Matthew Fraser is making history as New York City’s first Black chief technology officer, appointed by Mayor Eric Adams to oversee all things digital across the municipal government.
Upon his appointment as CTO at the start of 2022, Fraser consolidated several technology-related city agencies into the newly-formed Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI). The agencies he merged to create OTI include the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (MOCTO), NYC Cyber Command (NYC3) and several others.
Over the 16 months since he took office, Fraser has focused on large-scale undertakings like launching the MyCity online portal and the rollout of Big Apple Connect — a program to give free internet and basic cable to 300,000 public housing residents. While the mayor’s vision for MyCity is to eventually be a “one-stop shop” for accessing all city benefits and services, its first phase — launched last month — focussed on digitizing the city’s child care application process.
He’s also doing the more day-to-day work of streamlining the city’s tech priorities, making sure its technological investments are consistent across city agencies.
Fraser recently sat down with amNewYork Metro, after taking a tour of computer science and robotics programs at Brooklyn’s P.S. 298, to discuss the utility of consolidating the city’s tech agencies into one office; as well as how initiative like MyCity and Big Apple Connect are performing so far.
Q: Seeing as OTI was the result of a consolidation of several technology-related agencies, and you’re the first commissioner, can you tell me about what benefits you think it’s brought having all those agencies under one umbrella?
A: Across our biggest agencies and our smallest agencies, they had to manage their tech priorities independently. Now, what that meant was, we were spending a lot of money establishing contracts. And in many cases, we were trying to accomplish the same things, but we went 10 different ways of doing it. So the benefit is streamlining tech priorities across the city, making sure that when we invest, we invest in a common direction. And we get broader utility and broader efficiency by sharing our development resources and heading in a common framework. And so I think we’ve done a number of things. Created a pathway to have a single strategy, reduced inefficiency, by consolidating and leveraging the city’s total buying power towards the vendor community. And then in addition to that, helping synergize the direction that we want to go in and building a pathway to build a stronger workforce.
I think another thing that we’ve been able to do is better security of how we make sure that we protect the city’s assets. So in launching the Joint Security Operations Center for the first time, we’ve brought state, federal and local resources together in a single space focused on keeping New York’s tech state safe.
So, there’s lots of benefits that we’ve seen in the first year and we expect to see more. MyCity is a great testament of how that works out. When we launched MyCity, we did not want to start with something that already had a digital process, and continue to refine that because at least it had something, we wanted to look at something that was incredibly meaningful, something that in fact, impacted a lot of people and something that we could help alleviate pressure on. So, we chose child care because, from an economic perspective and from a safety perspective, no one wants to go to work and no one wants to leave their home unless they know that their child is safe. So by focusing on child care, we’ve alleviated pressure from communities that need it. And we’ve provided them access to resources so that they can have that higher quality of life. They could have affordable and appropriate child care for their children. And we did all that in less than 15 months.
Q: Although MyCity has only been live for about a month now, do you have an idea of how many people have applied for child care through there? Has the message gotten out there that this is a good streamlined way to apply for childcare assistance from the city?
A: We’ve had, since the launch of the program, over 4,011 [people registered] online. And in addition to applying for subsidized child care, we also created a mechanism so that they can report the experience using the tool, how well it works. Or if it did not work, what did not work well? The overwhelming percentage of respondents that choose to reply, or choose to rate the tool have rated [it] five stars out of five stars. We’ve had maybe two or three one-star reviews. And when you look at all the one-star reviews, the comments are all the same: “I’d prefer to work with a person.” So it’s not a criticism of the tool. It’s just [the] method of engagement, how they prefer to work. And I think for us that’s a testament.
Q: At the press conference where MyCity was rolled out last month, you didn’t want to get into specific timelines and wanted to roll it out as it needed to be rolled out. But do you have an idea of what the next city service is that would be put on there?
A: One of the things that you hear often is that when you go into other cities, you can create a business online, and that process is pretty painless. And we’ve taken a hard look at what that looks like within the city and come up with some ways to optimize that. In addition to that, how do you apply for a job with the city? Or if you’re an employer looking for resources, how do you find talent? So one of the other things that we’re working on is a jobs portal to change how you both apply for city service or if you’re just interested in finding a job, letting people know that have businesses in New York, where the open talent is available and where they can find those people?
The goal at the end of the day for MyCity is that anything that exists within the city landscape to fold it in. But in terms of how we prioritize, we prioritize based on need and capability. If there’s a great need, and we see a lot of volume for specific types of requests, but they don’t have a digital option to apply them, we have to then take that and put that on the top of the priority spectrum. And we also have to measure impact. I think by the end of the year, we’re going to see a couple of iterations of my city. And the reason why I don’t like talking about timelines is [because] the typical political thing to do is come out and say you’re gonna do something. And the press announcement is the commitment to do, but it’s not the tangible, here’s something that we’ve actually done. Every announcement that we’ve done from the Office of Tech and Innovation isn’t about something that we will do, [it’s] something that we actually did.
Q: With Big Apple Connect, you said that the big focus of that is on lower income, Black and brown communities. I know the program was just launched last fall, but what kind of results are you already seeing from it? Are there many individuals in public housing that have taken it up?
A: As it stands right now, the number is over 190,000 [ individual New Yorkers]. And it’s offered to over 300,000. And I think that that’s testament to people both leveraging the service and to demand for services like this. And economically, one of the things that we got back from a feedback perspective is that people were economically locked out of getting it because they had to choose between paying $200-a-month for internet or putting food in the fridge. And that’s not a sane choice that anyone would really make. So in addition to what we’ve done with public housing, as the mayor announced in the State of the City, we’re currently exploring other alternatives to provide connectivity to other affordable housing options. And then we’re also looking to expand programs like Big Apple connect to those that are recipients of Section 8.