Already five years past due, state likely to miss deadline again for upgrade of driver’s license system

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

? A multimillion-dollar computer project at the Kansas Department of Revenue that has been in the works for 10 years is likely to be delayed once again, according to a recent Legislative Post Audit report.

The KanLicense project is intended as a replacement of an aging, legacy mainframe computer system in the Division of Motor Vehicles that manages information relating to more than 2 million Kansas driver’s licenses and state identification cards.

It’s a part of the state driver’s license system that most people in the general public never see, but one that is critical to law enforcement because it tracks the driving records of individuals, including suspensions and revocations.

Originally planned to go online by 2012, the KanLicense program has been beset by delays, problems and and a change in contractors, according to the Post Audit report, and most recently officials had hoped it would go online in January. But the report said that goal now appears unlikely.

“We determined the project schedule for KanLicense to be in caution status for the quarter ending June 30, 2017,” the report stated. “This status is unchanged from our previous monitoring report. We think there is a risk the project will not meet its completion date.”

That report was delivered recently to the Legislative Post Audit Committee, a joint committee of the Legislature which supervises the Division of Post Audit, a state agency within the legislative branch of government.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, who chairs that committee, said the whole situation has been frustrating.

“It started a decade ago. We’re five years behind and we’ve put additional funds in it,” he said. “It’s not a good way to do business.”

Department of Revenue officials declined to comment beyond the official agency response attached to the report, which said the project has achieved a number of milestones, “leading to a positive turnaround during the second quarter of 2017.”

The KanLicense project was originally one part of a larger information technology upgrade at the Division of Motor Vehicles that began in 2002.

The first phase of that project involved upgrading the system that manages vehicle titles and registrations. That system was supposed to go online in July 2011 but was delayed by nearly a year, and when it finally did go online in May 2012, it didn’t work as intended, resulting in long delays at some county treasurers’ offices and clerks being routinely disconnected from the system.

Meanwhile, the driver’s license project, which was the second phase of the larger DMV upgrade, had been scheduled to go online in January 2012, but it was significantly behind schedule, and in May 2014 the department terminated its contract with 3M, the company hired to manage the project.

At that time, the department planned to complete the project in-house at a cost of about $2.1 million, with a scheduled completion date of November 2015. By August 2015, however, the Kansas Information Technology Office, or KITO, listed the project as “stopped” and the Department of Revenue had “de-scoped” it from the DMV project, thus officially ending the DMV project.

Shortly after that, however, the KanLicense project was established to complete the driver’s license phase of the DMV project. In November 2015, the state’s Chief Information Technology Officer approved the new project at an estimated cost of $6.1 million and a projected completion date in December 2017.

Soon after that, the Division of Legislative Post Audit put the KanLicense project on its watch list of IT projects that would be subject to quarterly status reviews.

“We chose the project for several reasons, including prior problems on the DMV project, the estimated cost of KanLicense, and its criticality for KDOR and other agencies,” the audit report stated.

Those quarterly reports rate the overall “health” of the project, as well as the scope of the project, the schedule, costs and overall quality. The auditors use a three-tier scale to rate each component: “satisfactory,” “caution” and “unsatisfactory.”

The most recent report gave an overall “caution” rating to the project, as well as to the scope and schedule.

Auditors noted that the scope of the project has changed several times since November 2015, and a key contractor on the project, MorphoTrust, has already missed several deadlines.

“During the previous (January-March) quarter, MorphoTrust delivered equipment with technical problems which prevented KDOR from starting its testing phase,” the audit report stated. “Problems with getting the contractor’s equipment and software to work within KDOR’s network environment continued throughout this (April-June) quarter.”

The auditors went on to note, however, that MorphoTrust has replaced its project manager, improved communication with the agency and sent staff to Kansas for extended periods of time to catch up.

The auditors also gave “satisfactory” ratings to the project’s cost, which has climbed to $8.6 million due to some enhancements that have been added, and to the overall quality of the project.

Barker said part of the problem with large IT projects is that the state has let bidders such as 3M design and build the systems. Often, he said, they bring in designs that have been used in other states, but which don’t work in Kansas because of unique policies or processes here.

He said the Post Audit Committee may consider legislation so that on future projects, the state hires a design firm first to design a project that fits Kansas’ needs, and then sends that design out for bids.