Friday, August 04, 2006

meanwhile, back at the bureau...

i've been a bit slow with the blogging lately, so i didn't get around to mentioning the problems at the indiana bmv until this week—and only because i knew i had to go in to get my driver's license renewed. i wanted to recount my experience, but i wanted my readers to have some background information first, so i went searching for news articles about the bmv's computer woes.

at the time, pickings were slim. there were articles from early july, when the computers first broke. there were the occasional statements there was an indy star editorial demanding accountability for silverman's mistakes. there wasn't much else, so i had to make do with what i had at the time.

if i'd waited a couple days, i would've had a lot more options.

first came mary beth schneider's article in the star detailing some of the lingering problems that arose during the rollout of the bmv's $34 million new computer system:

Accuracy: The state can guarantee the accuracy of official driving records only until June 30, just before the conversion to the new system took place. The BMV expects all records to be accurate by the end of this week.

Police: Police continue to have problems with incomplete or confusingly presented data when they try to check a motorist's driving record, registration or license. Silverman blamed those problems on formatting, and the way the police and BMV systems interact. Both the State Police and the BMV have said the bureau's data are accurate -- but say making it available to police in a usable form should be a high priority.

Suspensions: Reinstatement of suspended driver's licenses can be performed only at three branches statewide -- Indianapolis, Evansville and Fort Wayne. Previously, this could be done at eight locations.

then tdw got her hands on an embarrassing memo to prosecutors explaining that "driver records for the month of July may be incomplete and should not be certified for use in court at this time." so not only are traffic cops unable to do their jobs, but the records aren't fit for the court system, either.

if all that wasn't bad enough, then came the argument over late fees. the bureau's computer problems had caused massive delays for many customers. customers who would normally transact their business online or using self-service kiosks were particularly screwed, as these services have been down quite a bit. some of these inconvenienced customers missed missed deadlines due to bmv errors, and understandably felt that their late fees should be waived. joel silverman, displaying the trademark aversion to customer service that has earned him hate across the state, told these customers, in so many words, to suck it:

Commissioner Joel Silverman on Wednesday said that customers with July 31 registration renewal deadlines should have made their transactions on time.

"Every one of them could have come into a branch and got their business done," Silverman told 6News' Norman Cox. "It's the responsibility of our customers to make sure they get it done on time.

"Just like you've got to file your taxes on April 15, you've got to register your car on July 31 if that's your deadline."

Silverman on Wednesday offered no sympathy for people who couldn't use self-service terminals.

"There's often times throughout the history of self-service terminals since I've been here where they haven't been working, and I think that's just the risk you run," Silverman said.

When Silverman closed some license branches last year, part of his reasoning was that in-person transactions were inefficient and that people should use other means such as the agency's Web site and self-service terminals.

When Cox reminded Silverman that he had urged people to use avenues other than license branches, Silverman responded: "Yeah, but if they're not available, obviously you can't use it."

translation: it's customers' own fault if they missed the deadline, because they should have known our systems are FUBAR.

this proved to be hugely unpopular and the governor had to do damage control the next day, declaring that july late fees would be waived after all, and customers who had already been charged late fees would have their fees refunded... somehow, eventually.

this system might look good on paper, and if they can ever get it working (as silverman keeps insisting it will) it could be pretty cool. but it was clearly not ready for roll-out. someday, this will make a fascinating case study for how not to implement large computer systems. but for now, it's just a nightmare that is not only inconveniencing thousands of hoosiers, but interfering with the state's legal system.

update: the governor is now hinting that he just might fire silverman after all... but not until after the computer problems are fixed:

[F]or the first time, he said the agency's leadership may face repercussions over the fiasco surrounding the installation of a new computer system last month.

Daniels, a former top executive at Eli Lilly and Co., said that if something had gone this badly at Lilly, "there would have been repercussions, and there may well be (at the BMV)."

Silverman, a former executive at the now-defunct Galyans sporting-goods chain, has prided himself on running the agency more like a business.

No comments: