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Profiles in Government: DMV Among State’s Best-Known Departments

Recognizable by acronym alone, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is underway on a comprehensive modernization effort.

The entrance to the California DMV headquarters building.
The state department that’s arguably most familiar to California’s nearly 25 million adults is also one that has been in significant change mode for the last three years.

History buffs and “Jeopardy” aficionados may know that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has been open for business for 107 years following its establishment with the Vehicle Act of 1915, at a time when the state had a whopping 191,000 vehicle registrations. (California’s population grew from 2,377,549, according to 1910 Census data, to 3,426,861, according to 1920 Census data.) The DMV became a standalone department in 1931 and issued new license plates annually from 1920-1941, a practice that was interrupted in 1942 by World War II.

How big is the department today? The DMV currently employs more than 9,800 staffers and has 229 facilities; the state has 36,229,205 registered vehicles and 34,120,995 residents with either department-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards. The department works with 181 auto clubs and 5,805 “business partner sites”; it had 84 million total transactions and 11.5 million items of “incoming paper mail.” Those are the DMV’s numbers, per its website and an event in March.

To IT companies and vendors, this obviously means a great deal, as it should. Gov. Gavin Newsom, elected in 2018, the year that the department rolled out its troubled Motor Voter automatic voter registration program, made the DMV’s modernization and improvement an early theme of his administration. The governor held a news conference at the state Capitol in July 2019 to announce the release of a report by the DMV Strike Team; to welcome its new director, Steve Gordon, a longtime Cisco Systems executive; and to highlight the department’s plans to begin allowing credit card transactions later that summer. Since Gordon’s arrival, the DMV has held regular Vendor Day events to solicit ideas from IT companies on updating aspects of its process. Major initiatives either completed since then or still underway include:

  • The DMV is underway on its Digital eXperience Platform (DXP) modernization that will replace and update software, hardware and programming language across core legacy systems during the next three to five years. Many of its recent technology moves reflect this modernization, from IT services buys to requests for proposals to its onboarding of new Chief Information Officer Prashant Mittal in March. The department awarded the first phase of the DXP contract to Deloitte as the systems integrator, Gordon said in December, indicating it will be founded on the Salesforce platform.
    DMV Director Steve Gordon.
    DMV Director Steve Gordon
  • Mobile identity and digital driver’s licenses have long been a topic of considerable interest for the department, with a new Mobile Identity (mID) program figuring in the FY 2021-2022 state budget cycle. In May, it became clear the DMV would test an identity-verifying credential stored on subjects’ smartphones. The DMV’s nearly $1.7 billion portion of the $308 billion 2022-2023 Fiscal Year state budget includes more than $539 million for driver licensing and personal identification. And a significant May 3, 2023, deadline looms in the form of the federally mandated Real ID, which will be needed by residents to fly domestically and enter some federal facilities.
  • Four of the five major goals in the DMV’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan, created under Gordon’s leadership, are particularly IT- and innovation-leaning. The department aims to find swifter, more simple ways to meet customer needs by expanding digital services, and to create IT systems that are “flexible, scalable, and secure” and increase enterprise-level visibility internally across integrated systems. It plans to embed “measurable efficiency” throughout the organization and increase its measuring of productivity and performance; and it intends to be California’s foremost customer-centered public-sector entity.
  • The DMV has worked on numerous areas of modernization since 2019 — prioritizing automation since Gordon’s arrival, its Chief Digital Transformation Officer Ajay Gupta said in early 2020. The DMV worked with UiPath, Cambria Solutions and SimpliGov to automate its application process for motor carrier permit renewals, then moved on to automating its driver’s license extension process. Both have subsequently gone live. The DMV established its “virtual field office,” where tasks like title transfers and vehicle registrations can be completed online. The department’s Chief Technology Officer Kwan Kim told Industry Insider — California in June that the DMV recently deployed the occupational licensing portion of its ongoing large-scale modernization and will then pivot to focus on vehicle registration (VR) processes. Once VR is successfully deployed, Kim said, he anticipates the state Legislature will approve the driver’s license part of the DMV’s modernization. Among the initiatives it funds, the DMV’s portion of the FY 2022-2023 state budget includes more than $4.6 million for the Enterprise Content Management IT project — to be allocated once the project reaches Stage 4 of the Project Approval Lifecycle Process. The funding source is the Motor Vehicle Account in the State Transportation Fund.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.