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Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles moves off mainframe, encounters glitches

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles decided to move off its mainframe to a Unisys ES7000 high-end server and consolidate three customer databases into one. In the process, it managed to live up to the stereotype of long wait times and customer aggravation -- but only for the short term, hopefully.

It was a daunting task for the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV): consolidate three customer databases, upgrade from a 1970s-era mainframe in the data center and try to avoid the cliché of making lines at the BMV longer and more unwieldy.

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A small public relations disaster for the bureau ensued. Customers stormed out, saying they couldn't complete their transactions, and some police officers complained that they were pulling up incorrect information on drivers they had stopped.

But now that the system has been running for a few weeks, state officials say the problems have mostly dissipated.

"We haven't had any of the issues that we saw before," said Indiana BMV chief information officer Kent Schroder. "Feedback from the state police is that they're happy with the system now."

Discussions on a systems change started eight years and three governors ago, as officials looked to update its data center and secure security leaks. At the time, employees were able to bypass fraud-prevention hurdles and create fake IDs and registrations, something that Schroder said was a serious problem within the department.

The BMV also had three information databases – one for drivers, one for registrations, and one for vehicle titles.

"We would have at least three records, at least three, for each person, and they didn't necessarily match," Schroder said. If customers came in to renew their license and update their registration, they would have to endure two transactions. This caused long wait times, the hallmark of a stereotypical state motor vehicles department.

So the state doled out $32 million for the BMV to move from its mainframe to a Unisys ES7000 and a couple dozen application and file servers. Meantime, it worked to consolidate the three databases into one Microsoft SQL Server database. The whole system went live on July 5, with the state police adopting it a week later.

The database merger caused hiccups. Information from consolidation-bound entries was inconsistent because the records had been created, or changed, separately. Added to that, some portions of the old entries were in free-form text, which the state had relied on employees to enter. The entries were supposed to include vehicle-standard codes for makes and models but weren't consistent. The problems carried over to the new database.

"There was a week or so where they were hitting some unknowns," Schroder said. "Colors (of vehicles) are where we really had a problem."

Then there was the interface between the BMV and the state police. With the new system came a new way for state police, which feeds the information down to local law enforcement, to search for driver information. Some local police officers didn't hear the news, however, and didn't receive training on how to best search the new system.

Indiana State Police First Sgt. Dave Bursten said that the database the BMV runs has driving records and registrations. A separate, unchanged system contains criminal records on drivers.

"There may have been some officer aggravation issues in terms of not being able to get up-to-date driver information, but I would characterize those as an inconvenience more than an officer safety issue," he said. "As far as things are now, we're over 90% resolved. There are some minor formatting issues I've been made aware of, but I think those issues are being resolved with the BMV."

State officials think the new system will work out in the long run. It's just that they had to go through the change in full view of the public, and glitches were amplified by the fact that motor vehicle departments often have a reputation for poor customer service.

"I would say that anybody in any industry, public or private, who has dealt with an upgrade of a computer system, knows from the beginning that there will be unanticipated problems," Bursten said. "This was no exception to that rule."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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