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‘Open-minded’ DVSA cuts cost of MOT testing

Government agency harnesses customised open source platform to ensure data security while cutting costs and plans to extend its MOT testing capability to do the same for drivers’ theory tests

The UK’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) says it has dramatically cut the cost of running its MOT testing service since taking it online in 2015, and now has its sights set on taking the driving theory test back in-house and online within a few years.

The per-test processing cost of running the MOT testing service – about 42 million tests are carried out annually –  is now less than £0.30, compared with £1.05 before the launch of the online service.

For both MOT testing and the driving theory test, which is currently outsourced and requires those taking the test to attend a centre, an essential challenge the DVSA has faced is identity management.

But according to programme delivery executive Alex Fiddes, the success and continued refinement of the online MOT testing service, plus the positive learnings from its recent theory-test pilots, show the benefit government digital transformation projects can deliver.

Today, the DVSA’s online MOT testing system connects 23,000 MOT test centres to its MOT testing database with read and write capabilities.

“Security and reliability has always been crucial to the project, and we have delivered that by using a highly customised version of the open-source access management OpenAM,” said Fiddes.

“We are now on version 2 of OpenAM, and it’s this that ensures the security of the user access process for more than 60,000 individual MOT testing centre users, with two-factor authentication needed for logins via a token-generating card for each user.”

Fiddes said the system had proven robust over three years now, with little scope to abuse it, and the confidence gained meant sign-in for individual users could be relaxed slightly, so that morning and afternoon sessions are permitted, rather than users being required to sign in for every single MOT test.

“It’s more convenient, and we are confident not just in the security of the process, but because we have some serious analytics and machine learning running that can spot and flag any irregular activity or errant data for potential investigation,” said Fiddes.

Fiddes said the current public access set-up for MOT and tax checking was not likely to change, with individuals able to check the basics related to a vehicle just with a number plate, while access to more detailed testing history requires information from the car-registration document.

“It’s the right model, we think, even though we are open-minded about all our projects offering data access. We are thrilled, for example, by the private sector’s take-up since 2015 of our free-and-open-access vehicle and driving data via APIs [application program interfaces]. When we embarked on this work, we really didn’t expect to have created 500 APIs so quickly, but it all plays to our road safety agenda, which is how we measure our performance as an agency. We couldn't be more pleased.”

Fiddes said big cost savings on running the MOT testing service had also been achieved by going serverless and using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for provisioning. The on-demand cloud computing platform enables the DVSA to match resources to demand much more accurately, and pay for actual usage, which is proving far cheaper than running it on dedicated government servers.

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