New York City

NYC tech commissioner teases human-centered design in first speech

Samir Saini spoke at City & State’s Digital NY Summit & Awards.

New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Samir Saini

New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Samir Saini Ali Garber

The New York City government is looking for ways to make its apps and websites more user-friendly, and the city’s tech agency will soon be issuing a request-for-proposal for help.

New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications Commissioner Samir Saini teased the announcement in front of stakeholders in the city’s municipal tech scene at City & State’s Digital NY Summit & Awards on Thursday. The newest commissioner in the de Blasio administration, it was Saini’s first public appearance since he started in early February.

Saini’s keynote address focused on human-centered design, where technology platforms are engineered to be welcoming, efficient and productive for the people using them. For example, the city’s LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosks prompt users to “charge your phone.” “Are we doing everything we possibly can do to ensure that (technology solutions) are getting adopted and used by our customers, our public and by government agencies?” Saini asked.

So Saini said the city will be looking to hire design firms to help, calling it “an aggressive move to partner with agencies and the vendor community towards the end-goal of human-centered design.”

The RFP will come out in a few weeks, according to DoITT, and the agency is staying mum on what products or initiatives it will target for design tweaks. DoITT has a huge portfolio including the LinkNYC kiosks, the city’s open data portal and the 311 system. DoITT also provides IT services for the sprawling city government.

“DoITT keeps the city ticking,” Saini said. “We do our best to enable the agencies to do their best. And we do our best to empower New Yorkers.”

Though it was Saini’s first speech in the position, he already talked like a veteran commissioner, using de Blasio administration talking points including building “the fairest big city in America.” He also touted the achievements of his predecessor Anne Roest, such as launching LinkNYC, opening a new 911 emergency call center and centralizing cybersecurity efforts.

Saini had previously been the chief information officer for the city of Atlanta. But as he told the crowd of more than 100 at the Manny Cantor Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Saini grew up on the other side of the Hudson in Bergen County, New Jersey. “I see this as me coming home,” he said.