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DMV's Gordon Seeks Vendors' Ideas: 'It's OK to Throw Stuff Against the Wall'

DMV chief Steve Gordon said vendors seeking DMV contracts should be innovative and creative. IT representatives seeking to work with DMV should "up their game," he said. "Bring their A game."

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DMV Director Steve Gordon
The Department of Motor Vehicles’ director, Steve Gordon, showed his private-sector roots this week in an upbeat — and at times blunt — message about modernizing technology in government.

Since taking over the department 14 months ago after a career in the private sector, Gordon has been leading DMV in a campaign of top-to-bottom change, encompassing philosophy, retraining and redeployment of staff, new technology, and even a new procurement model. But there’s still “a lot of work to do,” he noted in Tuesday’s webinar, presented by the Center for Digital Government.*

Specifically, Gordon said vendors seeking DMV contracts should be innovative and creative. IT representatives seeking to work with DMV should "up their game," he said. "Bring their A game."

Gordon was the government representative in a panel discussion, “Modernization Tools and Tactics,” part of the California Virtual Digital Government Summit, CDG’s two-day virtual presentation that concluded Wednesday. He was joined in the presentation by David Hunter, business development director for Lumen Technologies; and Tim Keating, hyperscale architect for CDW.

Gordon began the modernization overview with an update of what’s new and modern at DMV, which has been under a microscope in recent years over long customer wait times, problems with the Motor Voter program, outdated and troublesome technology, and criticism about its customer service. His key takeaways:

  • The DMV has been migrating from its legacy mainframe equipment — elements of which have been in use for 30 years or more — to a Software Defined Network (SDN) model. The migration is more than halfway done, Gordon said, and is on target to be finished by the end of the year.
  • The department is using some off-the-shelf cloud solutions.
  • Gordon and members of his leadership team have taken a longstanding retail practice to a new level — “We’ve started doing market research” — by visiting remote DMV offices and talking with customers and employees. And that “market research” has also taken shape in what’s become an annual event, DMV Vendor Day, in which DMV representatives present needs or problems and invite tech companies to devise and pitch solutions.
  • The department has begun using apps, robotic process automation and data targeting in efforts to streamline its operations where possible. Gordon noted that DMV’s modernization will be ongoing “for two or three more years.”
  • While the department continues to develop its long-term strategy, it’s working to rack up “small wins” as a way to build momentum in innovation. Gordon said the department has a “decent” budget — adding, “Our job now is to use it.”
Gordon also sent a message to IT vendors: “Bring some ideas to the table. … Try stuff. It’s OK to throw stuff against the wall. Pressure is good.”

The hourlong virtual session was attended by about 100 people and moderated by Phil Bertolini, co-director of CDG, a national research and advisory institute on information technology policies and best practices in state and local government.

*The Center for Digital Government, Government Technology and Techwire are all part of the e.Republic family.

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.