New ordering system helps county treasurers keep up with customer demand

IMG_4999Wouldn’t it be great if the items you need just showed up automatically at your doorstep, right when you needed them? That’s the new reality for county standard license plates that are shipped to Iowa’s 99 county treasurer’s offices.

In Iowa, each vehicle owner registers their vehicles at the local county treasurer’s office and receives a set of license plates from that office. The registration data is recorded in an Iowa Department of Transportation database. Using this database and working with license plate manufacturer Iowa Prison Industries and the county treasurers, the Iowa DOT developed an automated, license plate inventory system that was implemented in November 2015. The system was designed to help counties control the inventory of plates they keep on hand.

LaVonne Short from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services explained how the change came about. “In 2013, we reviewed the process of ordering and storing plates. During the review, we worked with a group of county treasurers and IPI staff to identify a more efficient and cost-effective way for the counties to order plates. Previously, each county would estimate their plate usage and submit orders to us that we would send on to IPI. There was no system to accurately track the inventory of plates. This resulted in some counties having a stockpile of plates or other counties having a shortage. Every county is different, so we looked for a solution that would work for everyone.”

Plate storage in Johnson County
Storage space can be an issue for some county treasurers.

To complicate things, the State of Iowa currently issues more than 70 different types of license plates. All 99 county treasurer’s offices must maintain a minimal inventory of most of these plates. The previous way of doing business didn’t provide a consistent way to know what plates each county had on hand. Short said, “Because the most frequently used plates are the county standard series, the process review group decided to focus only on the three basic types of these plates for the initial phase of the project. Additional plate types may be added in the future.”

Gathering accurate data was the first step in the process. Using the database, staff in the Iowa DOT’s Information Technology Division was able to compile the actual number of plates issued over a four-year period for each county. The dataset was then honed to an average daily usage by month for each of the three county standard plates for all 99 county treasurer offices. Using this data, a minimum inventory threshold for each county was established.  

Johnson County motor vehicle window
The Johnson County treasurer's office is a very busy place for customers handling motor vehicle transactions.

Once the minimum threshold was established for each county, the system reviews the current plate inventory for each county each night to determine if the level of inventory for standard county plates is sufficient. If plates are needed for any county, an automated order is sent to IPI. All order activity can be reviewed in the system by the county treasurers, Iowa DOT, and IPI.

Short said, “The system not only takes into account the number of plates that are expected to be issued, but also the 21-day timeframe for new plates to be manufactured and delivered. To ensure ongoing accuracy, the system automatically updates the average plate usage for each county, so that the most recent four-year plate usage averages are used to calculate plate orders.”

Jim Pregon
Jim Pregon, Johnson County deputy treasurer

Jim Pregon, Johnson County deputy treasurer, said, “The transition was actually easy. I had an order placed the first day the system was in operation. By working with the formula programmed into the system, I was able to estimate when to expect the next order to go in. From my perspective this makes the job easier. It’s one less thing to worry about. I just keep an eye on my plate usage to make sure things don’t need to be adjusted. ”

Flexibility is one element built into the system. Short said, “Additional plate orders may be placed by the OVMCS if a county experiences an unforeseen need for plates.”

Tina Hargis, director of the OVMCS, said, “This was a big change for the county treasurers, but one that will save time and money for all of those involved. It will take some time to give the system a chance to work and build up the trust that the plates will show up when they are needed.”

Pregon said, “So far it’s been working as expected. It’s much easier to receive smaller orders intermittently and it’s created a better balance of inventory on hand. We’re also receiving our orders from IPI faster than before. It’s been great to see it develop and now being used successfully. It is a positive change.”

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