Data Sharing on the DMV Highway

Some governors would envy the power that state motor vehicle administrators are beginning to wield. Once a political backwater of state government, motor vehicle departments are rising to prominence in an era of intergovernmental cooperation and tight budgeting. The reason? They are sitting on a mountain of licensing and regulatory data for which banks, insurance companies and a host of other agencies have developed a voracious appetite.

In California, for example, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles is the linchpin of a tri-agency program designed to bring parents who owe child support to heel. Delinquent parents are subject to suspension of their driver's licenses in the state. Failure to pay not only deprives the parent of driving privileges in California but nationally via a network of state DMVs.

In the last year, the California DMV recorded 208,000 matches with the program, of which 58,734 delinquency cases were "cleared," according to Gary Padilla, the new systems coordinator for the California Department of Social Services, which, along with the state district attorneys' offices, is partnering on the matching program.

Elsewhere, state DMVs are being wired into the finance industry. In April, Virginia's DMV launched a connection with Crestar Bank, First Union Bank, Chase Automotive

Finance and Chase Manhattan Bank through which liens are recorded electronically. Paper titles are issued only when requested or when the lender notifies the DMV that the lien has been satisfied.

Yet another program allows car rental agencies, dealerships and other businesses that register new vehicles en masse to do so via electronic links to their state DMV. Currently, the Business Pointer Electronic Vehicle Registration program is up and running in California and will soon be launched in Massachusetts.

"Five years ago, you would have been tarred and feathered for giving a car rental agency an inventory of license plates and registration stickers because of the general control the state government wanted to maintain," said Jay Maxwell, president of AAMVAnet, the backbone network that supports many of these applications. "Now states are looking to [private industry] because they have less staff to provide the service, and they are looking to private industry to relieve the burden on state government."

Background

AAMVAnet is run by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), a nonprofit launched in 1988 to provide value-added networking (VAN) services to the states. The charter application was the federal Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS), which is used during roadside inspections to identify commercial drivers with revoked, suspended or bogus licenses.

Since then, a slew of other applications have been developed for the network, including the original National Driver Register (NDR), which is a database of information on people whose driver's licenses have been revoked or suspended. When someone applies for a license, the DMV queries the Fairfax, Va.-based NDR to check if the person's driving privileges have been withdrawn in any other state.

To improve the speed and reliability of NDR data, states have instituted a Problem Driver Pointer System. Under that system, states check the NDR to see only whether an adverse action is showing on the license applicant's record. The NDR does not contain any specific information about why the person's name appears on the file.

Instead, the NDR electronically points to the state where the record is maintained, retrieves the information and relays it to the state that has made the inquiry. The process ensures that an inquiring DMV receives the latest information available on the driver's record. "All of that takes place in 5 seconds," Maxwell said.

Requirements

Because each state had its own coding system for driving penalties, AAMVAnet needed to establish common values and formats for sharing data among the states and with the private sector. "The members drove the development," said Charlie Katz, senior manager for motor carrier systems at AAMVAnet. "Often the hard part was making sure all [state jurisdictions] could agree sufficiently to move forward."

The other big obstacle AAMVAnet faced was how to put together a single network that would accommodate the multiple hardware and software platforms operated by the states. "Some states had IBM, Unisys and other hardware systems," Katz said. "We had to make sure any solution we came up with would work with any system out there."

Finally, the developers had to create a network that gave any customer access to the rest of the DMV community through a single connection rather than requiring separate connections from one state to every other state.

Software

AAMVAnet chose an electronic data interchange (EDI) solution, which called for each state's records to adhere to a common data format. AAMVAnet then supplied each DMV with what it calls unified network interface (UNI) software that performs the EDI translations on the DMV source data. The UNI software was developed with a computer-aided software engineering tool so that "we could write the specification once and have it generate software that could run on all of the computer platforms that were used by our community," Maxwell said.

The solution lets the states collect drivers' data "using the same software they have used for years," Maxwell said. The collected data is then passed through the UNI software for EDI formatting. Once the data is EDI-enabled, the data is moved through the network by a router managed by network control software written by IBM Corp. for AAMVAnet.

The Network

AAMVAnet outsourced its physical network to IBM's Advantas VAN. Each state connects to the Advantas network via a tail circuit that the state leases from its telecom provider. After the state is given permission to access the network, the tail circuit is configured to access an individual service or product on the network. Each service requires a separate configuration to allow user access.

The solution means that AAMVAnet does not have any hardware headaches. "From our perspective, we don't care what the hardware is as long as it works," Maxwell said.

AAMVAnet also provided training to the states to use the UNI software and set up a subscriber services unit to connect people on the network and to handle customer service. "We have here a staff that monitors activity within the network to make sure everyone is adhering to the requirements, to adhere to the standard message format and content and [to ensure] that the frequency of use for certain transactions is within expected ranges," Maxwell said.

When AAMVAnet was set up, the Federal Highway Administration set aside $21 million for the states to modify their sites so they could network with the CDLIS database. About $2 million to $3 million of that was allocated to get the network up and running and to engineer the system. Funded by a $1-per-driver-per-year fee assessed by the states, the system became self-supporting in about three years, according to Maxwell.

While the network solution suffices for now, the Internet revolution is pressing in on the AAMVAnet partners, who are exploring their future technology options. To that end, AAMVAnet is conducting a network requirements study-expected to be completed by January 1998-that will be focused on the states' network needs during the next three to five years.

"I think it is really difficult for state government to predict beyond that time frame simply because technology is changing so quickly and the role of government is changing drastically," Maxwell said.

Brenda Cruden is a free-lance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area; she can be reached at bcruden@sirius.com.

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