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Industry Insider One-on-One: DMV Technology Leader on Modernization, Relationships

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This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members.
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As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Kwan Kim is chief technology officer at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a role he has had since February. He was previously DMV’s chief of network operations from August 2019-February; before that, he spent more than seven years with the California Department of State Hospitals, where he was its project management office director from December 2018-August 2019.

Kim holds a Bachelor of Science in Business: Management Information Systems from California State University, Sacramento, and an associate of arts degree in ministerial studies from Trinity Life Bible College.

Industry Insider — California: As chief technology officer (CTO) of your organization, how do you describe your role? How have the role and responsibilities of the CTO changed in recent years?

Kim: For me as CTO here, ignoring all the titles and everything, when we look at it, it comes down to being a person that manages relationships. Technology is the sprinkling, the icing on the cake when it comes down to it. As a technology officer, I’m primarily managing our business relationships with our partners, ensuring that their technology needs are addressed efficiently and most appropriately. Oftentimes, we get technology that comes in from our program areas that we haven’t evaluated or we haven’t considered, and so it’s taking what they’ve given us and ensuring that it meets the value chain that we have in the DMV; and really, just adapting to the technology and adapting to their business needs in order for us to drive technology and efficiencies. Recently I spent three days with our HR team; we were doing a Lean Six Sigma process to lean out their hiring process. The challenge that we were addressing was why do we do the things that we do, and can we do things differently and can we do it more efficiently? We understand that DMV process is X, but can we change X? Does it have to be an X, right? So, we sat there, we challenged each other, we asked questions, we asked where it makes sense to automate things. At the end of day, we were able to take something that took three to four months down to weeks if not minutes to advertising a position.

Industry Insider — California: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? How big a role do you personally play in writing that strategic plan?

Kim: We do have a strategic plan published on our dmv.ca.gov website. I was not personally involved; I was actually brought in after the strategic plan was developed. My predecessor brought me in to help drive technology and implement solutions for the DMV. I came on board when the DMV technology was static and we were under a lot of public scrutiny and the governor really wanted to make some changes to the DMV. And so, my predecessor brought me in from a different organization and saw the experience and the projects that were under my belt and said: ‘Hey, look, the DMV is going through a transformation. You’ve gone through this transformation before; you’ve done this at the other departments. I’d like you to come to DMV and help us.’ And the rest is history.

Industry Insider — California: How often is your organization's enterprise catalog updated?

Kim: The catalog is an ever-evolving process for us. As we start to onboard new technologies, we’re adding them to the catalog. In the last two years, we implemented ServiceNow, and so we’re using [it] to update our enterprise catalog there. We’re continuing modernizing; we’re continuing adding self-service and new features within our solutions deck, and so that catalog gets updated as we add new services.

Industry Insider — California: What big initiatives or projects are coming up? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Kim: Well, obviously, we’ve been in the news for a lot of our legacy systems. Our director (Steve Gordon) has been quoted calling it the 80-year-old system that’s on life support. We’ve been funded by the Legislature to move forward with our modernization efforts, and so we’ve just recently rolled out our occupational licensing portion of that modernization and now we’re moving to our vehicle registration. We’ve been approved by the Legislature to move forward with that. I have another group of folks that’s working on the DXP (Digital Experience Platform), so I’m not going to speak on the award ... . But we’re moving to the next model, which is vehicle registration, and then after that, if we’re successful with that, I anticipate that the Legislature will approve our DL (driver’s license) portion of that, and that will complete the bulk of our modernization for our DMV systems.

Industry Insider — California: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it's finished?

Kim: The way I see it, digital transformation is when we basically weave technology in and out of our business processes. It’s about changing the medium by which we provide services; it’s about the ability to interact with our customers, our end users in a complete digital ecosystem, right? It’s about utilizing innovations, chatbots, AI, machine learning, really getting down to the nitty-gritty of the data elements. When we can use that data to make transformational decisions based on what the data is telling us, that’s digital transformation for us. And I don’t think we’ll ever be at a place where we say digital transformation is complete. I think transformation is a continual process. It’s really based on where the market trend is going, what the culture is doing. The business needs and the customer expectations evolve, and so your transformation will always be transforming based on the needs of our customers. We’ll always be in a state of transformation; it’s just, are we adapted well enough digitally so that we can pivot and be agile enough to embrace that change? Oftentimes we look at digital transformation as taking a paper record and moving it to a PDF record, and it’s really not that. It’s so much more than that. It’s being able to harvest that metadata and being able to react to that. Recently our chief legal counsel reached out and said we’re taking over driver safety and they’ve got boxes and boxes of paper records we need to digitize. As a partner, we talked about the challenges and the things that he wanted to accomplish, and we had some discussions of ‘If we did it this way, this is what it needs; if we did it this way, this is what it needs’ and ... so, maybe you need to consider the end goal before we jump to just scanning the docs. It’s really exciting because it’s not just ISD, it’s ... in every area, it’s in every division of our organization. It’s in the DNA now and it’s starting to grow and become kind of the prime directive in most of our divisions.

