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Why Minnesota can’t get MNLARS right

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Sue Rohde
As most of you who have listened to the recent news have heard, the much-maligned MNLARS (Minnesota License and Registration System) program has been front and center of many horror stories that speak of how technology has gone awry at the State of Minnesota.

How could this happen, many ask. As someone who was deeply involved with the MNLARS program for 30 months of its 10-year history, I have considerable insight to share. Basically, there are three reasons, most of which are not obvious or outright hidden from the general public.

    1. MNLARS, the state’s vehicle and titling system, is wicked complex! It is responsible for handling more than 1.8 million title transactions, issuing registrations for 6.5 million vehicles and collecting and carefully distributing more than $1.6 billion for the State of Minnesota each year. In addition, the State of Minnesota has passed laws resulting in more than 1,200 unique fees which can be validly combined in tens of thousands of ways. MNLARS is also queried by law enforcement officials more than 100,000 times per day to retrieve plate, registration and owner information. Although those are big numbers, they only account for a small part of the complexity of the entire system. That complexity is not unique to Minnesota. California, New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Mexico and Connecticut have all experienced rough implementations to total project failures for replacement DMV system projects.
    2. Second, the State of Minnesota, like many states, has limited technical experience in large, custom-built software development projects of this scope and scale. I came from the financial services industry information technology area, which has a very mature software development process. When I arrived at MNLARS at the Department of Public Safety in April of 2015, there had not even been a rough sizing of how big this development effort would be, yet a due date was already set. The project had adequate funding but not adequate employee expertise. There was intense pressure to quickly move the project ahead towards a predefined due date. However, at the time I was involved, the Department of Vehicle Services staff could not even tell the software developers exactly how the system needed to work, which made a successful launch difficult at best.
    3. Roughly 80 percent of all vehicle registrations and close to 100 percent of vehicle titles are processed in person at something called a Deputy Registrar’s (DR) office. Most people do not know none of these DRs are state employees, but a combination of city, county and private employees  who are paid approximately $38 million in fees each year. They have an association and an active lobbyist at the state Legislature to ensure these fees are not diminished and instead annually lobby to increase those fees. The Deputy Registrars barely prepared for the MNLARS launch, perhaps because they simply did not want this to happen and in many cases feared losing a lucrative business.

In summary, the taxpayers of Minnesota, myself included, have spent more than $100 million on the MNLARS program. Tragically, MNLARS should have been built as a 21st-century, state-of-the-art system and should have been primarily self-service. Given the lack of desire by the State of Minnesota to move the system away from the archaic Deputy Registrars, I am fearful Minnesota might fall even further behind in an environment that is rapidly moving toward online licensing for all government processes.

This is an issue that cannot be addressed by information technology professionals, but by the policy leaders of the State of Minnesota.

Sue Rohde has worked in Information Technology senior leadership for over 25 years in private sector financial services firms, devoting the last 12 years to leading large, complex Agile software development organizations.  Although MNLARS started in 2009, Rohde’s involvement from April 2015 to September 2017 provided a unique opportunity to gain insight into the program. Currently Rohde acts as an Enterprise Agile Coach for public sector and Fortune 100 organizations.

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Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by james herzog on 01/30/2019 - 09:57 am.

    Considering the complexity and the instituional opposition to writing this software it will take very strong executive sponsorship to overcome obstacles, and state IT leaders must either step up to the plate or be set aside to ensure instituional politics are effectively managed.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 01/30/2019 - 11:58 am.

      There is a huge knowledge gap between lawmakers and sophisticated software execution. We see the problem rising in many ways both here in MN and at the federal level.

      Watching Congress interview technical people, or even question witnesses about Facebook reveal the Congressional literacy to be woefully low, especially for actual oversight or INsight.

      Software development demands some of the highest of skills and experience and working for the State probably won’t pay what a talented systems person can demand almost anywhere.

      The article explained in much clearer language what happened with the rollout of the MNLARS, including the conflict of interest between deputy registrars role and a goal of customer self-service.

      A close friend who buys and sells vehicles for a living says the system is working pretty well now, unless you make a mistake on a form. Then fixing it is challenging (he said).

      Did naybody try to find a state system that was working well to adapt to MN? I suspect we thought we’d do it OUR way, and just didn’t have the skilled people or resources to get it out in time.

