What the “Third Wave” Means for Court Technology

By Dave Hawkins, CEO, ImageSoft

I attended the Inc. magazine GrowCo Conference in New Orleans last month. Somewhere between the seafood gumbo, the crawfish étouffée, and the jumbalaya, Steve Case of AOL fame served up a prophetic message based on his newly revised book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. The title refers to the evolution of the Internet. The First Wave fostered the creation of the Internet with the requisite infrastructure – servers, cabling, network switches, portals, service providers, and the like. Companies such as Cisco, NetGear, CompuServe, Prodigy, NetScape and America Online rose to prominence, while Microsoft, Intel, HP, Gateway, and Dell grew rapidly by virtue of the new demand for personal computers and related software.

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The Second Wave consisted of all the apps built to run on the Internet. This wave included tech firms providing new types of networking and social media services previously unavailable anywhere, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. It spawned new Internet-only retailers, most notably Amazon, as well as new ways to buy things, such as the online auction service provided by eBay. At the same time, the Second Wave saw the meteoric rise of eCommerce from brick-and-mortar chains that transitioned to online retailing. Department stores, booksellers, pharmacies, and even automakers discovered they needed to forge new online identities to keep their customer bases from dissipating.

The Third Wave will involve the transformative integration of the Internet into all facets of everyday life. In the future, calling a device “Internet-enabled” will sound as silly as calling something “electricity-enabled” today. Steve Case highlighted several major arenas in which the Third Wave will bring revolutionary progress: education, healthcare, transportation, food production and city management. In healthcare, for example, Third Wave technologies will facilitate much greater precision in medicine, allowing doctors to edit genetic code using the power of genomics and data analytics. Fitness trackers will evolve into hardware and software for capturing a full range of vital signs on a daily basis, collecting and analyzing the data to alert patients and their doctors of potential health issues before they happen. When you go to see the doctor, they will already have this data to help answer their diagnostic questions such as “When did it start bothering you?” The implications for disease management, home health care, and epidemic tracking are astounding.

But what about the justice industry, which is ImageSoft’s primary area of expertise? What will the Third Wave bring in the way of improving the American justice system? Today, even courts that go “paperless” still use paper at some point in the case-processing chain. They may, for example, offer eFiling, but print the file once received, or perhaps keep it electronic until a judge needs to sign it, and then have it printed at that point. In the Third Wave, courts will seamlessly integrate tools to keep case records electronic from start to finish. On the front end, lawyers, police officers, and even self-representing litigants will have the ability to eFile documents to initiate a case, and may utilize automated document package creation to expedite their initial case filings. These tools will be particularly helpful for the poor, the disabled, the medically incapacitated, and incarcerated persons to give them much greater access to justice than is available today. New tools will also allow simple cases such as traffic violations to be handled remotely; imagine being able to contest your speeding ticket without needing to take a half day off work to go to court.


Read here how courts can stay electronic from start to finish.

 

Once a case is initiated, the documents can remain electronic throughout the court process via document management and workflow tools to enable access for all parties to a case as well as the related court personnel. Closing a case can also stay electronic, as new eSignature tools are structured to focus on speed and reduce cumbersome repetitive steps, which were impediments associated with older products.

Case cited three factors which will be of utmost importance during this Third Wave: partnerships, policy, and perseverance. As I listened to him speak, I contemplated the changes that are already taking place in the justice technology arena. Forward-thinking court systems are partnering with technology vendors to integrate best-of-breed solutions to automate all aspects of the court process. As for policy, institutes such as the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, have piloted policy initiatives to standardize eFiling compliance nationwide. Through it all, perseverance will certainly be required to bring the justice system’s “late adopters” into this next wave of technological advancement.

ImageSoft is working alongside our partners Hyland (makers of OnBase for enterprise content management), Mentis (which offers aiSmartBench and other court tools), and Court Innovations (which provides Matterhorn online dispute resolution system) to reshape the court technology landscape to meet the demands of the Third Wave.

By the time I left New Orleans, I was “jazzed” thinking about the possibilities. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to create a better future for our courts and their many constituents.

What do you think of Steve Case’s vision for the future?

