The Ultimate Digital Proposition (UDP) portrays a destination such as a city as an integrated digital productivity hub, one with a thriving digital economy where digital businesses can start and thrive, intellectual property is developed and products are brought to market. As a result, the city develops an international reputation, not only as a place where people want to live and work, but as a centre for global digital leadership, attracting talent and investment from all over the world.
Governments recognise that the digital economy is now too big to ignore and that digital technologies are critical enablers of innovation and productivity. It will create new employment opportunities and whole new industries by lowering costs and other barriers to entry, and removing geographical limitations. This will especially benefit cities by connecting them directly to global markets.
To achieve these ambitions, cities must aim to become digital productivity hubs in their own right, leveraging cloud infrastructure, world class digital events, research skills, community engagement, access to export markets and high quality digital production. They must also become renowned as a hot-bed for startups and as a magnet for inward investment. Action is needed at government level to define and deliver the environment within which this reputation can evolve.
Capital cities are not necessarily the best at developing UDP’s. Regional cities are often quicker and nimbler and therefore better placed to respond to the opportunities presented by the digital economy. Ironically, regions are excellent at presenting a united front around sectors like tourism in the interest of external promotion while simultaneously maintaining a competitive internal market. Despite what we know about the value of the Internet economy, this still isn’t happening for digital. I am not aware of a role or initiative at any level of government anywhere whose sole focus is to deliver the Ultimate Digital Proposition.
Individual initiatives which could form the basis of a homogeneous digital showcase are usually managed and implemented independently of each other. Governments tend to give responsibility for anything related to digital to their ICT Department. However this will not work in at least one critical area of the Ultimate Digital Proposition – attracting inward investment. Meanwhile Trade & Investment Departments usually do not have a deep enough grasp of digital to promote it as aggressively as they do other sectors – such as the aforementioned tourism.
Last year, Gartner declared Brisbane’s digital economy strategy to be an example of global digital leadership. Accolade’s such as this should provide a clear motivation for a city to go further and create its Ultimate Digital Proposition. The UDP is multifaceted as its captures the essence of domestic digital economy activity within the city while at the same time developing its global reputation as a place where “cool digital stuff happens, and you should be part of it.”
Cities can do a number of things to create their UDP. A digital achievement audit or competition would highlight the collective digital excellence of its companies, universities, start-ups, local authorities and not-for-profits. It should also identify and recognise the efforts and achievements of its digital champions. It also needs to convert the following core objectives into KPI’s that it has the capability to deliver:
- Providing the capacity for high-speed, high-volume digital transactions.
- Transforming existing businesses and building new ones that are born online.
- Positioning the city as a digital hub for investment and innovation.
- Creating enhanced quality of life through the delivery of public digital services.
Infrastructure is an important element of a city’s economic development activity. In the digital age there needs to be a better balance between investment in digital infrastructure and physical infrastructure and between intellectual property and physical property. It follows that in a digital economy, achieving a more appropriate balance of investment across these areas will contribute to economic growth. Among the activities that can form part of this growth are educating businesses, leadership innovation, leveraging IPR from startups and supporting initiatives relating to knowledge creation.
All digital initiatives currently being managed independently in a typical city may continue to be managed independently, but should be showcased together in support of the city’s holistic digital vision. Wherever possible deliverables of a digital nature should be announceables of the city's digital strategy. City digital strategies are becoming increasingly enshrined in economic development plans not just in ICT strategies. In this way the development of the Ultimate Digital Proposition can maintain more of a customer-focused, commercial perspective and be more relevant to the economic development of the city than if it were managed inside the ICT Department alone.
To oversee the development of its UDP, the city would need to appoint a full-time senior digital advocate, such as a Chief Digital Officer, as high up the organisation management structure as possible, ideally at Senior Executive level. This would have to be an appropriately resourced digital leadership role, developing the city’s digital strategy and overseeing its implementation, working not only with city officials but with senior stakeholders including Government, academia, technology providers, the business community and the start-up sector.
The senior digital advocate role would reflect and embrace an emerging focus by the city on new thinking for the digital era, on the one hand within the city’s digital ecosystem where it would encourage the growth of e-skills, e-Government and e-commerce and support business, research and innovation, and on the other hand as a destination ambassador for the city, fronting its Ultimate Digital Proposition beyond the city walls by establishing and promoting the city’s global reputation for digital excellence.