      Haste makes waste. State information systems need to be among the most secure and user-friendly for everyone who needs them. It will never be cheap to get high quality, and someone (beside partisans in the the Legislature) needs to be watching who knows the systems development well-enough to judge its quality and can communicate results to the legislators.

      Reporters should give us more detail as readers (like this piece does). The public has lots of talent and insight if they know the problems.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/30/2019 - 09:08 pm.

        There are some good points here. For one, there is a misconception that a lot of government jobs are cushy and financially lavish. The closer you are to the Metro, and the higher skilled the position, the more likely that those people can make significantly more in private industry. I know MNDOT has had trouble hiring electricians in the Metro. It’s easy to make $10/hr more on the outside.

        I’ve also wondered about about just buying a system from another state.

  2. Submitted by richard bonde on 01/30/2019 - 11:43 am.

    Thanks go to MinnPost and Ms. Rohde for shedding some light on this embarrassing and costly fiasco.

    • Submitted by Susan Rohde on 02/06/2019 - 09:29 am.

      Richard,
      Thank you for your comment. In reading through a number of the thoughts it occurred to me some additional information about the Deputy Registrars may add some insight into many of the responses.

      MNLARS and 10 Facts about the Deputy Registrars

      In reading through through comments below, may from Deputy Registrars, it became clear that the following 10 facts about the Minnesota Deputy Registrars would help the general public evaluate the Deputy Registrar responses.

      1. Minnesota has over 170 Deputy Registrars which employ approximately 1500 individuals across the State of Minnesota. About 2/3 of those offices are affiliated with a city or county and about 1/3 are private entities, which can be sold or inherited.

      2. Each Deputy Registrar office appointment is proposed by the Department of Public Safety, of which the Department of Vehicle Services is a part and voted on by the MN Legislature.

      3. Almost all of the Deputy Registrars belong to the Minnesota Deputy Registrar Association (MDRA) who employs a full-time lobbyist. Given that every single MN House member has a Deputy Registrar office in their area, the DRs have immense political power to maintain the status quo. Also, the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association (MADA) has a full time lobbyist and often joins MDRA in statements and press releases critical of MNLARS.

      4. As residents, we can take our business to any Deputy Registrar location however Deputy Registrar offices are guaranteed that no competing DR office will be established within a certain distance of another DR office. So, for example, the St. Paul Sears DR office is guaranteed that another DR office will not be established across the street.
      5. By statute, a Deputy Registrar MUST be involved in any vehicle title transfer operation which currently results in a $10 fee to them. Given that fact many Auto Dealers have established close ties with specific Deputy Registrars offices that must, again by law, be involved in any title transfer transaction.

      6. Several classes of vehicles (passenger vehicles and motorcycles) can be renewed online. As a resident, by law, I pay a convenience fee, making those transactions more expensive to the resident even though they are cheaper for the State of MN to process.

      7. The Deputy Registrars are responsible for their own office expenses (salaries, rent, office supplies, MDRA dues, etc.) but the State of MN provides, at no cost to the DR, all of their license and registration sticker inventory. If an owner of a DR office does not believe the fee revenue is not adequately profitable, they can work with DVS to close down that office and allow another DR to be appointed.

      8. Prior to MNLARS, when a resident needed to complete a title transfer they went to a DR office and filled out a bunch of paperwork. The DR collected the fees and sent the stack of paper to the St. Paul DVS office for manual entry and processing. If documents were missing or there were errors with the title forms, DVS sent a letter to the individual to fix the issues resulting in delays issuing the title. After MNLARS, the Deputy Registrar entered the form information into MNLARS while the customer was present. This allowed any questions to be resolved at the DR office as well as assuring the correct documents were present to complete the transaction. An additional side benefit of MNLARS was the updated title information was immediately available to law enforcement. Prior to MNLARS, if a vehicle was involved in a crime before it was processed by DVS (45 to 60 days), law enforcement had to go to hunting through mountains of paper to locate the new owner.

      9. Prior to MNLARS, the Deputy Registrars completed a “Daily Report” that listed all of their DVS financial transactions, amounts associated with those transactions, inventory (plates or stickers) associated with the transaction, etc. After MNLARS, all of the financial and inventory information was captured in real time, which is why with certainty we as MN residents now know that all 170 DR offices were paid over $38 million in fees in the first twelve months of MNLARS.

