London is the tech capital of Europe, and it offers a compelling mix of innovation, a thriving creative sector and a vibrant financial system. It is why when BAI Communications was looking to establish its European headquarters in 2016, London was our first choice.
Our decision to set up BAI’s London office was vindicated when shortly afterwards, newly elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced he would be appointing the capital’s first Chief Digital Officer (CDO), to oversee digital development across London.
At London First’s recent roundtable with CDO Theo Blackwell, I was reminded about why we are so enthusiastic about London, but also some of the challenges it faces to become a truly digital city.
Since being appointed, Theo has been a welcome champion for tech, setting out how it can improve the lives of Londoners and outcomes for policy makers. We have already seen positive developments such as the establishment of the London Office for Technology and Innovation (LOTI), the creation of the ‘Not-Spot Team’ tackling poor connectivity, and investment days to help innovative tech firms attract crucial funding.
The private sector has a huge role to play in helping the Greater London Authority (GLA) to achieve its aim of making London the smartest city in the world. The Smarter London Together Roadmap included some ambitious plans, including the development of ‘smarter’ lampposts throughout London, enhancing digital inclusion across the whole of London and improving data rights.
However, the recent roundtable was a reminder of the scale of task if London is to keep step with a fast moving tech marketplace. To this end, Theo explained his three priorities are:
- To ‘fix the plumbing’, ensuring London has the necessary infrastructure in place
- To enable better data collection and services across London
- To improve the GLA’s role in consolidating supply/demand and sharing information across the boroughs.
Drawing on our perspective as a global communications infrastructure provider, we see ‘the plumbing’ as a vital component to success. This includes both fixed line and wireless connectivity. However, progress is not always as fast as we would all like. Perhaps the best example Theo provides is that just five percent of homes in London are able to access full fibre services.
One of the key reasons for this is the historic urban environment of London. Like the other cities we have worked in, such as New York, it requires carefully thought out solutions which respect the built environment and communities, but also deliver the world class connectivity we need. It is encouraging to see Theo and the GLA seeking to tackle this through revised planning powers and supporting both boroughs and providers to improve the speed of implementation.
From our perspective as a global business, we are very pleased with the manner in which the GLA is driving the digital agenda, however such changes cannot be achieved by the public sector alone and it is vital that the private sector matches such enthusiasm and continues to work with Theo through organisations like London First to help make London the digital capital of the world.
This post originally appeared on the London First website.