I groaned when I entered the place looking for a replacement driver’s license (had lost my wallet in Paris couple of days prior). My ticket number was in the 600s, there was a mass of humanity. I was prepared to stay a few hours.
20 minutes later my number came up. 5 minutes later the lady had scanned 4 pieces of personal documentation I had brought. In another 5 minutes I had a polycarbonate card with digitized photo, state holograph, 2 dimensional bar code and magnetic strip.
I was intrigued. This non-descript place sandwiched between a Target and a Lowes probably did more business than either retail store during certain times of the day – in a fraction of their space. Since when did the DMV become so efficient? (My alma mater, Price Waterhouse had a high-profile disaster at the NJ DMV in the 80s and several states since have reported other DMV project failures)
So, I asked if I could come back and talk to someone about the processes and the technology. A few days later I was sitting down with Kirk Sexton.
This of course, is not the DMV – this is the County Tax Collector’s office. Driver’s License are only 5% of the transactions they process here. They also collect property taxes and issue fishing licenses and do several more things (see chart). And while there are separate queues for many of services, the agency increasingly has employees who can handle multiple transactions in one session. Of course, for many of the transactions, you need not come in- you can do business with them by mail, phone, on the web.
That explains the variety of Digimarc, Samsung, Dell and Canon printers and scanners spread across the office. Some print car titles on special paper stock, others print polycarbonate driver’s licenses, still others print annual yellow tags for car license plates.
In the five minutes in which the lady had scanned my passport, 2009 W-2, bank statement and Verizon bill, the system had been running validations against various state and federal databases. (you can take other combinations of documentation – this site provides the choices) These are part of the checks under the Federal Real ID legislation requirements and for that our licenses are among the first in the country to carry a gold star which shows compliance. While privacy advocates have fought it in many states, personally I am glad this agency is pioneering its implementation. Many of 9/11 terrorists are said to have used Florida driver’s licenses as their identity cards to board their flights.
The customer queuing system which streamlined my wait time is from Q-Matic. Beyond balancing customer load with agent availability, it is smart enough to route Spanish speaking customers to appropriate agents. It collects all kinds of metrics, which are then helpfully summarized and before you leave home, you can check likely wait times at each of the agency’s locations.
But beyond what was visible, Kirk talked about other efficiencies at the agency. He talked about VoIP and virtualization efforts. He took me to the back and showed me a microwave tower – cheaper than a T1 line. He talked about a penny-a-page arrangement with SunPrint Management for all their many black and white copies. He talked about mostly buying standard, off the shelf equipment to get volume breaks – but making adjustments as needed. The Samsungs had their firmware adjusted to slow their speed down to allow the printer to optimally heat the car license tag. He has been a key member of a city/county IT coalition where different agencies look for shared services and other efficiencies.
No, this is not your run of the mill local agency. In 2008 it won the Governor’s prestigious Sterling Award. This year it is in the running for the national Malcolm Balridge Award. When you look at the applications the agency filed for considerations for both awards, you see all kinds of eye-popping metrics even private sector firms would kill for – customer satisfaction, customer wait times, cost per transaction.
The Tax Collector’s office is an elected one, but Doug Belden has not had much serious competition for 12 years. As we can see, he runs a tight ship with a continuous improvement focus. With folks like Kirk who joined the agency 3 years ago from the private sector, it is clearly a role model for innovation in government.