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London Office for Technology and Innovation gets ready to launch

New organisation will officially begin its activities in June and has appointed Nesta’s former government chief as director

The London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), a collaborative vehicle to strengthen the innovation ability of boroughs across the capital, now has a launch date as well as new leadership.

LOTI, a digital coalition funded by the Greater London Authority and London Councils, will launch on 10 June and will be led by Eddie Copeland, former director of government innovation at Nesta.

Fifteen of London’s 32 boroughs have expressed interest in working with the group, which aims to enable faster scaling of technology, data and skills across the city’s public services by developing an environment where innovation and collaboration are more likely to happen.

Guy Ware, director of local government performance and finance at London Councils, told Computer Weekly: “We have got a lot of opportunities in London government and there are a lot of initiatives around, some of which we are in the process of promoting, to try to encourage innovation and the application of digital technology.

“But there is also a recognition that there is a gap around the need to collaborate, the need to build an environment in which that innovation is more likely to succeed.”

According to Ware, work at the centre will initially focus on “about half a dozen strategies” that have been identified around areas such as skills, leadership and data sharing. The member boroughs will then run a programme of projects to demonstrate where the leading edge of development might be, with LOTI acting as a facilitator.

“We will give a bit of support, maybe a bit of funding if necessary, a bit of facilitation, linking with other parts of the system and provide a space where this stuff can happen or is more likely to happen,” he said.

“But the focus is on what makes a real difference for citizens and users of services. It’s not about playing with the latest in technology.”

However, possibilities around the better use of data will be high up on LOTI’s agenda. According to Ware, one of the perceived barriers to date has been the ability to share data across public services and organisations , so there are opportunities to use emerging technologies to apply “imaginative ways to use big data sets”.

Ware said London Councils is working with London chief digital officer Theo Blackwell to get boroughs involved in the initiative, but the idea is not to coax them into joining.

“We consciously didn’t seek to get everybody on board from the start because we are looking to promote collaboration, and so we wanted people who were bringing a desire to share what they were doing, to learn from others actively, right from the start,” said Ware.

“Boroughs will be encouraged to join once the digital skills programmes that we will facilitate are in place, as they will be available to, and be a benefit to, everybody.”

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LOTI’s initial approach was about bringing together a “coalition of the willing”, but now the motto has evolved to “willing and able”, said Ware.

“Inevitably, those boroughs that see themselves as leading lights in digital transformation are likely to be interested,” he said. “They have to have some kind of enthusiasm for the network. But there isn’t a barrier or a qualification hurdle.”

Asked whether LOTI is planning to engage the supplier community in its activities, Ware said that before getting tech companies involved, it will aim to prioritise other areas of the community, such as academia.

“We do recognise that if this is going to succeed, we want it to work within that broader ecosystem and involve the various stakeholders,” he said. “And we will try to involve those by, for example, promoting collaborative, better working relationships.

“What we are not going to do is act as a marketplace for the tech sector to sell stuff to the government sector.”

The idea of LOTI was first floated by a group of London boroughs in May 2017, when they launched a scoping exercise to look at the appetite and potential to join up digital initiatives across the capital.

Blackwell said LOTIwill be a massive boost, and a completely different institution with a different way of working”.

He added: “It is a digital institution for a digital transformation of London, supporting the digital transformation of London’s public services.”

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