      10. One last fact, the Deputy Registrars were given three months to train and practice on a full size, production version of MNLARS prior to the July 2017 release. During those three months we tracked the number of individual logins and the total computer traffic from the Deputy Registrar offices which is shown in this chart https://agileanddevopswisdom.com/2019/02/05/mnlars-production-traffic-4-17-17-through-8-4-17/
      Given the magnitude of the upcoming MNLARS release we were surprised by the following graph, which showed very little Deputy Registrar training and practice traffic prior to the MNLARS launch.

      In closing, the facts above are well known to the State of MN and the Department of Vehicles services, however, the Deputy Registrars have a massive advantage in any media matter. The Deputy Registrars, especially the privately-owned offices, can respond to any press release, or OpEd, in this case as they chose, whereas the employees of the State of MN are not able to easily respond to these comments. Since I am no longer an employee of the State of MN I can share this general knowledge that would be extremely difficult for the State of MN employees to share, especially given the immense political power of the MDRA and the MADA.

      • Submitted by Lori Barrett on 02/07/2019 - 10:01 pm.

        Amazing that a software developer can have so much insightful information about the DR customer service business. As an employee of one for 17 years, I too have some thoughts to help clarify things. Let me address yours by number.
        3. Why would MADA join MDRA in being critical of MNLARS? How about the thousands of vehicles stuck in inventory that they couldn’t sell because the state was 3-7 months behind in issuing titles, and those were the ones that COULD be issued? Or having lenders threatening to pull financing because they couldn’t get their liens on record? Or having buyers upset because they couldn’t transfer their special plates (which still doesn’t work)?
        4. Offices do not compete – we are here to serve the public, and if there is not a population base big enough to warrant another office then none are allowed.
        5. Auto dealers have established close ties with DR’s because we help ensure their title work is complete and correct before submitting. Our office generally needs more info or fee corrections on about 20% of the work we see.
        As for the statute, 168A.11(d) states “The dealer shall mail or deliver the certificate to the registrar or deputy registrar”. Anyone can send title work to the state (registrar) and avoid us if they so choose. You’ll still pay the $10 filing fee.
        6. State DVS charges the ACH convenience fee. The DRs have nothing to do with that. Don’t want to pay it and don’t want to go to an office? Mail in your check. Either way you may be waiting a month to get your tabs, and if they don’t come you will visit us and we will help you get them for no charge.
        7. Why do we stay open if it’s not profitable? To serve our communities. Especially in rural areas, where internet service is spotty and the next nearest office can be 30-60+ miles away. Even if a Private office owner who has built his customer base and invested his savings in keeping it running wanted to sell, who would buy a currently unprofitable business? We’re all just hoping things will get better, and soon.
        8. You just gave the reason titles should be processed at a DR, and how much work was added on our end. Getting records created immediately and correctly has been a huge benefit to many entities, and now that most of the time the correct expirations and fees are computing it’s helping us as well. We still have to mail in the stacks of paper though.
        9. $38 million. That sure seems like a lot of money. Until you do the math. That paid salaries, rent, heat, computers, office supplies, postage, health insurance, sick leave & 401Ks (if lucky), travel for training, the bond that the state requires private offices to have, remodeling to accommodate increased work stations needed to facilitate the 40% increase in labor, and the cost of training new employees. Using your 1500 number, even if averaging 30 hours a week each, the $38 million means $16.24 was brought in per hour per employee. If we paid minimum wage, that’s still 60% of income going just to wages. No business owner would accept that profit margin. Make everything online direct to state? Now you’ve increased the state workforce immensely but the same filing fee is generated, which means Minnesotans not only pay the same for the service, but have increased taxes to cover the costs.
        10. Full size production version? That was still being built and could only do the basic processes, but couldn’t even do those correctly? I work with a young man with a computer science degree. He did more training than the rest in our office, quite often emailing or calling about something that didn’t work correctly and submitting details that only IT folks would understand. Even he had an awful time at release. Training was kind of like playing Tetris on a dial-up connection – doable but not much point to it.

  3. Submitted by Greg Laden on 01/30/2019 - 01:27 pm.

    I have a question for the author. I’ve wondered about yet another part of the explanation for the MNLARS system being, basically, broken in its upgraded form.

