Strategic Sunsetting

Strategic Sunsetting

As AAMVA continues to upgrade its technology, jurisdictions are assessing their own technology needs

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When a vehicle begins to break down after logging more than 100,000 miles, it’s time to upgrade to a newer model. After more than 30 years, AAMVA’s network technology is undergoing a similar shift.

Since its creation in the early 1990s, the AAMVA network and its systems have undergone numerous upgrades to deliver secure, reliable and relevant IT services to its members. With its latest round of upgrades, the AAMVA Board of Directors has decided to phase out several legacy components over the next few years. DMVs in all jurisdictions will be affected by these changes, especially those that use aging systems that will no longer be supported by AAMVA. While the prospect of going through a technology transition can be daunting and costly, DMVs that have already upgraded their systems say the results are paying off in more efficient service and improved customer interactions.

A Historical Perspective

AAMVA’s network was established in the early 1990s as a centralized system to provide IT services to member DMVs throughout the U.S. To address the diversity of platforms used by the jurisdictions, AAMVA developed a software product called the Unified Network Interface (UNI) that allows each DMV to connect to the network in a standard manner, explains Philippe Guiot, AAMVA’s senior vice president of Technology and chief information officer.

“It was unique at that time for one software to run on so many different platforms used by all jurisdictions,” Guiot recalls.

Over time, AAMVA migrated its systems from COBOL mainframe to and finally to cloud-based Microsoft Azure. It also upgraded its network to SD-WAN for better performance and reliability. The AMIE message format used on AAMVAnet has evolved with the addition of XML/NIEM and more recently the REST/JSON web services, the current standard in the industry.

Whenever new applications and technologies were introduced, AAMVA worked with jurisdictions to ensure backward compatibility between the different solutions. That allowed DMVs to upgrade at their own pace. However, Guiot says this approach has become too difficult to maintain and too costly to support. As a consequence, AAMVA is phasing out the UNI Mainframe and UNI Windows while the AMIE messaging format is being phased out in favor of REST/JSON web-based solutions.

“We can no longer guarantee that we will have the resources to support older technology,” Guiot explains. “Sunsetting the older technology is not a question of choice, but of necessity.”

To encourage jurisdictions to transition away from these legacy systems, AAMVA’s IT Advisory Committee has created a phase-out plan and schedule (see sidebar).

“We want to provide enough time so DMVs can succeed with their transition, but we don’t want to allow so much time that there’s no sense of urgency,” says Eric Jorgensen, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division, and chair of AAMVA’s IT Advisory Committee.

To make sure jurisdictions meet AAMVA’s specifications, Jorgensen advises them to contact AAMVA first to understand what they need to do to upgrade their technology. Then they can map out a strategy for migration at their own locations.

“It can be painful to go through a technology transition, but our goal is to make this as easy, painless and stable as possible,” Jorgensen says. “In the end, this will be a better solution for all of us.”

Cloud Solutions Offer Flexibility

Jorgensen says the biggest deterrent to the adoption of new technologies is cost and the inability to obtain funding.

“Depending on the age of legacy systems and scope of the project, the cost to upgrade can run millions of dollars. Because jurisdictions rely on funding approvals from their state legislatures, they need to give state leaders a compelling reason to make these technology improvements to justify the investment,” Jorgensen says. “Otherwise, it’s easy for people to decide that their request isn’t a high priority.”

Cloud-based solutions can enhance an agency’s business almost immediately after implementation.

When Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division converted from a 40-year-old mainframe solution to Micro­soft Azure, the agency announced the new platform by email blast to more than one million residents. Within minutes, the IT team noticed a significant uptick in traffic to the new site. They quickly realized it wasn’t a glitch in the system but customers who were visiting the site after receiving the announcement.

“Because the new platform is cloud-based, we were able to spin up additional resources on the fly to meet the increased demand from customers. With the previous system, sharing those resources would have taken months,” Jorgensen recalls. “The cloud gives us the flexibility to provide the right resources at the right moment.”

Consolidate Systems for Efficient Service

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) recently upgraded two of its legacy COBOL systems—its 40-year-old vehicle registration system and a driver’s license system that had been operating since 2002. After a competitive bidding process, the MVA selected tech company Fast Enterprises to implement a new system that combined the two systems into one cohesive solution.

“We had always wanted to use one system that could perform all types of transactions so customers wouldn’t have to go to different counters when visiting our locations. While the COBOL-based vehicle system and VB6-based system served our community well, the technology was outdated and we had difficulty supporting it,” recalls Negash Assefa, director of Information Technology of Maryland’s MVA. Assefa says the new combined system has resulted in record low wait times at the MVA and more satisfied customers.

To meet AAMVA’s phase-out schedule, Assefa says the agency set internal deadlines to get ahead of the curve. Upgrades are being implemented a little at a time. Its USPVS platform converted to the RESTful web service in 2023 while NMVTIS and SSOLV will transition to a web service later this year and SPEXS and PDPS will be converted to RESTful web service in 2025.

He encourages jurisdictions to think long term about any modernization project and understand how those changes will impact their entire organization.

“Replacing a legacy system is a complex process that requires a commitment from everyone top to bottom,” Assefa says. “Focus on the end product and what it needs to be rather than what you are doing now so you can provide optimal customer experience.”

Planning for the Future

“You’re not just sunsetting a legacy system; you’re sunsetting the way you think about your business,” says Frank Dean, client relations manager with Fast Enterprises, a tech company specializing in systems modernization for government agencies.

Modernization projects present both challenges and opportunities for DMVs. “When you modernize, it’s because you want to change how your agency can serve the public. You have to rethink how everything can be done differently, from interacting with customers, processing registrations and issuing licenses,” Dean adds.

When looking at cloud solutions, DMVs need to consider not only the software and its costs, but also how it will impact operations and customer interactions. Think about how the new system will be managed and which cloud hosting providers you want to work with, since each offers different features. It’s helpful to look at what other DMVs are doing to upgrade their systems and learn from their experiences,” Dean says.

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