Sydney Council’s CDO backflip

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James Riley

The City of Sydney has performed a backflip (with pike) regarding stewardship of its innovation and digital transformation agenda.

Just days ago, Jess Scully, the Sydney Councillor hand-picked by Lord Mayor Clover Moore to be the public face of the Council’s innovation agenda was categorical that the City did not need – and would not be hiring – a Chief Digital Officer.

It has however since advertised in the Australian Financial Review for both a chief, technology and digital services officer and a chief, data and management executive.

Both are brand new positions, and according to the advertisement “will provide the strategic and operational leadership to ensure that the City, its staff and the community derive the benefits from digital and technological developments.”

Ms Scully acknowledged she had been blindsided by the decision to appoint two technology leads, and remains unconvinced.

She recently told that “Particularly to people like me, who are net natives, the idea of a CDO or chief innovation officer seems a little bit redundant.”

She said the Council had made innovation a core principle. She said she hoped Council’s soon-to-be released digital strategy would feature a checklist for all council officers to ensure that innovation was baked into all activities, which she maintained was more valuable than having digital or innovation “in a silo on its own.”

Instead the two new appointees will be responsible for implementing Council’s digital strategy.

According to a City of Sydney spokesperson: “These experts will advise the City on how best to use emerging and established technologies to meet the requirements of the Council and to improve operations and services.

“Councillor Scully would not have been aware of the City’s decision to create these roles.”

Ms Scully confirmed that the decision to appoint two chief technology and digital leaders had been “news to me too”. She said that she stands by her previous comments and that having a CDO was a little like having a “chief electricity officer.”

One person who will no doubt be pleased by the backflip is Councillor Christine Forster, who had called for the appointment of just such a digital leader during her bid to take over as Lord Mayor last year. While she failed in that bid, some of Ms Forster’s digital wishes now seem set to come true.

Not so Ms Scully’s, who said of the planned recruitment; “What you are looking at here is a bit of a split.

“As a councillor I’m part of the political arm of the City and I contribute my perspectives to policy. These are very much operational roles and the CEO of the city goes out and hires for those roles.”

It appears that the political and operational arms of Council are singing from different hymn sheets as Ms Scully said that there had been nothing in the digital strategy that suggested such positions would be created.

“It was news to me too. Unfortunately that’s how big organisations work.”

She said that the City of Sydney’s operational decisions were handled by CEO Monica Barone, and while she respected her choice “it was not a decision I would have made. It was not something I saw coming.”

In terms of the new positions, the advertisement describes the chief technology and digital services role as leading the IT and digital functions to ensure that Sydney has the systems, infrastructure, services and practices it needs.

The successful applicant will also provide advice to the Council on digitally enabled business transformation opportunities.

The chief data and information management executive meanwhile will lead the City’s “Strategy for information management, data and analytics and for driving improvements in information and data quality.”

One of the first challenges might be installing a system to ensure that the political and operational arms of Council communicate more effectively.

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