Industry Insider — California: What is your estimated IT budget and how many IT employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Kim: I can give you this year’s operating budget. And actually, it’s still under development. Roughly, we have 490 IT positions. And our total budget allotment is $217 million.

Industry Insider — California: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Kim: So, vendors can reach me through email. I do respond to LinkedIn. I prefer them to go through my Level 1 managers that are [closer] to the technology. Typically, if one of my managers comes, very excited about a technology and can sell me the technology, then it’s something that I would consider. And typically, I’m meeting with vendors because there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, there’s a roadblock that needs to be unblocked. But if it’s something that’s new, I highly recommend that vendors really understand our business needs and what our business does before they come knocking on the door to sell me an IT project. And I always challenge my vendors — don’t come sell me a piece of hardware, because a piece of hardware ... is nothing. It’s how do we transform our business process because of that product? Show me that you understand that, and then if it’s something that you can sell me because you understand our business processes, then it’s something that I would consider ... . Traditional used-car salesman tactics are not appreciated at all. Really, they need to bring me the ROI (return on investment) and the TCO (total cost of ownership) for their products and really add value to the business chain.

Industry Insider — California: In your tenure in this position or in a previous role, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Kim: I’ve been in the role three years. Previously, I was at State Hospitals in many different capacities, and before that I was in the private sector. One of the biggest projects that I took on when I first started was our network modernization. That’s a plethora of projects that we have and several things that we’re doing, but the network modernization was something that I was able to work with a team of engineers and actually impact our field operations and bring that uptime higher. We had a lot of outages; the governor was involved and was asking the DMV to fix our uptime for our ops. DMV is one of the biggest retail government organizations and so we have roughly 240 different locations and about 170 field offices. It was important to have a high uptime ... . And then, we’ve done a lot of AWS (Amazon Web Services) maturity things. We’ve done some migrations of legacy systems from CDT (California Department of Technology) over to AWS and really saw some savings and additional uptimes there, too.

Industry Insider — California: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Kim: Oftentimes in the field that we’re in, we get vendors that are very niche when they sell products and services to us. And so, it would be something that all state agencies would benefit in. We get vendors that are sole source. With state procurements, they thrive on competition and when we get a sole source, it makes it very difficult for the DMV to procure the product or service that the vendor is providing. Oftentimes, we’re asking them to figure out how to deal with the state procurement and to reach out to CDT and reach out to DGS (Department of General Services) to figure out how they can sell it to us. That’s the biggest challenge right now, finding a way to apply these niche vendors with their niche services that really do help the DMV and our customers. It takes six to eight months for a sole source to get approved and it’s not guaranteed that we can renew it in the next year. The rules are very specific about competition.

Industry Insider — California: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the govtech/SLED sector?

Kim: I’m really active in social media and I subscribe to your LinkedIn posts, and so I see a lot of that. And I read a lot of leadership books. One of the last books that I read was Seth Godin’s Tribes. It’s kind of put a mark on my leadership when it comes to building a tribe or a community of like-minded individuals. That’s a principle that I teach to my readers; that’s a cultural piece that I try to push so that we have a strong community of IT leaders that think alike, that want to strive for the same accomplishments; and really have the same communication, same thoughts, same values, same purpose, same mission.

Industry Insider — California: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Kim: Hobbies — love fishing. I got into fishing — I took a Florida trip and I got hooked on fishing, and so I came back from Florida, and ever since then, fishing has been something that I do to recharge my batteries and get away from all the everyday important activities that happen. I picked up golfing recently, in the last couple years here. I’m not good at all; there were a lot of golf balls everywhere. I every so often enjoy reading a fictional novel. I’m reading a fictional book now. I ... don’t know how to explain the genre; it’s about an orphan kid who discovers he’s from a wealthy family and he inherits this fortune and now he has to figure out how to live this lifestyle that he’s not used to.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.