborates on this further.

Closing note for the year

A final note of thanks to the continuing support and goodwill I receive as London CDO — from colleagues at the GLA (Connected London, Innovation, Skills, Digital Experience), the Mayor’s Data for London Board, LOTI, Bloomberg Associates, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Cities Today Institute and the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights to name a few.

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Chief Digital Officer for London

@LDN_CDO & Data for London Board @MayorofLondon using data to support a fairer, safer and greener city for everyone​