“It was time to do something completely different,” says Betty Johnson, Administrator, Driver and Vehicle Records Division, Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.

Apr 08 2020

DMV Modernization Initiatives Deliver Big Benefits for Citizens

Departments of motor vehicles are carefully navigating difficult challenges and finding new ways to succeed at modernizing legacy systems.

Dealing with a single aging mainframe-based database is hard enough for any organization. Now, imagine managing 95 databases. That was the technology environment the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles had to deal with for nearly 30 years before officials decided to start modernizing its vehicle titling and registration system in 2013.

“We used an old process for data ­storage, and it separated the data into one database for each of our 93 counties, which made it very distributed, very difficult to manage and not very user-friendly,” says Betty Johnson, administrator for the Nebraska DMV’s Driver and Vehicle Records Division. She adds that, of the two remaining databases, one held information on specialty plates and state government registrations, while the other was a mainframe statewide repository for vehicle titles and current registrations.

“As customers began to demand more online services, we just knew that this system wasn’t stable enough or even capable of providing that for them,” she says. “It was time to do something completely different.”

Today, Nebraska has an efficient, modern IT enterprise supporting its driver’s licensing and vehicle registration processes. Across states, DMV modernization fulfills several government IT priorities in one fell swoop, making services more citizen-friendly and enhancing security. State IT officials have consistently identified innovation, citizen engagement and IT modernization as top priorities, and nowhere are those concerns more relevant than at a state DMV.

“When you think about it from a citizen’s point of view, there is nothing that exemplifies what a state can do more than the department of motor vehicles. That’s probably the most important agency from the point of view of the public. When it comes to the DMV, there is no agency that is more visible,” says Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute.

“Many DMVs recently have spent a lot of money trying to modernize and make things more efficient. Most of that centers on web transactions, where they are trying to do everything they can to make it so you don't have to go to the DMV in person,” Shark adds. “You’re getting better infrastructure, you’re getting innovation and you’re getting citizen engagement and satisfaction. DMV modernization hits a home run with all of those.” 

Nebraska Upgrades Its DMV with Commercial Tools 

The Nebraska DMV modernization effort, which began at a time when several DMV modernization efforts had failed in spectacular, well-publicized fashion, took six years to complete, with officials giving themselves plenty of time to carefully fund, research and prepare for a new system. They didn’t even put out a request for proposals until 2017.

Once the bids came in, Nebraska opted to utilize a commercial off-the-shelf solution designed specifically for DMV processes. But the selection team took control of the back-end process by investing its own funds in a virtual, centralized, on-premises computing environment composed of a Microsoft SQL database, 15 HP ProLiant DL360 servers and 50 virtual machines based on VMware to ensure the DMV had enough capacity to operate the new system efficiently in the near term and to expand its service capabilities in the future.

Although the DMV owns the technology setup, it is hosted within the state’s primary enterprise data center in Omaha and managed by the state’s office of the CIO. To guard against any failures and to ensure continuous operation, the DMV also had its new virtual environment duplicated within the state’s second data center, in Lincoln.

7 million+

The number of records the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles converted in anticipation of a modernized system

Source: Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles

Nebraska went live with the system last October, on schedule and a little bit under budget, an outcome that Johnson characterizes as “a remarkable achievement for a project of this magnitude.”

Except for a few hiccups that resulted from integration issues with peripherals and other state systems, it has been a huge success.

“The feedback and the results so far have been extremely positive,” Johnson says, noting that the DMV has already added three new online services, including giving customers the ability to track the production status of specialty plate orders. “I feel like the opportunity to better serve our customers and provide online services is really endless at this point. Now, if someone has an idea, we just say, ‘Let’s try it.’”

READ MORE: Find out how software-defined everything benefits state government. 

Idaho Residents Already See Benefits of Modernization 

Idaho undertook its own DMV modernization effort but decided to tackle all major DMV components, including systems for driver’s licenses, vehicle registration and motor carrier permits. What’s more, the state set a goal to get everything off its nearly 40-year-old mainframe by 2020.

“It was ambitious,” admits Alberto Gonzalez, administrator for the state’s DMV. “But we had already identified that part of the prior failures of modernization projects had to do with organizational structure, not technology. So, we dedicated time in 2015 to reorganizing the DMV, including the management and the leadership structures, the way the teams report, centralizing some of the work. With that done, we felt like we were going to build a new system that was in line with what the future ­organizational s­tructure needed to be and that would increase our chances for success.”

The modernization team also recognized that there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all technology panacea. As a result, some applications — notably driver’s licenses and vehicle registration and titling — were designed to be hosted on an in-house system based on a customer relationship management solution instead of being outsourced.

“We decided early on to use a CRM system as the foundation because it provided a lot of basic functions that we wouldn’t have to code, like security, customer and workflow features,” Gonzalez explains, noting that because Idaho is a Microsoft shop, the state opted for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

The Idaho DMV has phased in its new, modernized systems a little at a time since 2018, and the department will go live with its last major component, motor vehicle registration and titling, in June.

However, the DMV and its customers already are realizing major benefits, including fully automated online transactions, faster turnaround times, increased accuracy and greater security of credentials, Gonzalez says. 

In addition, the DMV’s new ability to automate business validation rules and standardize decision-making has led to fewer complaints, hearings and appeals related to credential issuance.

“All in all, people are pretty pleased that they’re getting their calls answered in less than a minute and even getting transactions done faster when they do have to visit a county office,” Gonzalez says. “And for Idaho, which is now the fastest-growing state in the country, we’re able to effectively manage that demand without having to add staff, and yet we’re able to meet the needs of our customers better than ever.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover when to ditch a mainframe and when to keep one. 

Photography by Geoff Johnson