    How much of the in the trenches technology was new proprietary tech rather than tried and true open source technology? I have the sense, from my own experience overseeing large systems developed and deployed at another public agency, that things go worse when the way forward is improperly illuminated, in other words, there is not a good LAMP.

    Is MNLARS based on a standard LAMP (or very similar) system, or does it rely in stead on expensive, iffy, shiny objects that may have been attractive to those making the decisions, at the time?

    • Submitted by Susan Rohde on 02/01/2019 - 10:00 am.

      This is clearly a very technical question and I’ll provide some details. If the reader wants even more detail, that may need to be taken offline.

      Prior to my arrival in April of 2015, MN.IT has chosen a .net stack. I successfully got Angular added to the development stack which was helpful. In the QA area we used a number of open source tools such as Selenium. In the DevOps stack we also used a number of open source tools such as Ansible.

      The business problem itself cannot really leverage open source tooling such as “carting and checkout” due to the very specific State of MN Statues and the nature of the Deputy Registrars as independent business that act as agents for the state.

      Another technical challenge was that many of the primary external batch systems MNLARS connected to had no or very weak test environments, making end to end testing impossible in several key cases.

      Hopefully that provide a bit more insight and if you’d like more details please let me know.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/30/2019 - 03:15 pm.

    How can the timeline for an IT project be ten years? Isn’t that several generations of technology?

    • Submitted by Susan Rohde on 02/01/2019 - 10:53 am.

      In the case of MNLARS the project went through several phases. From 2009 to 2014, a period of 5 years, the State of MN sought out a vendor, negotiated a contract and eventually ended the vendor relationship due to issues with the vendor software product at the end of 2014. The product that shipped in July of 2017 was a custom software development product that began development in March of 2015.

  5. Submitted by Nick Brett on 01/30/2019 - 05:24 pm.

    MNLARS was a failure because it had people like you “managing” it. You hired some of the most incompetent developers I’ve ever seen, and when this was brought to your attention your response was that they should be mentored. Never mind the fact that they very clearly lied about having the necessary qualifications to even be considered for the project. You wanted the few good developers to spend the entire day babysitting and teaching people how to do things they were supposed to know before even getting hired.

    The bottom line is you assembled the team that built this failure and you refused to listen. This waste of taxpayer’s money is your responsibility.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/02/2019 - 01:14 am.

      Lemme guess, you were one of the “few good developers”, right? Public axe grinding is never a good look.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2019 - 09:46 am.

      I don’t know one way or the other but managerial incompetence is NOT a rare occurrence in the IT field. There are a gazillion “consultants” and no real vetting process for competency. It isn’t uncommon at all to see huge amounts of money spent on failed or extremely troubled roll outs. So I wouldn’t necessarily right off Mr. Brett’s perspective as sour grapes, he’s describing a perfectly common scenario. Just because someone can throw jargon around doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.

      My personal feeling about the whole MNLARS fiasco is that it looks like they were fixing something that wasn’t really broken. The problem the public has been dealing with is that we went from having a functioning service regime to having a dysfunctional regime. We went from being able to get our tabs, licenses, titles, etc…. to NOT being able to get them.

      So it looks to me like someone described a shiny new system and sold it to lawmakers or state officials. Someone MUST have described a system of some kind and convinced lawmakers to buy THAT system. But then it turns out that system didn’t/doesn’t really exist? That’s a typical IT scam, they sell something they have to build from scratch as if it’s already sitting on the shelf. The truth is anyone who actually knew what they were doing would have recognized all of the problems Ms. Rohde is describing in advance and factored them into the model.

      My understanding is that Ms. Rohde came into the process later in the game so she can’t answer for the original “vision” but my question would be: “given the fact that this was such an obvious train wreck on the horizon, did anyone sound any alarms and try to warn lawmakers and state officials?” I understand that there was a statutory requirement but that doesn’t mean you can’t recognize a catastrophe in the making and warn anyone. Lawmakers and State officials could make adjustments if need be.

      Another problem I’ve seen with large IT systems it that the development teams will “go live” just because it’s the “go live” date… even if they’re not ready, they figure they can wing it and fix stuff as they go. Is THAT what happened here?

      • Submitted by Lori Barrett on 02/07/2019 - 05:21 pm.

