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Vendor’s AI-Based Solution for DMV ‘a Living Organism’

With its roots dating back to before the pandemic, NOHOLD’s virtual assistant gets high marks from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for its ease of use, its flexibility and its potential.

Aerial view of a smartphone and laptop resting on a table showing the same screen: The words "Hi! How can I help you?" and a microphone icon on a dark blue background. There is also a cup of coffee and a pen and a notepad on the table.
Since the pandemic struck in March 2020, thousands of technology contracts have been awarded. Truckloads of laptops have been sold to schools and businesses for remote workers, and millions of people have had to adapt to interacting with government online.

All those changes were still in the future in November 2019, when the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) hosted a Vendor Day, a chance for tech companies to pitch solutions that could make it easier to apply for a driver’s license, renew a car registration or acquire a Real ID. Among those who attended that vendor forum was Diego Ventura, founder and CEO of NOHOLD, a Bay Area-based tech company.
Diego Ventura.
Diego Ventura
Ventura, in an interview with Industry Insider — California, explained that his company has been around since the 20th century and has its roots in artificial intelligence.

“We’ve been focusing on AI from the very beginning, when it wasn’t popular,” he said. “I remember having someone say, ‘Diego, let’s not talk about artificial intelligence, because people don’t know what it is.’ … So yeah, we started very early.”

This is Ventura’s second company.

“In the first one, we were doing a video mail/video conferencing system for the most popular camera of the day, the Logitech — the golf ball-looking cameras,” he said. “A lot of the software that was bundled with those cameras was ours, and the reason why this is pertinent to the birth of NOHOLD is because when we got that deal, we needed to provide technical support. I’ve always been passionate about AI, so I said why don’t we use an expert system to provide technical support. That became an important component of what we were doing, and I said at a certain point, ‘This deserves to be its own company.’

“And so while I started the first company, I bootstrapped it by myself. For the second company, I went out and I got $15 million in investment from investors here in Silicon Valley, Canada — and Europe, because I’m Italian. And we really invested the money in the technology. We have created virtual assistants, AI assistants for AT&T. … So I really had my head in the game. And it has been wonderful to see the evolution of everything that has happened.”

From the DMV’s perspective, NOHOLD’s virtual assistant, which the department calls Service Advisor, started as a single solution to help the public navigate a bureaucratic process via a website many had never used before. Since then, the department has added features and capabilities, with more planned.

“The industry likes to call what we do ‘chatbots,’ a very popular term,” Ventura said. “We like to use the Gartner terminology, which is ‘virtual assistant.’ We like to believe that we have something that is more intelligent; it supports conversation, it does symbolic reasoning.”
Serenity Thompson.
Serenity Thompson
Serenity Thompson, a digital strategy and services executive for the DMV, explained how the relationship with NOHOLD started.

“The initial rollout was to support our modernization journey at DMV, where we are really transforming ourselves from an in-person and paper- and mail-based department into a digital-first department and citizen experience,” she told Industry Insider. “NOHOLD has a proprietary technology, leveraging AI in the form of a chatbot you’re able to message, provide content, interact with, help guide your customers on any digital channel we’re using. We’re now using them ... for [several] purpose-driven tasks, helping them to navigate content services, products, finished tasks in a conversational [user interface]. Now we actually use the Service Advisor in five different incarnations, not just the one.”

Thompson continued: “Service Advisor is in its very first incarnation and, still today, can be found on our website homepage. When you go to, you see a very big search bar, and from there, you are able to have search-driven, keyword-driven interactions and be directed through the site should you decide to navigate that way.

“That was the very first implementation. Then we expanded that; we integrated those search results with our site search results. … The reason we like that is it is a kind of an executive summary or a little snapshot for a customer of that information. It can carry with it videos, it can carry with it highlights, metadata, all of that. So it’s really taking a [large] amount of information and condensing it, synthesizing it, into this very accessible, understandable, easy-to-interact-with interface.”

Raquel “Queli” McClure, a longtime NOHOLD executive who also serves as project manager for the company, characterized Service Advisor as “a living organism.”

“As the DMV launches new things, we ingest it and fine-tune it,” she said. “So yeah, it’s been growing ever since the launch. The DMV loves our reports, and our tool has so many facets to it. So we’re able to show them, like down to the session interaction, if they actually want to get that nitty gritty ... the data pretty much tells them ‘OK, yeah, this is a severe gap, we need to start writing some content around this.’ So it’s been more of a partnership, you could say: We find this stuff and then like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Maybe we should write something around it.’ And that’s usually the relationship we have with our clients.”

Thompson said the DMV is happy with NOHOLD’s product and sees potential for more possibilities involving AI.

“Diego and his team — obviously, their technology is extremely flexible,” she said. “We’re in this modernization, transformation mindset, and on a journey to modernize the DMV, with very specific milestones and plans and KPIs. And we’re always wondering, ‘Well, what else? How else can we make the user experience frictionless? How else can we shorten transaction type time? How can we get information right there in front of customers to limit cognitive load or misunderstanding?’

“And being naturally curious, and developing that mindset in our enterprise culture, we’ll have our frequent status meetings with NOHOLD, and their team will say, ‘What else have you been thinking about? What are some of your other business problems?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, you know, I’ve always wondered about this,’ or, ‘You know, I’m having this problem and wondered if we could use Service Advisor to help us with that.’ And the answer is always yes. And then it’s always like, up and running a week later. It’s just very fast and agile technology. I think that’s what makes it easy to work with for us. That’s what’s kind of helped us give it a lot of different opportunities to help customers, and probably opportunities to really shine. There’s not a lot of a huge investment of time and long cycle times. It’s just very purposeful in solving the problems we’re trying to solve.”

NOHOLD’s engagement with DMV began as a one-year contract valued at less than $1 million, Ventura said. Now, more than three years later, with new solutions and functionalities having been added, the contract has been expanded and extended. It’s got about two years to go, he said.

Thompson said the department likes the flexibility that NOHOLD offers.

“It’s not just customer-facing,” she said. “It can be internal. That is something that is for our policy teams. We’re interpreting policy and ensuring our products and services are compliant with statutes, mandates and legislation. And it could be used to quickly synthesize intranet information or HR information or HR manuals and stuff. It’s another way to search that can be as interactive and conversational as you want it to be.”

She added: “I think that the company in general has done quite a bit to stay current with trends and bots and artificial intelligence in general, and kept it really easy for their customers.”
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.