 

Finding the Silver Linings of Cloud Computing

By: Jenny Bunch, Product Owner, ImageSoft

127_cloudsilverlinigWhat’s all the fuss about cloud computing? Courts, like private businesses, are recognizing the advantages of the cloud that range from cost savings to scalability. Cloud-based solutions leverage a software delivery model that is remotely hosted and accessed over the internet. It is a significant shift from the traditional approach of premise-based software solutions. It turns out that “moving to the cloud” is creating easier, more secure access to not just the applications, but more importantly – the data stored on those applications.

Let’s discuss four advantages to leveraging cloud-hosted solutions for case management technologies. But first, let’s look at the differences between “cloud-like” solutions versus “real” cloud-hosted solutions.

Some cloud-like solution providers establish data centers where they host the hardware and software that would otherwise be installed at a court. They provide the infrastructure and access to the courts in a cloud-like manner.

Contrast this approach with solutions built using real cloud services, such as Microsoft’s Azure Cloud or Amazon Web Services (AWS), which manage global networks of data centers, with integrated tools for building and deploying applications and highly scalable and redundant storage options.

Only a real cloud-based solution approach provides the silver lining of these four advantages.

Advantage #1: Cost
With the budget challenges courts face today, minimizing costs of operations is essential. With cloud-hosted solutions, courts can reduce IT costs because they do not need to procure servers and other hardware and software that support the business applications. Because users are accessing the application over the internet and the service provider is hosting the applications and supporting infrastructure, courts need only pay for the use of the applications they are subscribing to. Costs associated with managing a data center, including the technology and human resources expenses, are reduced or eliminated. Essential personnel needed to oversee server rooms can be redirected to other strategic tasks. Further, courts can reduce hiring for specialized knowledge of particular hardware or software needed to run specialized applications.  In addition, courts outsourcing IT assistance can have access to more options while maintaining the status quo on resourcing.


Read about the JusticeTech TrueFiling solution in the cloud. 


Advantage #2: Scalability
Did someone say “just-in-time”? Cloud computing supports an age-old approach to reducing costs by offering an on-demand solution to system resources. With a premise-based system, courts must often procure enough resources to handle the projected yearly growth and the peak-time volume, which results in unused resources. Further, courts that secure the “minimum system requirements” are basing their calculations off of average volumes and often find that the infrastructure is not robust enough to support the unforeseen need or anticipated efficiency the solution promises when it is needed the most.

With cloud computing, courts have the flexibility to add or reduce resources as needed and do it almost instantly.

Consider the following. With a cloud solution, courts can set processing power to automatically increase for periods of time when volume increases, such as arraignment and motion blocks and then reduce it at night and on weekends. The cloud meets the growing need to store large amounts of digital evidence, such as police cam videos, and provide on-demand access from multiple devices. True scalability. Crisis averted!

Advantage #3: Anytime, Anywhere Secure Data Access
Providing access to court data and documents electronically and on-demand is more important than ever before. But so is the ability to secure that data while making it available. Cloud-hosting gives courts the ability to share information more easily without opening their own network to risk because the data is not stored on the court’s network. Services like Azure provide the tools and services necessary to share and integrate multiple applications securely. So if a judge needs to sign a warrant in the middle of the night or access case files over the weekend, IT managers don’t have to sweat it with a cloud-hosted solution.

Of course, some court managers might roll their eyes at ”anytime” access as they are too familiar with hearing, “the system is down again.” But, cloud services provide tools and solutions for offline computing and high availability service agreements that get users closer to ”anytime” than ever before, thus reducing concerns that court operations will slow as they become more reliant on the electronic file instead of paper.

Advantage #4: High Availability
Hardware and network failures happen. As back office work and courtrooms are increasingly simplified by technology, court managers must be concerned with system availability from multiple perspectives.  Beyond disaster recovery, some other considerations are system performance and uptime. True cloud-hosted solutions change the conversation from preventing downtime and failures to minimizing the impact through resilient design methods and systematic response.[1]

For example, systems can be built so that one service failure doesn’t negatively impact other areas or so that essential business functions can continue while others may be slowed or stopped while the system or service is restored.

Also, cloud computing offers multiple data recovery and redundancy options from multiple replicas within a single data center to replications across data centers in different zones or regions in addition to the local replicas. This can guard against entire region failures. Further, data can be accessed and written to the primary or secondary location (and more) depending on the business requirements for data loss and recovery time.

