Road-test: DVSA tech director on how the agency passed its digital MOT

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency digital services director James Munson tells Rebecca Hill that open-minded attitudes and iterative design have been crucial to the agency’s success.

The DVSA took MOT records online in a prize-winning collaboration – Photo credit: Flickr, shrinkin’violet

Earlier this month, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency won the Digital Leaders award for best cross-sector digital collaboration for switching all UK garages over to its digital MOT service recording system.

The DVSA’s director of digital services and technology James Munson says that the award, which was shared with technology solutions company Kainos, doesn’t just collaboration between the agency and the company.

“It’s within the agency, with the users, and with other stakeholders, supplier and vendors,” he says. “That’s what the award is about – building a strong, cohesive group that gives benefit to the customer.”

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Munson says that the team has worked hard to create a system that focuses on user needs, with a service management team that takes an end-to-end view of how the service operates and runs.

The process started back in 2013. After the outsourced contract to run the old MOT system’s was up for renewal, the agency decided to build a new system that was more fitting for the digital age.

The agency has claimed it a success, with the system managing more than 150,000 transactions in a day, with more than 30 million MOT passes a year in addition to 12 million additional MOT failure transactions.

Since it launched, there have been 31.5 million MOT tests recorded, with 80,000 MOT testers and 22,700 garages using the service.

But a major part of the change wasn’t in the technology, but in the way of thinking about the services and how you deliver them.

“There’s been a real shift in culture – the way we’ve embraced the agile, iterative way of working,” says Munson. “We’ve done more than 140 releases – that’s multiple releases a week – since the system was launched in September 2015.”

This is a big change – previously the agency would have looked at large, biannual releases, but Munson says that it has been granted more freedom to work in this modern way.

This is partly down to its outsourced IT, which the agency is in the process of switching over from large and long-term – “say 10 years or so” – to shorter ones that last around three years. “This gives us the option to work with multiple vendors,” says Munson.

“Other public sector organisations could learn from this, and look at how the elements of agile actually work,” he says. They should focus on retrospectives, show-and-tells and work to create a culture that demonstrates that you want to do something different.

“We embedded the way we were working into the team. If you visit the site, there’s whiteboards to show what’s going on– it’s really visual way of working,” he says. “Retrospectives are done continually, so we know what needs to be done and the teams are empowered to try that out.”

The Government Digital Service is one of the main proponents of this style of working within government. Has the DVSA been working closely with it on the reforms?

“My approach with GDS has very been to be open-book about it. We got regular visits from them looking at what we were doing.” Munson says. “It’s a two-way conversation – they can let us know what they think and, if appropriate, we’ll adjust – or we’ll explain why we’re doing it a certain way.”

He adds that the DVSA also has a close relationship with it sister organisation the Drivers and Vehicles Licensing Agency, which includes sharing best practice as well as data. “Broadly there’s an appetite to share and understand across government, as we evolve how we do these digital projects.”

In the long-term, Munson says that the agency is looking at how it operates, with a new chief executive who will set its broader priorities.

In the meantime, Munson has his sights set on broadening out the iterative work that has proved successful for the MOT services.

“My priorities for the agency are on transforming and modernising our technology,” Munson says.  “The MOT is delivering value, now we need to do the same for each of our pillars of work. We want to iterate these and get out to more customers than we did with the legacy ways of working.”

This will begin with the licensing process for commercial vehicles in the UK, which is due to go live during the summer, and then the way people book their driving tests online and the tests for commercial vehicles.


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