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London CDO points to connectivity and common standards



Theo Blackwell highlights key features of Smart London plan and highlights need to extend use of data

London’s chief digital officer has highlighted the plans to build connectivity and develop common standards for data devices in its new Smarter London Together plan.

Talking with UKAuthority at the CogX conference, Theo Blackwell said the moves to launch a Connected London programme to coordinate connectivity and 5G projects, along with the proposal to use planning powers to further the effort, will be a big factor in the long term development of a smart infrastructure for the city.

Among the possibilities in a new planning regime would be that property developers are required to provide full fibre broadband in any newly built homes.

“We’re about to enable an active approach to build connectivity across the city. It’s in steps like enabling access to public buildings’ rooftops,” Blackwell said.

There would also be improvement in public Wi-Fi, and under the Sharing Cities programme efforts to procure and install a new generation of lampposts that could be fixed with air quality sensors, cameras and electric vehicle charging points.

Proposal for guidance

He said this will complement the promotion of common standards for the adoption of smart infrastructure. There is a plan for the mayor of London to propose relevant guidance aimed at reducing duplication and supporting the efforts of innovators in the field.

In addition, he emphasised the importance of features around the use of data, including the formal launch of the London Office for Data Analytics, and the strengthening of data rights to build public trust.

Taking part in a panel discussion at the conference, Blackwell emphasised that the city authority needs to extend its use of data into new areas and ramp up the collaboration between different public sector bodies in the city.

“Although London is recognised as a centre for smart innovation – and it has done some great things with open data, particularly through Transport for London – there are a mass of complications,” he said. “There are 32 boroughs and 50 NHS trusts and a challenge in how they work together, and around how we innovate in a more collaborative way.”

There is a perception that the emergence of artificial intelligence will increase the potential for developing smart city systems around the city, but Blackwell emphasised that it will need large volumes of high quality information that are not yet fully available. To make this happen some foundations have to be laid.

“As a city we have excelled in the provision of the open data, but this should be just the beginning. We need to do the ‘hard yards’ in data sharing and develop a full knowledge of our information estate and the data we need.

“For a city government, setting out and having confidence in the foundations has to be a priority for us.”


He said that among the foundations needed are to ensure there is leadership on the issue around the city, build up collaboration with citizens and get the relationships right with private sector entities that hold relevant data. Among the areas where there are difficulties are in obtaining data from utilities providers, which although providing services relevant to the running of the city have no requirement to make their data available.

A similar view came from the chief data officer for Transport for London, Laura Sager Weinstein, who said the organisation needs to harness new sources of data to fully exploit the potential.

“We’ve been using data to help transport services run better, but now want to support broader aims across London,” she said. “We have to be focused on those aims when using data so we can really help London.”

She added that progress would likely be made by looking at a series of smaller issues to improve services, citing the example of combining ticketing and bus data to understand travel patterns and feed into long term planning.

Picture by Mai-Linh Doan, CC Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 France through Wikimedia

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