        Being on the user end of MNLARS I can only comment on what we’ve seen and were told. This system was never meant to be complete before release. The ability to transfer plates, for example, was considered an ‘enhancement’ – one which STILL hasn’t been released after 19 months and thousands of upset taxpayers. They figured as long as the majority of basic processes worked it was good to go, like the ones a customer could do online. But the reason most people come in to an office is because they have more complicated needs: going to collector class, farm registration, changing weight on a truck, repossessions (none of which worked, by the way). The programming was so bad that if we entered inventory into the system using a lowercase letter, and then tried to issue it by scanning it’s barcode that populated it with an uppercase letter, it wasn’t found in inventory! Any beginner programmer should know to code upper and lower case letters as equal in this type of situation!

  6. Submitted by Glenn Gilbert on 01/30/2019 - 06:53 pm.

    The second bullet point is shocking. With the MNSure rollout so fresh in everyone’s minds, to proceed with a pre-determined due date without a clear project scope or apparently any requirements defined, is severely disappointing.

  7. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/31/2019 - 02:08 pm.

    First read makes me wonde if the author has a financial gain possible. Instead of looking for govt employees to blame, look at the budgetary cuts imposed on agency by Republican legislature.

  8. Submitted by molly hintz on 01/31/2019 - 02:38 pm.

    As one of the approximately 174 Deputy Registrar”s in MN, I take great offense to your blatant misinformation in point # 3!
    We are a very dedicated, efficient group of people, who process thousands of transactions for the citizens of MN each year.
    Yes, Deputies are paid fees, on a renewal this fee is 6.00 and on a transfer this fee is 10.00. Very reasonable fees. This fee has not increase since 2011. So yes, we have asked for a fee increase that is overdue! Same as any business, I pay all expenses with this fee. I pay wages for myself and 15 employees. I pay the rent, utilities, normal business expenses. We have also asked for a subsidy from the legislature for the lasting effects of the MNLARS failure. Deputies now do at least 40% more of the processing work in our office, which is a shift of responsibility from the state to the deputies with the MNLARS rollout. We don’t mind the extra work at all, we do mind doing this for free, thus we are in desperate need of a fee increase and a one-time subsidy. The way MNLARS was programmed results in wasted time, if a mistake is made there is no edit function, one has to start over. If you accidently make a typo, you are not allowed to go back and fix a mistake, you just have to start over, this error in programming allows for delays and frustration among employees and the citizens of Minnesota, who are the ultimate losers in the MNLARS disgrace. Another issue is MNLARS is programmed so poorly, that there are several transactions we are not able to process in the computer, again wasted time for the citizens of MN and the deputy registrars who answer many questions and take time to try and help, only to turn the customer away with no fee accepted and no resolution for the citizen of MN.
    Your statement that the deputies barley prepared for the MNLARS launch is way off base. We trained extensively for this roll out. We continually expressed our concern to the state MNLARS team that the system was not working, we would try a transaction in the practice environment with no success. The MNLARS team at the state level didn’t listen to our concerns. At the state level, they pushed the MNLARS rollout against the advice and concern of many of the direct users. The State MNLARS team also, against our concerns, only allowed ONE deputy registrar to be involved in the development of the program. Deputy registrars are the users of the system, but we were not properly allowed to be involved in the development.
    Your statement, “simply did not want this to happen”. False. We begged and asked for a new system with more stability than the old system we had in place. We however did greatly balk at the rollout of MNLARS as we , repeat, as a result of our training in the system , knew the system was not going to be a working system. Which was evident after the rollout.
    The statement, “feared losing a lucrative business”? Not sure what you are basing your opinions on. If you checked with the deputies across the state, not many would be in a lucrative business position. We are in a downward revenue spiral, mainly because of the MNLARS debacle that started in July 2017, along with the fact we have not had a fee increase since 2011. I challenge you to find a business that not has increased any of their fees in the last 7 years!
    I find your point number three very disturbing, your points are far from the truth. I also find this disturbing that you worked with this system for 30 months, of the 10 year history and you feel you can make the comments you did, shows me you were obviously out of touch with the reality of the issues

    • Submitted by Susan Rohde on 02/01/2019 - 11:12 am.

