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What is it with DMV projects?

September 10, 2013 1 Comment

It seems that each year brings another story about a failed or very troubled IT project attempting to replace or re-engineer the computer systems for some state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The latest is this well-researched and well-written article by Bruce Landis at the Providence Journal about the problems the state of Rhode Island has had with its own DMV project:

The state government started trying to replace the Division of Motor Vehicles’ antiquated computer system in 2006, with the new system ostensibly to be working in mid-2010.

It’s still trying, with the price rising by leaps and bounds, partly because the state had to pay a large claim after wasting 23,300 hours of the contractor’s time. It will cost $15.5 million, well over half again as much as the $8.8-million contract price.

The project was supposed to take 2 1/2 years after the contract was signed in January 2008. It will have taken 6 1/2 — if the state’s projected startup date, in April, holds up, unlike several previous ones

The fact pattern is immediately familiar to those of us who deal with IT project failure. What’s intriguing is the extent to which no one in the Rhode Island state government wants to talk about or claim understanding of the project:

Many details are obscure. Key officials have left state government, and those who remain aren’t enthusiastic about looking back at a project that is years late and millions of dollars over budget. They weren’t running the project as it went off the rails, and they insist that a project that arguably failed is being resurrected.

The state, meanwhile, would not release numerous documents describing what happened.

“I don’t feel comfortable to say what happened to it,” said state Director of Administration Richard Licht, whose department includes the DMV but who took that job only in January 2011, as the project was coming apart. He said at first that he would rather not look back but later relented, offering some perspective on the project.

The DMV has been reluctant to talk about the project. Anthony J. Silva, who became DMV administrator in August 2012, said he wasn’t familiar with it and nobody from the DMV is assigned to it.

“It’s not my project,” he said early this year. He said recently, however, that he doesn’t recall making those statements.

Talk about a hot potato. Go read the whole thing.

[UPDATE 09/20/2013] Landis has a follow-up article, with State Senator Frank Lombardi calling for an audit of the DMV project.

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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