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“This has to be a coalition of the motivated” — techUK urges creation of a national CDO forum

The UK should consider establishing a nationwide Chief Digital Officer (CDO) forum, techUK said this week as it launched a new Local Digital Capital index — which tracks eight aspects of local digital capabilities across the UK, including digital infrastructure, digital skills, and data ecosystems in a bid to “understand and measure the depth of local digital capital, the building blocks that make up a strong technology ecosystem, in each region in the UK.”

Launching the index (see its metrics here) in Birmingham on Thursday (September 9, 2021) the trade association suggested that improving how technology leaders collaborate would “help improve local digital capital”, adding in a release that “a CDO forum at a national level would be welcomed but to improve collaboration locally there should be CDO forums in the nations and regions to support collaborative working and co-ordination.”

Matt Robinson, Head of Nations and Regions at techUK (a membership organisation that brings together public and private sector partners) told The Stack: “We’re already looking at a CDO Forum in the West Midlands. They will become together probably once a quarter — and we hope to really shine a light on best practice.”

See also: Tom Riordan, Leeds Council CEO, on change management & the myth of the heroic chief executive

Pointing to the West Midlands’ existing Digital Strategy group (set up by the combined authority as part of its digital roadmap) techUK’s Matt Robinson added: “We don’t want to duplicate what they’re doing; waste funding and resources. We [also] know that the West Midlands Growth Company have done some really brilliant work on inward investment, finance and investment in the region. Again, we want to work with them. We don’t want to duplicate good things, what we want to do is do things differently, see how we can share, go further.”

techUK urges creation of a dedicated Chief Digital Officer (CDO) forum. A snapshot of techUK's local digital capital index
A snapshot of techUK’s local digital capital index

Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, was among those welcoming the launch of the index, noting that “we’ve seen real success with initiatives like our 5G testbed and our Digital Skills Bootcamps, but we can do more in areas like digital adoption and data sharing, and this Index gives us a useful tool to support our strategy”.

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Welsh Government, meanwhile added that he welcomed “the opportunities that the Local Digital Capital Index can bring to inspire a national discussion on driving digital adoption, the importance of exploiting technology and collaborative working.”

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Both comments came in a release heavily focussed on the index itself. Yet it is getting leaders from across the public and private sectors to collaborate on everything from big picture digital transformation through to lessons on improving digital skills and indeed digitally-driven innovation that arguably remains a critical need — across a UK that, as the index shows, has distinctly differing levels of digital capital by region.

The idea of a CDO forum sounds like a compelling coordinated effort to improve digital skills, data use and more across the country. In the cybersecurity realm, NCSC and other stakeholders have had real successes building relationships and forums around the country to swap information and best practice in security threats.

Why not more broadly on the digital front? Matt Robinson says: “I think everybody’s willing… it just needs somebody to give it a little bit of prod to get this done. Somebody said to me the other day that this has to be a ‘coalition of the motivated’ and I think that’s right. And I’d emphasise that we don’t want to limit this just to CDOs. There are CTOs and others in relevant roles that could be coming together too.”

See also — The Big Interview: The UN’s First Chief Digital Officer, Robert Opp.

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Ed Targett

Ed Targett is founder of The Stack. He has previously served as editor at Tech Monitor, Computer Business Review, and Roubini Global Economics.

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