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Oregon DMV Buys FAST Software to Replace Systems Older than Mark Zuckerberg

It's a huge contract that will quite literally bring the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles into a new century.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicle’s core software is so, so old. How old is it?

So old it runs on COBOL, one of the earliest program languages to be written using English syntax and tied to the work of the same legendary programmer who coined the term “bug.” So old that users rely primarily on keyboards, not mouses, to navigate it. So old it predates Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the 1984 birth of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Lauren Mulligan, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Transportation, compared it to the classic computer game “Oregon Trail,” with green-on-black text and blocky, blinking cursors.

“It’s so outdated that they don’t even teach it anymore, generally, in computer programming,” Mulligan said. “So … [finding] employees in the future to be able to maintain the system is a problem.”

In fact, they won’t have to. After at least four decades — maybe five — the department is finally upgrading its driver and vehicle software systems. For that, the DMV has chosen FAST Enterprises’ DS-VS commercial-off-the-shelf product.

It’s a massive, expensive undertaking for the department, and it will mean big changes in the way it does business. According to an ODOT press release, the 10-year contract is worth $69.4 million and is part of a larger transformation program that will also involve a lot of staff training and work to create more efficient business processes. The implementation itself will be a multi-year process, with the department expecting to do initial rollouts in 2019.

“We’re really taking a holistic view of the program and making sure our employees are supported throughout the process because a lot of their jobs are changing,” Mulligan said.

That was one lesson the state took away from its preparation for the software procurement, which involved both a request for information and conversations with other states who were going through similar software modernizations. Employee training is especially important, given that even the longest-lasting DMV employees have probably been using the COBOL-based software their entire careers.

Another result of that preparation was that ODOT walked away with a preference for pre-baked software, as opposed to highly customizable systems. And that’s exactly how FAST built the solution ODOT is buying — DS-VS offers configuration in lieu of a code-heavy back end. So if and when ODOT wants to make changes, it shouldn’t take a ton of technical expertise to do it.

The modernization will mean that the Oregon DMV will have an integrated system for both drivers and vehicles, where before they were separate. An employee at the counter will be able to see that the driver they’re talking to has multiple vehicle registrations, for example.

But it’s larger than that. The new system will give ODOT the ability to put more services online, Mulligan said — though that will take some extra work.

“Ideally by expanding online services in the future, folks will be able to skip the line anyway and just be able to handle their business from home or the phone or anywhere they’re at,” she said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.