Minnesota has made progress toward updating its new online vehicle license and registration system, which has had difficulty processing transactions since its July 2017 deployment, the state IT agency told lawmakers, but registrars and their representative said significant work remains to fully resolve issues.

In the first-ever Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) Quarterly Update, released to members of the state Legislative Oversight Committee on April 30, officials at Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) indicated that they and members of the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) have worked on legislative oversight benchmark reporting, meeting “two significant benchmarks” in user acceptance testing demonstrations and live-in-field system testing.

Since MNLARS deployed in July, 259 defects and gaps — functions required by stakeholders but not yet developed — have been resolved, but another 284 still remain in the system; stakeholders still use 22 “unique workarounds,” or processes or information developed “in an alternative way to help a customer.” The methodology for system releases, however, has tightened, the report writers said.

“Releases into the MNLARS system are now more regimented and rigorously tested, which results in incrementally better system stability, business process stability and improved system performance,” the authors wrote.

New MNIT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne, the state chief information officer, said the system “has been tailored far beyond” its original scope “in order to ensure that the stakeholders get what they want out of it.”

“I will tell you that there are going to be some bumps. But that’s true for any IT project. And we’re balancing a lot of demands including whether the Legislature is going to fund us or not,” Clyborne recently told Government Technology.

Since that interview, Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed one tax bill, but another that’s before the governor could provide funding to improve MNLARS.

Meagan Weber, president of the Minnesota Deputy Registrar’s Association (MDRA), said via email that the organization views MNLARS as “a work in progress.”

“While the releases and fixes are helping, there is still more work to be done to make it fully functional,” Weber said, noting that MDRA members are working with the state as part of the MNLARS Executive Steering Committee (ESC).

Among the report’s findings:

The backlog of vehicle title applications dropped by more than half, from 379,591 on Dec. 1 to 179,253 on March 1, before climbing slightly to 194,949 on April 1. The reductions were the result of “mandatory overtime,” the temporary hiring of Department of Revenue (DoR) staff and a lull in new car sales. In mid-March, however, DoR staff returned to their full-time jobs and new car sales began to rise, though mandatory and voluntary overtime continues for state vehicle services staff.

Scott Lambert, executive director of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association and an ESC member, affirmed that the backlog is rising again and said he believes MNLARS will take considerable time to fix.

“Under the best of conditions, it’s going to take two years. There’s still much we can’t do,” said Lambert, calling the ESC’s creation “the big change” as it means stakeholders meet regularly and officials are “listening to what we need and what other stakeholders need.”

The MNLARS system doesn’t currently have “editing capability,” though the release of administrative editing tools is planned for next month. MNIT is processing a backlog of errors and roughly 0.25 percent of vehicle records in the new system have needed “some type of data corrections.” But liaisons for deputy registrars report that 80 percent of issues are already fixed by the time they review requests to correct, due to proactive data searches and “programmatic corrections applied.”

Donny Vosen, co-owner of the deputy registrar office in Brainerd, Minn., and an ESC member, questioned how the system was developed with a lack of editing: “Technology should move you forward. It’s 2018. How can you design something that is not user-friendly?”

Load testing now validates the system’s performance before each release. “This performance testing discipline was enhanced in the fall of 2017 to include more tests, great coverage” and a full copy of the production environment, the report said. Before that, performance testing only happened quarterly.
  System response time test results have improved, markedly in some cases. The baseline response time to apply for a title dropped from nearly 26 seconds in July to more than seven seconds in mid-April. Baseline response for a title transfer — the next slowest metric in July — dropped from 15 seconds to nearly six seconds in mid-April. The report notes that the database model, domain object framework and system interfaces with more than 60 external applications are among “many aspects of the original system that are working and effective.” Additionally, “the updated application architecture capitalizes on the state’s cloud platform,” the report said, freeing MNLARS from hardware capacity limitations; and allowing better scalability and limiting outages outside normal business hours.

The system is experiencing uptime of 99 percent or better during business hours. Its next releases, planned this month and in June, will address five priorities including the editing functionality for liaisons, electronic vehicle title registration for auto dealers and data fixes around inventory.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, a member of the Legislative Oversight Committee, called the update a "progress report" and said serious functionality issues remain to be addressed.

"It’s still going to be almost another year to where we get this thing functioning where we hope it will, at about 80 percent. But I think time will tell and leadership will tell," said Baker, who is chairman of the Legislature's Select Committee on Technology and Responsive Government.