The Take Away
As courts are considering renewing and updating technology needs, managers should be comparing their current technology and infastructure to modern computing and storage methods leveraging the cloud and its advantages. Moreover, when weighing options, court managers should be sure to understand the difference between true cloud versus cloud-like to ensure the maximum payoff.

Have you had a recent experience with a cloud-based solution?

Jenny Bunch can be reached at: (jbunch@imagesoftinc.com).


[1] Microsoft. Designing resilient applications for Azure. March 24, 2017. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/architecture/resiliency/

 

 

 

eFiling is Coming Soon to your State – The Advantages of Mandatory vs. Permissive eFiling

By Brad Smith, Senior Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

When I started working on my first state and local court electronic filing project in 1998, I truly felt that it would be adopted much like computer assisted legal research offered by LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Here we are, nearly 20 years later, and state and local courts are finally dipping their toes into the eFiling water. iStock_000011704687_Medium

Unlike the Federal Courts CM/ECF (Case Management / Electronic Files) system which started mandating electronic filing in the early 2000s, state courts have struggled with adopting electronic filing, let alone making the decision to mandate eFiling for civil and criminal cases.

Texas launched an eFiling portal in 2003, which allowed for permissive eFiling on a county-by-county basis. What the state realized after 10-plus years of “go-lives” and an 18 percent adoption rate, is that permissive eFiling is a nightmare for the attorneys, Clerk of Courts offices and the judges.


Click here for more information on JusticeTech TrueFiling™

For the attorneys and their staff, it becomes very difficult to keep track of which cases or jurisdictions allow for eFiling and which do not. For firms operating statewide in Texas, for example, that would mean your legal assistants / paralegals would need to monitor cases in all 254 counties.

For Clerk of Courts, permissive eFiling presented challenges as well. The office processes an incredible number of cases each year and workflow is critical to keeping the court records accurate and available to the public, attorneys and judges in their jurisdiction. In the permissive environment, the clerk’s staff now needs to operate both a paper workflow queue and an electronic workflow queue to maintain the court records, which adds time and complexity to their jobs.

Even judges, who traditionally use paper court files even when their clerk’s office has taken the time and effort to scan over the counter filings, do not have timely access to electronic court records in a permissive eFiling environment. The steps that are required to convert paper pleadings into electronic images (intake, scan and file) can take up to 24 hours, while eFiled pleadings processed by the clerks’ staff are immediately accessible to the judges via their document management system or judicial dashboard.

The Advantages of Mandated eFiling

Just in the last four years, Florida (Civil and Criminal) and Texas (Civil) have mandated eFiling, while Indiana and Illinois have released mandatory eFiling schedules for 2017 and 2018. While it’s not surprising news by itself, the fact that these mandates are taking place in states that do not have a statewide case management system is encouraging.

It is my hope that the next wave of states in the early eFiling planning stages use the lessons learned by their Supreme Court / Administrative Office of the Courts colleagues and bypass permissivie eFiling to move straight to mandatory eFiling, which will benefit all stakeholders involved.

Which approach has your court considered?

 

Welcome to The Paperless Court Blog

124_Changes“(Turn and face the strange)
Ch…Ch…Changes”

David Bowie, “Changes”

Just as Bob Dylan observed that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, you don’t need me to know that the look of this blog has changed. I can, however, share with you the nature and purposes of the changes, and what you can expect going forward.

The blog now takes on the look and feel of its new “parent”, the new  JusticeTech website.

The new masthead, “The Paperless Court Blog”, focuses on the internal and external challenges of courts to go paperless and its business practices. While it will touch on the solution of the JusticeTech solution suite on occasion, the ideas and concepts behind the blog are designed to be helpful for any court.

The previous blog title is not so much replaced as subsumed. “Order in the Court” (to which yours truly contributes and will continue to contribute on a regular basis) becomes one of several sections within the blog.