      The MN Deputy Registrars are one way residents can purchase vehicle registrations and complete vehicle title transactions. My point is that in the 21st century, the online Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) internet site should allow residents the choice to handle ANY transaction online, including transactions that now require a visit to a Deputy Registrar to complete. Just like in banking where customer have a choice to visit an in-person teller or use online banking. Also just like in banking, online transactions are by far the cheapest way for the State of MN to process registration transactions. Right now, by statue, residents must pay a premium (a convenience fee) to preform transactions online. That statue should be changed and MNLARS enhanced to allow residents the choice of how to do business with DVS, online or in-person.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2019 - 10:19 am.

        Blaming the user’s is also a common occurrence in the IT field, and blaming the DR’s kind of looks like that. That blame game doesn’t quite past the smell test when Ms. Rohdes switches focus from building a better system for DR’s to use, to building a system that makes DR’s redundant; who’s priority was that and where did it come from? It makes sense that a mission objective focusing on replacing the DR’s would result in ignoring the DR’s and marginalizing their concerns and input. But I don’t see that mission objective clearly described anywhere by Ms. Rohde although she alludes to it here. One thing it is to ADD online services to the existing system… but was THAT really the objective?

        At any rate, yeah online services sound cool… if you roll out a service that actually works.

      • Submitted by Mary Haynes on 02/04/2019 - 01:45 pm.

        And, Dep Regs see it time and time again, when they have problems with their online transactions, they come to us. We spend our time with them fixing their (the state’s) problem for NO compensation. So online (State of MN) gets the meat and we get the bones. There are many, many people who don’t even have computers!

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 02/02/2019 - 01:22 am.

      I’m sure you are wonderfully dedicated to your work, help old women cross the street, and volunteer at the food shelf in your spare time. Your services are no longer required in an era when I SHOULD be able to perform all the services you provide with a touch of my phone screen. I’m sorry that technology has rendered your skillset obsolete, but there is simply no reason that I should need to find the time to make it to a registar’s office (when they actually happen to be open) take a number, and wait for any length of time to do what I should be able to do on my couch. There isn’t any way to sugarcoat it I’m afraid.

  9. Submitted by Tammy Leerssen on 01/31/2019 - 03:06 pm.

    True, the ‘much-maligned MNLARS program’ has been front and center in the news for several months now, but for all the wrong reasons. Minnesotans were promised a new and improved system; but the product that was delivered continues to disappoint. One would have to be completely out of touch with reality to believe the Deputy Registrar has anything to do with this epic failure. We took all training that was provided by the State. I don’t recall anyone asking our opinion… In fact, I remember several of us expressing our concerns since the ‘training’ arena did not function properly…but, we were told ‘It will all work when MNLARS goes live’. Those of us on the ‘front lines’ continue to work with what we were given. We accept new processes, work-arounds & procedures on a regular basis as new releases come out…we are putting in extra hours to get the job done, what ever it takes to provide our customers the best service we can. Work has been shifted from the State level – to the Deputy level, and we should be compensated for the extra time & effort required to complete a transaction, of this there is no question. MNLARS is getting better, but there is still much work to be done. Continuing to lay blame & articles like this are only compounding the problem.

  10. Submitted by Stephen Neiswanger on 01/31/2019 - 04:21 pm.

    As another of Minnesota’s deputy registrars, I think that Ms. Rohde brings up some good points, but she is completely off base and ill informed with her third opinion regarding ill informed, unprepared deputy registrars. I was shocked to read that that idea is still being espoused, most always by the programmers who failed to produce a workable system. That was completely disproved as more information came out about the failure of the system and the reasons behind it. All deputy registrars were required to take a number of classes, both classroom and on-line before the rollout, plus many hours of hands on practice. The only thing that the deputy registrars weren’t prepared for was the catastrophic rollout which programmers such Ms. Rohde, who worked on MNLARS during the pivotal time before its rollout, had failed to anticipate the innumerable glitches that became glaringly apparent when the system went live. The deputy registrars were as much victims of the rollout of MNLARS as were the residents of the State that rely upon the deputy registrars to license their vehicles. To this day we still cannot transfer specialized plates along with a list other issues that continue to plague everyone nearly a year and a half after the rollout, That has nothing to do with the deputy registrars’ failure, nor did the other glitches which we all suffered through. The deputy registrars should have been awards, not libeled by a poorly informed writer.

