Atlanta CIO Samir Saini Talks IT Modernization, Civic Tech

With roughly a year heading up Atlanta's IT operations, Saini has worked to launch free Wi-Fi in various parts of the city while forming a partnership with Google and Waze to alert citizens to traffic delays to name a few. What else does he have in store?

by / July 9, 2015
Samir Saini, IT commissioner and CIO, Atlanta David Kidd/e.Republic

Samir Saini, the former Atlanta Housing Authority CIO, also spent more than nine years as an executive at General Electric. With roughly a year under his belt as Atlanta’s CIO, he’s looking to secure the city’s core IT infrastructure while making headway in civic tech. Free Wi-Fi has been launched in various areas, a new 311 system aims to consolidate service payments, a partnership with Google and Waze alerts citizens to traffic delays, and tech startups can now pitch ideas to officials through Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. Here are a few of his thoughts on the road ahead.

What are your overall IT priorities?

There are three main objectives: First is to boost the reliability and security of the city’s core infrastructure that’s been aging for a while. It’s our backup, and any cool civic tech I throw on top of it is at risk unless I invest in improving that network — the servers, the structure, the data centers, etc. The second piece is around improving customer service quality by adopting a service management model for our department and best practices for how we run IT. The third is improving the internal operational efficiency of IT, implementing project and governance standards for all the technology access, and then enforcing those standards.

How do you plan to modernize your infrastructure?

We’re going to follow the state of Georgia and move our [Microsoft] Exchange environment to Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. That seems to be the direction that a lot of municipalities are going and so we’re moving that forward. We’re also going through a huge data center consolidation and modernization effort.

What are your goals for civic tech?

We have a key objective to drive civic enablement, which we’ve broken down into three areas. There’s strategy and projects around leveraging tech to deliver operating efficiency across the various departments. The second is delivering tech that’s citizen-facing and improving tech that enables transparency of city services and delivery. And then the third part is around smart city enablement.  

What kinds of projects are under way?

Coming soon we will have e-citations so police officers won’t have to write tickets anymore. It’ll be electronically done through a tablet and automatically fed into the court system for easy payments. Body cams are a hot topic across the country, and we’re a few weeks away from doing our official rollout to our police departments. ... We see the body cam as an opportunity to do more than just capture video. It can capture other [searchable] data that the police can use to improve situational awareness and communication between officers.

We also have a demo program that’s run through Invest Atlanta, our economic development arm. They’re hosting a program to invite entrepreneurs and tech startups with great ideas to demo a pilot product within the city.

Additionally we have rec centers all over the city, and 10 in particular that the mayor has coined “centers of hope.” The strategy is to evolve these rec centers into tech centers and to start leveraging the computer labs to do things like teach code to low-income kids.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.