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Getting the Show on the Road: Report from the first London Office of Technology and Innovation Stand Up

A few weeks back now, we announced a scoping exercise for a London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI). We’re committed to being open about what we are doing and this blogpost is the first step in that direction.

The idea behind the scoping study is to turn the talk about the transformative effect of data, digital and technology on the quality and efficiency of public services into tangible outcomes for senior political and managerial leadership in London’s frontline public services. By the end of the scoping study, we will have an operating and governance model in waiting for a LOTI that public service organisations can sign up to. Amongst other things, we want LOTI to:

  • spread digital collaboration to amplify and scale best practice across London’s boroughs and service providers.
  • put London’s public services in a state of ‘technology preparedness’ so that as a collective we can a) hold fewer, more balanced, and needs-based discussions with technology vendors and b) be generally alert to the potential of ‘disruptive’ business models to improve public services.
  • encourage partnerships with the private sector and create relationships with the emerging and innovation-rich govtech sector based on the clear digital ambitions of London’s public services.
  • do the dull-but-vitally important stuff – think open standards to ensure data quality, or meeting our obligations to the General Data Protection Regulation – once and once only.
  • chart a path towards effective, dispersed digital leadership to change culture and ensure progress.

Critically, whilst not pursuing a single number, we want to anchor the exercise in the day-to-day realities of service delivery – this is about doing things better for the people we serve, and in so doing delivering efficiency and value for money. One opening Advisory Board participant described the three phases that a LOTI needs to recognise:

  • coping with the initial impact of losing two-thirds of central government grant in a ten-year period;
  • a move towards internal transformation using technology; and
  • only after this stage, pursuing ambitions to making the London experience a smarter and smoother one.

There is an important subtlety here.  As a further participant quipped, “We do not want to create a ‘LOSS’ – a London Office of Shared Services”. And so, as we progress through this programme, we will need to constantly return to the question of proportion and balance between exciting technology, financial imperatives and business models that stack up against them, and digital and data-driven services done better.

We have a great set of consultants to help us out. In Futuregov, Arup and Stance we have a highly complementary and relevant range of deep expertise, covering digital transformation of local government services, international reach and experience of setting up a technology office for central government.

So where do we go from here?  The project is split into three distinct phases – Field Assessment, Review, and Operating Model Design. We have just held the first show-and-tell session.  These fortnightly events – attended by Boroughs, the GLA, and delivery partners – will be important moments in a broader agile project approach. We will use them to garner continuous feedback on various streams of work which are subject to constant scrutiny, iteration and improvement.

In our first meeting, as well as exploring project roles and responsibilities, we built out our initial conceptual thinking on the LOTI proposition, and considered how to communicate this proposition so it is seen as a genuine joint enterprise between London Councils, the Borough authorities and the GLA.  These first two components will be vital in ensuring that support, momentum and willingness to take part all grow.

We also discussed how to approach our first real foray into the Field Assessment stage of the project – the Digital Maturity Assessments and Technical Analysis. This will be the first time we engage with colleagues in the Boroughs, and through workshops, interviews and self-completion surveys involving different departments, we will be seeking to understand how far down the tracks they are with regards to the incorporation of digital approaches in corporate strategies and business plans, ICT provision, technology adoption, data governance and culture.

These are not nosey audits. These exercises will be insightful in exposing ambition to build upon, identifying best practice to spread, and helpful in pointing at barriers to participation – e.g. by understanding an authority’s approach to data management, we can gauge willingness and ability to get involved in city analytics exercises of the likes we are developing under the London Office of Data Analytics banner. They will form the crucial bedrock on which we will build a programme of work for that LOTI operating model, in which the opportunities of considering new business models, services and technology will be explored.

Success will be dependent on building momentum. So, expect to hear more from us. And irrespective of your seniority, department, level of ‘tech literacy’, get in touch if you want to help design digital and data-driven public services in London which truly reflect its standing as a global city, and which will make a difference to people’s lives.