State needs to replace mainframe used by WYDOT, county governments

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Wyoming has needed a major upgrade to the computer system that handles driver licensing and motor vehicle information for years. But a multimillion-dollar price tag has made funding a new system a tough sell for lawmakers.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee was in Gillette on Tuesday, and heard from several officials about the state’s Revenue Information System, which houses data ranging from voter registration to driver records and license information. When a county clerk checks on a vehicle title or a trooper from the Wyoming Highway Patrol stops a driver, they run that information through the RIS.

The current system is around 30 years old and runs on a form of computer code called COBOL, which is substantially older than the system itself.

The estimate from the Wyoming Department of Transportation to purchase and install a new system, along with training staff, is about $68 million overall. That cost could be spread out over 10 years as the new system and training are brought online.

But simply doing nothing might not be an option for WYDOT as the existing system costs about $1.3 million annually to maintain, in large part because of the outdated code used in its programming.

Only one employee in WYDOT currently knows COBOL, and there is only one contractor available for the agency to bring in to work on the system, said Taylor Rossetti, support services administrator with WYDOT.

“We keep trying to emphasize just how limited the actual talent related to this system is,” Rossetti said.

The aging system creates issues not only for WYDOT, but also for county clerks and treasurers who rely on the RIS for their operations.

“We are the main hub between vehicle owners and RIS,” said Deputy Park County Clerk Hans Odde, who represented the Wyoming County Clerks at the meeting. “It touches us really significantly.”

Odde said along with his and other clerk’s offices motor vehicle work, the RIS plays a significant role when it comes to voter registration. When a person comes in to register to vote, the clerk’s office runs their information through the RIS to ensure they’re who they claim to be.

WYDOT has been working with the Wyoming Department of Enterprise Technology to pull in other state agencies that rely on the RIS for operations. The two agencies have also worked to identify other aging computer systems that may need to be replaced and see if there’s any potential overlap that can be solved with a potential RIS replacement.

“If we can solve the problem for multiple places, we (want to) do it one time rather than having to repeatedly come back to you guys with similar requests for similar systems,” Rossetti said.

Bringing in more agencies could help spread the cost across multiple agency budgets, which would make it easier for the state to absorb as a whole.

One of the things that WYDOT and EIS have looked at is whether Wyoming should buy a product from a private company to replace the RIS or build one themselves.

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, said it seemed it would be easy to find students at the University of Wyoming to help build a new system from scratch at a much lower cost than the $68 million estimated price tag.

One issue with that is the upkeep of the system, along with making sure there is institutional knowledge of the program in house, said Gordon Knopp, chief information officer with ETS.

Too often, when a system is built in house, there isn’t enough work done to make sure the next group of employees understand the system that’s been built, he said.

While the committee didn’t work on any potential legislation to fund a new RIS, they did discuss potential ways of covering the cost of a new system.

One would be for the Legislature to pay for it out of the general fund. Another would be to either increase fees for things like car registrations and driver license renewals or to charge groups using the RIS, which would end up most likely being passed onto customers in Wyoming