  11. Submitted by Mary Haynes on 01/31/2019 - 04:33 pm.

    The deputy registrars cannot be blamed for a system that was forced upon us well before it was in any shape ready to come out. When in the so-called “training” we would ask a question on a procedure that we do every day and the trainers would say “that needs to be built yet”. Even a person with no tech training could see that things were not going to work that needed to be working. Perhaps you should not speculate/comment on how the deputy registrars did not want this before you know all the facts. What did you do for the 30 mos you were there? Did you talk to a deputy? The deputies were as much hidden from it all as was the public. What happened to HP building the system-we’ve never heard the truth about that. The deputies were not consulted about what we wanted. If we made a comment about something, say like what’s with the GRAY AND SMALL FONT, the comment was that’ll be fixed before it goes live. 1 1/2 years later we still have Gray and Small font. The fixes have been “work-arounds”, we now do a 3 step process that we used to do as 1 step-with extra time and no extra compensation. We also do about 50% of the work the state used to do. It certainly is not a lucrative business. Our lobbyist makes sure deputies are not screwed, by making sure we are fairly compensated. I could go on and on, but………..

  12. Submitted by B Carlson on 01/31/2019 - 06:01 pm.

    Why can’t we get back that $93 million, or $100 million, (I guess no one really knows how much) from the companies that cheated us out of it by giving us a system that turned out to be worse than the system it was to replace? Any private company cheated as we have been would have taken legal action years ago for something like this. Sue Rohde your article is quite insightful and offers more info than I have ever seen from the state, but have you got any ideas why we are doing absolutely nothing about getting our money back?

  13. Submitted by Lori Barrett on 01/31/2019 - 09:55 pm.

    First off, she brings up a good point in that “the State of Minnesota has passed laws resulting in more than 1,200 unique fees which can be validly combined in tens of thousands of ways.” Fees that the Deputy Registrars were trusted and expected to know and apply correctly depending on the myriad of scenarios that we faced. If they wanted an easier system to build, Legislature could go through and simplify, condense, and even rescind many of the statutes that have been added through the years that have created so many variables. But to state that the Deputy Registrars did not want, did not prepare, and have ‘lucrative’ businesses just shows how out of touch she was with the MNLARS program. We hired more staff, updated equipment, remodeled to accommodate longer lines as we knew more of the work was transferring to us, the front lines. We practiced on their training environment, at least as much as we could since most of the processes hadn’t been built yet. The ones that were had so many problems, we DAILY sent screenshots and info as to what and how it didn’t work, and were always told ‘it’s just the training environment, it’ll work once we go live”. We told the state DO NOT release this program, it does not work. They did it anyway – July 24, 2017, the day I call Armageddon, or the apocalypse, when everything went to hell. Was it as bad as we expected? No, it was WORSE! Even the processes that sort of worked in training no longer worked. As the MN.IT Director of Application Development, even presenting on their successes at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington D.C. June 14, 2017, she should have been aware of the actual lack of development of the software.
    Secondly, as an IT specialist, I get that she would want everything in life to be done online. Imagine having to actually speak to a real person, especially one of those ‘archaic’ DRs that isn’t as precise as a computer. Can that computer tell that you have a forged title? Can it verify that you have signed and filled in all the questions correctly? And help you fix it if you didn’t? Or verify that you still own the 2012 Ford that you are trying to renew – or is it the 2015 Ford that you really need? We spend half our time answering questions and explaining rules and helping our customers to the best of our abilities, and only get paid when we can actually complete an application – at least the ones that we’re allowed a fee for – so to call this business ‘lucrative’ is a joke. Now if we were to get paid top dollar building a product that didn’t work…that might be lucrative.

  14. Submitted by Bob Anderson on 02/01/2019 - 11:26 am.

    This is the same Sue Rohde who decided that all the e-mail concerns from the deputy registrars should just be deleted before MNLARS went live and then bailed out 2 months after it was launched off a cliff.
    People who asked questions and voiced concerns just didn’t get invited to meetings anymore. This half baked product was put together with a mish mash of code and a revolving door of consultants. There was no UI or UX testing, no redundancy plan, no editing product, and no support. Reported issues and defects just languish with little hope of resolution. For every 1 thing that gets fixed 2 others break.

  15. Submitted by Steve Strolberg on 02/01/2019 - 12:23 pm.

    Still blaming MN Deputy Registrars for your own epic failure…Sad, but not surprising.

    The system we Deputy Registrars spent countless hours and dollars training for, was not what was rolled out. Not even close.