For my money, the biggest and best news is that more folks are going to be contributing material. Some examples of future topics include:

  • Mandatory vs Permissive eFiling
  • Why eFiling is Not Enough
  • Making Court Processes Easier for Self-Representative Litigants
  • Assumptions and Policies that Delay Going Paperless
  • Why Most Cloud Solutions Aren’t Really the Cloud
  • Why Open Standards Are Key for Courts

In addition to these (and my on-going “Order in the Court” postings), expect ad-hoc postings from:

  • ImageSoft CEO, Dave Hawkins
  • President, Scott Bade
  • Chief Technology Officer, James Leneschmidt
  • JusticeTech Product Owner, Jenny Bunch
  • Sr. Justice Consultant, Brad Smith
  • And others with valuable perspectives on the technology and business practices that are involved in moving to and effectively managing a paperless court.

In short, the changes to the blog include a fresh, new format, more material (hopefully at least one posting a week), and input from industry experts with broad and deep experience in court management, court technology, industry standards, and customer and business partner relationship development and management. We are committed to provide you, our readers, information that is useful, accessible, timely, and (not least), entertaining.

Thank you for reading our blog.

Hacking Outside the Box

I think it was Arnold Palmer who remarked that beginners often find golf easy because they haven’t had time to learn how hard it is. That’s essentially the sentiment that drives the “Hackathon” mentality. At e-Courts 2016 last month, the Court Hackathon sessions were among the most interesting and the most eye-opening.

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I didn’t know, going in, what a “Hackathon” is. I assumed it was a bunch of real-life Big Bang Theory young techies trying to break court enterprise systems.

It turns out I was half right. It does involve a bunch of BBT young techies. However, rather than breaking things, they are building them. Hackathoners enter a convention hall-size room filled with tables, chairs, computers, and various forms of highly caffeinated beverages and high caloric-content junk food. They are tasked with conceiving, designing, and creating a working, useful application. They have something like thirty-six hours in which to do it. They form teams and have at it. At the end, they show what they’ve built.

The really exciting part is that these folks, being not only young, but also largely unencumbered by any idea of the internal operations of the justice system in general or the courts in particular, are literally unaware that certain things JUST CAN’T BE DONE.

At one session, the Grand Prize winners presented their winning solution (their presentation, along with the others from the conference, is available online).

In many ways, the actual solution took a back seat to the attitude, approach, and world view of the “Hackathoners”. These young people view courts and the justice system from the perspective of people who have never, since the time they were slapped with GPS bracelets in the hospital before they were all the way born, known a world without the Internet, Google, Amazon, smartphones, and so on. When they have a question, they expect to be able to ask in normal language and to instantly get a straightforward, relevant response.

When describing how the team determined what “problem” to solve, they told a very non-flattering (to the justice agency) story of trying to report a theft. The online interface consisted of a half-dozen or more text-packed screens requesting myriad information, almost none of which seemed (to the victim) to be even slightly relevant to his attempt to report the crime. (The victim’s date of birth? His employer? Really?)

Now, from an internal agency standpoint, the question would be, “Well, what’s wrong with that? We’re on the cutting edge – we’re actually using Form-Driven E-Filing. Not only that, the citizen (to whom we have outsourced our data entry) can access it online. You mean you’re not thanking us for this?

The team decided to attempt to develop a more friendly experience for the user. They selected a court application: responding to an eviction (FED) notice. To see how it works, watch the presentation, which includes a demo.

Here’s what I think is particularly important: The key to the solution is what is known as Natural Language Processing (NLP). You know it as Siri, Cortina, Alexa, Echo, and so on. As the team pointed out, only now is the processing power becoming available to make NLP a part of practical solutions.

So here’s the punch line insofar as it relates to ECM and E-Filing. Remember the Six Building Blocks of ECM?  (Feel free to go back and review… ) Well, Number One is Capture. And Capture is starting to move to interactive, NPL interfaces: the next evolution beyond form-driven data capture.

The data so captured from natural conversations will feed into the Workflow engine. And the results will in turn be consumed by, among other things, the NLP itself as it hones its ability to effectively interact with users, making sense of what it hears and giving appropriate and meaningful responses.

Really, really exciting stuff. At least to a geek like me. The Hackathoners, not knowing any better, gave us a glimpse of where we’re all headed. Seemed to them to be the right thing to do.

