In 2019, the California DMV launched a two-year modernization initiative to streamline key parts of a process often associated with long lines, “take a number” systems and paperwork. Then, COVID-19 hit. In the blink of an eye, the timeline had just sped up. Dealerships began rushing to reconfigure staffing and build out their virtual showrooms while DMV field offices closed doors and backlogs started to swell. The industry was all of a sudden in the middle of a great acceleration. “What was supposed to be two years of digital updates now had to be condensed into just a few weeks,” said Anita Gore, deputy director of communications at the California DMV.
Since March, the California DMV has been running at full speed to transform its business model and, in many cases, move from paper and in-person visits to easy uploads and virtual transactions. With more than 35 million cars registered in the state, the agency knew it needed to focus first on tackling high volume services, such as registration and title and duplicate licenses, that traditionally required in-person visits to complete. Over the past few months, the agency, among other things:
- Introduced the Virtual Field Office, enabling customers to complete transactions that previously required an office visit, such as vehicle-title transfers and complex vehicle registration renewals, by digitally interacting with DMV staff. The concept has caught on fast with residents. As of August 2020, the DMV has seen more than 500,000 cases come through the new platform. Think about that. That’s 500,000 people that did not have to wait in line or overwhelm offices.
- Expanded DMV Express statewide to expedite the REAL ID application process.
- Added requesting a duplicate driver’s license as an online service, making it easier for customers to replace a lost or stolen license without a trip to the office.
- Unveiled a redesigned website.
- Loosened restrictions on the number of driver’s license renewals allowed online from two to three during COVID-19.
When asked whether they see the Virtual Field Office becoming a permanent service delivery channel moving forward, the answer was an unequivocal yes from Gore. “What we are trying to do here is change a behavior that has become muscle memory for many. When you need to register your vehicle, renew your license, transfer a title, the first thought most of us have is to go to the DMV office. But what if our first thought were to go online instead? Think about the efficiencies, the improved customer experience,” said Gore.
Other states are taking major steps to accelerate the digitization of the registration and title process as well. In fact, the Colorado DMV has set a hefty goal to make 100% of services available online by June 30, 2021. Electronic lien and title (ELT) processing, which replaces the issuance of a paper title with an electronic lien notice, is also currently available in 24 states.
Pushing more services online will be critical, especially as DMVs continue to dig out of steep processing backlogs, which continue to result in registration and title delays. In Idaho, for example, the DMV was able to reduce their backlog from 100,000 in May to 43,000 in August thanks to the expanded use of online services.
The proof is really in the pudding. Creating an environment for contactless transactions expedites the current game of catch-up the industry faces and brings a new level of ease and simplicity to registration and title processing – for today and the future. As Gore puts it, “digital is the business model for the long-term.” And, it’s safe to say the great acceleration is just the tip of the iceberg.
Kait Gavin is vice president of operations for Dealertrack Titling Solutions.