Kansas is not the first state to experience DMV debacle after pricey computer upgrade

TOPEKA, Kan. - The $40 million upgrade for the computer system used by DMVs across Kansas has been a bumpy ride since it rolled out in early May.

UPDATE: Kansas won't make final payment for DMV upgrade http://bit.ly/MZryeZ

There has been story after story about long lines, computer glitches and employees at county treasurers' offices working overtime to get caught up. But 41 Action News has discovered a nearly identical script played out in Montana back in 2009.

News stories from The Billings Gazette could literally be cut and pasted into current articles across Kansas. They describe bugs in the software and long delays for customers trying to register their vehicles.

Yellowstone County Treasurer Max Lenington told 41 Action News that training did not come close to preparing his staff for the "nightmare" that followed.

He also indicated state officials did not seem to realize how difficult the transition would be. In Montana, the project was overseen by the Justice Department. In Kansas, the Department of Revenue is in charge.

"We had a sandbox for three or four months before we ever went live with the system," said Lenington during a phone interview. "But there is a difference between actually playing in the sandbox and having a mad taxpayer standing in front of you."

Lenington said he started bringing a daily supply of coffee and donuts to ease frustration. He also hung a banner in the lobby, directing taxpayers to call state officials with their complaints.

For months, the system operated slower than the older one it replaced. However, Lenington offered a silver lining to Kansans.

"The positive is it's working pretty darn good right now. The negative is you go through a lot of hell before that occurs," he said.

In Montana, one major problem was the company hired to oversee the program, Bearing Point, filed for bankruptcy a few months before the "go live" date in April, 2009.

As a result, the state hired several programmers from 3M to work with the system. 3M owned the company that developed the technology used in Montana. 3M is also the vendor hired by Kansas to oversee the computer upgrade.

On Thursday in Topeka, Director of Vehicles Donna Shelite addressed the DMV situation for commissioners in Shawnee County.

Shelite said transactions are up in June compared to the same time period last year. However, she said unresolved issues remain with the new system.

Shelite said the state is notifying 3M that four areas are not meeting expectations and require improvement: system response times, system availability, system bugs and system maintenance.

As 41 Action News reported in May , the contract has "performance guarantees," which allow Kansas to assess financial penalties against 3M. To date, the state has opted not to exercise that option.

However, Shelite said 10 percent of the $25 million contract has been withheld until the system is fully functional.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.
 

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