Rotterdam creates Chief Digital Officer role to streamline innovation

28th January 2021 Sarah Wray

Rotterdam is looking for a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), who will monitor technological, social and economic trends to ensure digital solutions deliver benefits across the city.

The CDO, who will lead a team of eight people, will need to “ask the right questions” to ensure technology adoption is based on the city’s priorities and interlinked challenges, rather than being IT-driven.

Rotterdam’s smart city programme was set up in 2014 with one member of staff. The team has since expanded to 15 people.

Frank Vieveen, Smart City Programme Manager for the City of Rotterdam, told Cities Today: “We are evolving from digitalisation challenges around fibre and other infrastructure to asking what our social and economic challenges are, and how can digitalisation help us to address them. We also want to take advantage of the opportunities that digital transformation offers and [look at how to] manage new digital risks.”

The plan to appoint the CDO follows a directive from the city’s vice mayor to take a more integrated digitalisation approach. Over 13,000 people work for the City of Rotterdam, specialising in housing, environment, water, health, mobility, etc.

“We get a lot of innovation in energy transition, sustainability, circularity, asset management and data sciences, but it’s not only a question of whether we are doing things efficiently; it’s also about whether we are focusing on the right things, and then whether we are using the best solutions and technology,” Vieveen said.

The CDO’s work will free up the smart city team to ensure the right infrastructure, policies and partnerships are in place to support programmes.

Coordination

Streamlining activities will be essential for the CDO. This could include coordinating a sewer improvement programme with upgrading connectivity or making sure an app that is procured or developed is interoperable and could also be used or adapted elsewhere in the organisation. Sometimes the role will also be to point out when a digital tool may not be the best approach to addressing a problem.

Rotterdam is one of the launch cities for the 1000 Cities Act Now initiative, announced this week. This includes a pledge to adopt principles and make “smart investments” to ensure cities’ pandemic recovery plans also bolster climate resilience.

Vieveen likens the new role to coordinating traffic within the organisation. With that in mind, the CDO will also take a broader, more holistic view, scanning the horizon to see what shifts are coming Rotterdam’s way and could bring new challenges and opportunities.

Cities worldwide have seen disruption from the explosive growth of ride-hailing, short-term accommodation rental sites and micromobility, for instance.

“With the platform economy, things can be too one-sided,” Vieveen said. “We’re confronted with solutions that have been invented in Silicon Valley, but we have to deal with the consequences, and there’s no level playing field for how we can interact. That is a key role for the CDO.”

Drones were a recent example which highlighted this. New European legislation brought in last year making it easier to deploy drones in cities caught Rotterdam somewhat on the hop.

“We were unaware that this legislation was in the making, so we were not able to react to the consultation – that’s a blind spot,” said Vieveen.

The city was able to quickly catch up on this occasion and drones are now being used in Rotterdam for medical drug deliveries and have been trialled to deliver packages to the city’s port, but Vieveen said it’s a lesson and underlines the need for the CDO role: “We must understand what’s coming our way so we can define our role, and also make it beneficial for everyone: citizens, companies, education institutions and local government.”

Funding is now in place for the CDO’s office for at least four years, and a CDO will be appointed soon.

Image: Flynt | Dreamstime.com

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