by Jennifer O'Brien

Updated: City of Sydney needs a chief digital officer: Christine Forster

Aug 31, 2016
Technology Industry

The City of Sydney needs to appoint a chief digital officer to address the digital innovation trend that’s radically transforming the economy and altering the way businesses and consumers access local services.

That’s the promise made by Lord Mayor candidate, Christine Forster, should she win next week’s mayoral election in the City of Sydney. Sydneysiders go to the polls next week to appoint 10 councillors and their city’s next Lord Mayor.

According to Forster, the City of Sydney needs to grow with the innovation age, and exploit digital opportunities to improve the lives of people in the community. “In order to serve the businesses and residents of Sydney as best it can, the City of Sydney council has to be as efficient as possible,” said Forster. “Council is still stuck in a mentality of rubber-stamping paperwork. This has an immense impact on the speed and ease with which it is able to respond to the needs of citizens.”

Councillor Forster has outlined her key policies that will help Sydney streamline its processes – and appointing a digital director is a key strategic move.

“A chief digital officer (CDO) is a key role in any modern council,” she said. “Research indicates that a digital transformation strategy could yield returns equivalent to four times investment. The Sydney Liberal team and I will champion the recruitment of a CDO who can lead digital change and build a world-class team to oversee our digitisation policies.

“Both businesses and residents in the City of Sydney say dealing with council is frustrating and time consuming. I want to transform the way our businesses and residents engage with council. I’ll be appointing director of digital, whose first job is to develop a strategy to update council’s systems and processes to improve service delivery.”

Speaking with CIO Australia, Forster said her experience with council and its digital naivety is what prompted her to decide to put the CDO on her policy sheet.

“We are stuck in the past. We have not embraced any kind of digital technology whatsoever, whereas other cities like New York and Brisbane are appointing CDOs because they acknowledge how important it is to get data and digitise systems. It can help you engage with your constituents, it keeps people involved, it improves transparency and delivery of services and it’s the way of the future – and we haven’t adopted any of it.”

Forster also plans to establish the “City of Sydney Digi-Challenge,” which offers support and prize money to individuals and companies who help solve local issues though digital solutions.

“The most innovative businesses have realised that ideas can come from anywhere and, very often, come from people who see challenges first-hand,” she said.

She is looking to create a more transparent City of Sydney by utilising and growing council’s existing data assets to make more informed, evidence-based decisions about the delivery of council services. She plans to increase transparency through use of an Open Data portal and safe data sharing.

“We are an analogue council, living in a digital world. By exploiting our data assets, council can tailor services to better address community needs. Further, with our Open Data policy, members of the community can access our datasets to generate new knowledge, insights and ideas,” she added.

“To keep us accountable, I will establish a dashboard which reports back to citizens on performance of the council against our targets and our progress delivering on the commitments we have undertaken.”

Saying the City of Sydney “has failed to adopt technology,” she said the CDO expert would be able to overhaul systems and start to put databases together and make them accessible for the residents and businesses of the city.

“They would take a long, hard close look at all of our systems to improve them with the digital technology that’s available; to gather up our datasets, to get our data onto a portal, so the residents and businesses can access that and use it.”