Following the bumpy rollout of a new vehicle licensing system, the state of Minnesota is hiring a private firm for similar upgrades to its drivers licensing operations.

Officials with Minnesota IT Services and the state Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that they’ve signed a $26 million contract with Fast Enterprises, a firm that has helped manage drivers licensing services in other states. In a statement, the leaders of the two departments said they expect the company will help ensure Minnesota is ready to begin issuing new licenses that comply with the federal Real ID law by October 2018.

“It is important to get this done right and get it done on time,” said Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. “There are few services in state government as important or fundamental in the lives and businesses of Minnesotans than obtaining a driver’s license.”

The announcement comes two weeks after Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota IT Services Commissioner Thomas Baden publicly apologized for problems that have plagued the state’s new vehicle licensing system for months. The first part of the Minnesota License and Registration System (MNLARS) was rolled out in July after a decade of work, only to immediately cause delays and confusion at licensing offices around the state.

Minnesotans and deputy registrars who run licensing offices have reported ongoing problems with transferring specialty plates, delays in processing vehicle titles and glitches with annual vehicle tab renewals. Though some problems have been fixed, others are ongoing; on Wednesday, some deputy registrars reported problems with December tab renewals. Officials said that notices for those renewals are going out about a week late, but that the state was able to process the renewals before the notices arrive.

Now the state is gearing up to shift to the new MNLARS system for drivers licenses — just as it attempts to comply with Real ID, which will require the state to offer new licenses that come with stricter security standards.

Much of the work on the vehicle licensing changes was an in-house operation run by state IT workers. For drivers licensing, the state will hand off work to Fast Enterprises, and move two employees into leadership positions to oversee the project. The contract with Fast includes getting the software system up and running, along with five years of support and maintenance.

Officials said the money spent on the deal will come out of the bigger, $97 million project budget for MNLARS.

Meanwhile, Dana Bailey, a former chief of staff to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, has been hired to serve as executive director of projects and initiatives, and the state is working to hire a new software development director.

A top developer on the project, Paul Meekin, is now on leave.

Officials say that they also plan to do more to work with deputy registrars and other MNLARS users to ensure a smooth transition.

“We are committed to building a system that ensures all Minnesotans are able to access the services they need. ...” Baden said.