Is Sydney finally getting a CDO?

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James Riley

Despite being home to nearly two-thirds of the nation’s startups and the headquarters of the lion’s share of multinational tech companies, Sydney has been surprisingly slow and silent on its digital initiatives.

Most state capitals – except Hobart and New South Wales – have already recognised the crucial role that a chief digital officer (CDO) plays in driving innovation and economic growth, and have moved swiftly to appoint one to develop and lead each cities’ digital agenda.

Canberra announced Jon Cumming as CDO in August 2015, followed by Melbourne’s appointment of Michelle Fitzgerald in September 2015. Brisbane has Cat Matson in the same role since 2014, which she took over from Kieran O’Hea appointed in 2012.

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Chief digital officers in each state are tasked with developing strategies for the use of new technologies to improve access to services, launch digital products that encourage community engagement, and support the technology ecosystem.

All appointees bring an outstanding work history in digital strategy in Australia and globally to the table.

Sydney, as the nation’s hotbed for technology and innovation, appears unhurried and late to the game.

When approached City of Sydney on its plans for a digital lead, a spokesperson said the city is currently developing an overarching digital strategy to cover everything it does in the digital space.

The plan is expected to be presented to council for consideration in the first quarter of next year.

“As part of this process, we will consider the appropriate leadership position or structure to oversee the city’s digital operations,” the spokesperson added.

As technology increasingly becomes an essential part of our lives and culture, it’s important to harness the opportunities that it presents to improve the lives of citizens, business processes and community services.

However, while many organisations have jumped on the bandwagon to take advantage of digital technologies, many economies remain digitally immature, says an Accenture report released last year.

Accenture estimates show that although the digital economy, involving some form of digital skills and digital capital, represents 22.5 per cent of the world economy, digital’s ability to unlock value is far from being fully exploited.

Digital investments can act as a growth multiplier in the coming years, according to the report. Using the US as an example, making adjustments in investments in digital skills, digital technologies and digital accelerators could see the nation increase its gross domestic product by 2.1 per cent – which equates to US$421 billion in 2020.

The key takeaway is this: business leaders and policy-makers must understand where to make those investments to realise the greatest improvement in gross domestic product.

It’s better late than never—and it seems that Sydney has picked up on the sense of urgency. noticed that City of Sydney sent out a tweet in July 2015, inviting communities to share their ideas on Sydney’s digital strategy via an online survey.

Christine Forster, one of nine councillors for City of Sydney, has previously advocated for a chief digital officer when she ran for Mayor this year.

She believes the city needs a CDO to lead the digital charge and help update council’s systems and processes to improve service delivery. A clear digital strategy would positively impact the speed and ease at which the council responds to the needs of businesses and citizens.

Ms Forster was elected to the City of Sydney Council in September 2012, and re-elected in 2016.

While no date has been set for the announcement of a digital strategy or a CDO, we are keeping our fingers crossed that we are getting closer to hearing about a digital agenda that will set the direction and establish Sydney as a leading digital city.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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