The Key to Realizing London's Digital Potential

London needs a Chief Digital Officer. When the next Mayor appoints one, the capital will assure its continued reputation as the leading European tech hub, and the potential for technology to benefit all Londoners.

Over the last two years I've had a unique opportunity to work with London's City Hall as well as the business, academic, creative and tech leaders imagining the city's future. I'm thrilled the leading Mayoral candidates have recognized the need for an innovation post within their administration; speaking from my own experience, it will be an indispensable strategy for making the city nimble, responsive and economically sound.

When Mayor Mike Bloomberg first asked me to oversee New York City's media and digital portfolio in 2002, the media landscape was on the brink of massive change. Within a few years the convergence of traditional and digital media and explosive growth of the tech community in New York was undeniable. It was clear we needed someone within City Hall whose remit it was to oversee this sector and bring its spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to the realm of government. We needed a Chief Digital Officer.

After seeing how the right expert could improve and streamline outdated, clunky processes in the private sector, I was sure such successes could be replicated in a city bureaucracy. When Mayor Bloomberg and I appointed the first Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Haot, in 2011 her mission was to realize New York City's potential as a leading digital city. The role has now expanded and evolved in New York and other cities--and with good reason: it brought results.

London and New York are two distinct cities, there's no question about that. London is many things at the same time: finance, culture and tech capital and Britain's economic and social hub. But it's also a diverse city, with diverse constituents and neighbourhoods. A strong technology representative at the helm would be a unifying figure who could highlight the economic potential a growing tech sector represents and be an advocate for viable solutions, whether broadband access or maintaining a robust tech talent pipeline through digital education. Hiring a Chief Digital Officer is an essential step in realizing this potential.

With an annual Digital Roadmap serving as New York City's published report card, the profound and long lasting impact of a coordinated strategy led by the Chief Digital Officer became clear. By Mayor Bloomberg's final year in office, we were proud to announce that all of the objectives listed in the original Roadmap had been completed, ensuring a strong digital legacy for New York City that included investment in world-leading graduate level STEM programs like Cornell Tech, the first-billion-dollar exit from a homegrown tech company, and the establishment of a flagship Google office.

Before the Chief Digital Officer was hired, city agencies were independently operating hundreds of social media channels making it almost impossible to relay up-to-date, accurate information to constituents. There was a lot of noise, but not a lot of strategy. The Chief Digital Officer corralled this cacophony by creating policy and streamlining the City's digital communications approach, and it paid off. In a short time we tripled the City's social media audience- growth that represented something far more meaningful than followers and fans in times of an emergency.

This was the case in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The 300+ social media channels were one, unified voice. We issued an open-dialogue with the public, responding to questions and clarifying statements. Residents without electricity or phone lines were able to stay informed by following the City's social media on their mobile devices. They knew when to evacuate from their homes and where to find safe shelter, food and water all thanks to digital messaging which would have been impossible to disseminate just one year prior.

Emergency management is but one example of how a Chief Digital Officer plays a crucial role in a city's public communications and economic development strategy. As an advocate and a champion for business and individuals, a single point of contact to coordinate complex efforts across multiple channels, a Chief Digital Officer will be paramount to the next Mayor's vision for London.

Under Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor Johnson, London has made great progress addressing the digital skills gap and promoting the city as a global tech hub. There's no doubt if the next Mayor can build upon these benchmarks London's tech future is bright. To maintain this momentum London needs a singular figure, which the Mayor will find in a Chief Digital Officer.