While there's a fundamental need for overall system modernization, state motor vehicle departments can make specific, near-term upgrades that will improve a portion of the DMV experience for both citizens and staff.
DMV, DOT, DPS…. Depending on where you’re from, these government offices go by a range of different acronyms and titles, but for visitors, the experiences across them can be all too common. We’ve all been there, griping about how long we spend in line and wondering whether technology could be the savior.
Meanwhile, government agencies are facing another year where customers' expectations for services delivery are inextricably tied to experiences they’ve had with online retail, banking, travel and other private-sector businesses. All of those industries have found ways to invest in and inject technology that moves the proverbial needle for their customers, and DMVs must do the same.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting any DMV should bite off more than it can feasibly chew, because that makes things messier. It’s more about understanding where the major pain points exist -- for customers and employees alike -- and making incremental upgrades that directly address those problems.
There’s a fundamental need for system modernization, meaning a transformation that enables new and more efficient ways to serve the public, not just an IT upgrade. Many jurisdictions already have these projects underway, and many more are currently evaluating options for them. It's encouraging that they’re broadly addressing the undercurrent of disjointed and outdated foundational platforms, connecting systems to create efficiencies and eliminating duplicate processes for both the agency staff and citizens. But what are some more cutting-edge components DMVs could work into that modernization process to take service to the next level? I have five suggestions:
1. Digital IDs. Provisioned to a citizen’s mobile device, digital IDs could replace the reams of documentation (birth certificates, Social Security cards, vehicle inspections, proof of insurance, etc.) often required to verify identities and receive DMV services. They would also alleviate massive delays in issuance of traditional ID credentials. A colleague of mine recently renewed his driver’s license by mail, just to see how it would go. It took upwards of four weeks. Digital IDs could be issued in four minutes, and they’re future-proofed enough to be updated or renewed over the air. Plus, because digital IDs are so versatile, they can be extended to accommodate additional use cases and services like health care cards, gaming and fishing licenses, weapons permits, vehicle registration and even voter registration, all in one credential.
2. Biometrics. Encompassing a range of modalities and associated technologies including fingerprint, facial and even iris recognition, biometrics can modernize authentication when a visit to a physical DMV office is unavoidable. As with digital IDs, required documentation can be minimized by replacing those “things you have” with “things you are.” These biometric systems also make processes more secure -- since DMV employees don’t have to manually verify identities and risk making an error -- as well as more expedient, since authentication takes a matter of seconds rather than minutes for every individual. Saving that amount of time on every customer interaction adds up in a significant way over an entire day, week or year.
3. Payments. Technically speaking, there’s no reason why a DMV terminal where customers pay for services rendered should be any less functional than checkout at a local Walmart. More updated payment methods lend themselves to customer convenience and satisfaction, and the price for infrastructure required to accept mobile payments like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay and digital wallets like PayPal has come way down in recent years. There’s no room for cashier’s checks in this day and age, and a broader range of modern payment options would be noticed and appreciated by the public.
4. Digital services. This is perhaps priority No. 1. Advancing toward online and app-based services --sometimes called eGov services -- is almost becoming table stakes for the modern government agency. Simply affording customers the ability to receive SMS notifications and access their personal driving records or credentials in real time, 24/7/365, would cut down on a significant amount of traffic passing through physical DMV locations. With the advent of online learning, many of the DMV’s education, training and testing initiatives could be moved to the digital sphere too.
5. Self-service and automation. Lastly, as self-service has taken off everywhere from grocery stores to post offices to airports, kiosks powered by familiar tablet systems could set more reasonable expectations for wait times and give customers the ability to “control their own destiny” for basic DMV services. On the employee side, self-service results in workers seeing fewer (and less-frustrated) people each day, which in turn makes their work less stressful, contributes to them being more helpful and allows them to concentrate on approvals, tasks and services that require more expertise. Many of those more basic, tedious services -- like sanctioning and reinstatement, record review and data updates -- can also be handled through applied automation, saving everyone time and headaches.
While there’s plenty of room for DMVs to modernize across processes and disciplines, many are making admirable strides toward that nirvana. For example, Indiana has been testing self-serve kiosks in the lobby of one building that’s accessible 24/7, so that the DMV (or BMV, in this case) is “always open” for select services. Similarly, the California DMV has expanded kiosk infrastructure in its field offices to encourage self-service.
The most difficult question facing these projects is often where to start -- which is different for every agency addressing the unique needs of its local residents. It also shouldn’t go without saying that ever-changing state legislation makes it all the more challenging for DMVs to get out from under the pile of current issues and plan ahead. Still, in 2019, I encourage leaders of these organizations to select one focus area -- one specific, near-term upgrade or investment that will improve a portion of the DMV experience -- so that we can all better appreciate and laud DMVs, their dedicated employees and the vital services they provide.
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