    I believe there are at least 29 other states that use the “archaic” Deputy Registrar system to provide some level of customer service. so there must be a need. Especially in rural areas.

    Like it or not, there will always be a need for customer service counters to aid people in the legal transfer and licensing of motor vehicles.

    Many other states have hired private companies to build new motor vehicle registration and licensing systems for them in the recent past. Those systems have successfully rolled out in two years or less. Many of those systems included a Deputy Registrar customer service system.

    Does a local, state or federal government “business” operate more efficiently than a privately owned business?

    The creators of MNLARS answered that question for us.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/02/2019 - 10:39 am.

    Not to attack Ms. Rohde but one of my previous comments alluded to the mediocrity of our “executive” class and the lack of any real credentialing process in IT. So here we may have an example; after presiding over the MNLARS fiasco what is Ms. Rohde currently doing? She’s “coaching” other executives… This is soooooo typical, and then we can’t figure out why our executives and leadership are such a disaster?

    I have no ill will towards Ms. Rohde and wish her well, but why would any fortune 100 company seek and pay for advice and counseling from someone associated with such a huge public fiasco? In any rational universe failure is disqualifying, you seek council and advice from those who succeed. This isn’t unique to Ms. Rohde, this is our corporate culture, clearly we need to start raising the bar.

  17. Submitted by Penny Reedy on 02/02/2019 - 04:17 pm.

    Wow, another voice trying to shift the blame for the failed system known as MNLARS. As a Deputy Registrar, I can tell you that your point #3 is simply not true. We took all the training we could get, we voiced our concerns that the systems had big problems, we tried to be more involved but were turned down and not listened to. We wanted a new system but we wanted one that worked. Yes, we have an association and a lobbyist. The association works hard to have our voice and concerns heard and to works with DVS to better serve the public. Our lobbyist works for us to stay on top of legislation that affects our job. We do request a fee increase but have not have one since 2011. How many businesses cannot get a raise without an act of the legislature? We are not state employees and therefore do not have the pay raises or benefits that state employees have.
    We do want to have a lucrative business but since July of 2017 it has not been. We have a small office and have gone months without a paycheck and have used our retirement funds to keep our heads above water. We worked to be prepared for the rollout of this system. I traveled to St Paul for training, purchased new computer equipment and hired an IT person to make sure we met the requirements for this to work.

    We are doing more of the state’s work with no additional pay. It takes much more time to process a transaction and often after spending the time, then calling the state for help we are told to have the customer mail it in. All the time we spent for no compensation. We keep doing it because our strong work ethics and dedication to helping the customer compels us.
    You think what we do is archaic? I think you have no idea what we do and how many rules and exceptions to those rules we have to be knowledgeable about. Title transfers are legal transactions and I can’t imagine it being done online.
    If you want to throw someone under the bus then maybe look at whoever thought an in house IT department could build such a complex system.
    We just had a new drivers license system roll out. It was built by a private company, rolled out on time and it works!
    In my opinion, scrap MNLARS and hire the same company that has experience building this type of system and get it done right. The people of MN deserve it.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/03/2019 - 11:19 am.

    I guess the question for Ms. Rohde is rather simple: Did you realize that this roll out was going be a fiasco in advance, and if so, what did do about that?

    If you didn’t realize it was going to be a fiasco, I’m afraid your credibility is difficult maintain. If you realized it was going to be a fiasco and didn’t try to raise any alarms or report that to lawmakers and Sate officials, then you have a different credibility problem. If you realized it was going to be a fiasco, and raised alarms that were ignored… THAT should be a key fact for discussion in an article like this.

  19. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 03/19/2019 - 04:19 pm.

    My experience with MNLARS is a bit different, and has had profound consequences for me. Without going into great detail, a minor traffic accident with a misdemeanor charge, more than three years ago, led to a chain of events that eventually led to my license being revoked for one year, seizure of my vehicle, and three years of probation. All of this because three agencies – MNLARS, DVS, and my local county – were unable (or unwilling) to share information, cooperate with each other, do follow-up……or even show any interest in helping me resolve what should have been a simple matter. For over a year, repeated phone calls and or visits to each agency invariably brought the same response: “We don’t have the information, and we can’t help you.” They couldn’t, and they never did. And I’m paying the price for that.

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