 

e-Courts 2016 Quick Review

e-Courts 2016 is “in the books”, as they say. My understanding is that video of the sessions is or will soon be available online. Check the e-Courts 2016 website for information. I strongly suggest viewing those sessions in which you have an interest when they become available.

120_conferenceStarting with Gary Marchant’s Keynote, attendees confronted the evidence that technological changes in society at large have started to overwhelm the justice system; and courts, by and large, are not prepared for it. From body camera data to genetic data to virtual reality evidence, Marchant described how new technologies are overwhelming the ability of governing institutions – including the Justice System – to cope within existing customs, laws, ethical guidelines, rules, processes, and economic models. While much of government may simply refuse to act – pass laws, promulgate regulations, etc. – courts have no choice. They are confronted with the dilemmas created; but have little to no relevant guidance from either the statutory/regulatory framework or prior experience.

Moreover, the shear size of the quantity, and variety of incoming data has begun to overwhelm the infrastructure. For example, how to handle the exploding increase in body-camera data? Not only is the amount huge; but the formats are not standardized; the courts do not have the capability to display all formats, and efforts to convert to “standard” formats constitute alteration of evidence. The need for the technology to manage the technology is manifest.

Meanwhile, as Tom Clarke, Vice President of Research & Technology, pointed out, surveys starkly reveal that the public regards the courts as extremely out of step with what are considered the minimal standards of technological competence for today’s world. In what was possibly the most memorable line of the conference, Clarke described the public’s attitude toward court technological prowess as “Bringing the public yesterday’s technology tomorrow”.

Pretty rough stuff. Still, I thought e-Courts 2016 was far and away the most HOPEFUL court technology conference I’ve ever attended. What to me was most striking was not the fact that speakers were talking about the judicial system being left in the dust. It was that most people were staying to hear it, and ask “So, where do we go from here?”

The very first session, Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change, observed that courts have moved from a place where a very few are willing to embrace newer technologies to the place where very few are still actively resisting. The session provide insights on how court managers and technologists can affirmatively advance their courts’ ability and willingness to adopt a culture that thrives on constant change.

The Courthack sessions were extremely well received – something I question would have been the case five or ten years ago. Very bright, very energetic youngsters come together to conceive of, design, and build “outside the box” (potentially disruptive of current practices and procedures) applications intended to improve the court customer experience and court product quality.

The JTC – Improving the Administration of Justice Through Technology session laid out the current major initiatives of the Joint Technology Committee – a collaborative effort of COSCA, NACM, and NCSC – to provide practical assistance for dealing with technology change . These include technology standards development, process improvement, technology training for court leaders, and dialog within and among the justice community on technology matters.

Courts disrupted (which Tom Clarke hastened to point out was way too big a topic for a single session) identified some major disconnects in the way courts may perceive their business and what their business really is. For example, the actual mix of case types varies dramatically from what courts are designed to handle. Just one example: cases involving lawyers constitute a small fraction of the total case load.

Fittingly, Good Public Policy for Innovation: Open vs. Closed Ecosystem concluded the conference. I will have more to say on this topic later. The very practical question, in facing the upheavals and the technology choices, is whether to integrate “Best of Breed” components on the one hand (“Open” ecosystem); or to build or acquire a single system that does everything (“Closed” ecosystem). The panelists did a very nice job of identifying the issues involved, the relative advantages and disadvantages.

Again, I strongly encourage you to check the e-Courts website and view some, or all the sessions. And I look forward to future conferences, white papers, and educational opportunities that build on the material presented at this conference to provide practical assistance to court leaders in the facing today’s profound changes.

 

Change and Continuity

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Given the eclectic mix of disciplines and emphases involved, including  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), sociology, history, psychology, ergonomics, and art, to name a few, architects quite naturally have an almost unique perspective on the subject of Change and Continuity. And that perspective turns out to be highly relevant to the theme of this December’s e-Courts 2016 Conference; namely, how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor.

Recently, I had the opportunity at a party to chat with a young graduate student studying to become an architect. My young friend has no formal legal training; but does have a solid undergraduate background in architecture, in addition to his current graduate studies. I mentioned a piece I wrote a couple years ago  about the interest of architects in how to design for the courthouses of the future.

As it happens, my young friend himself has an interest in and has done some work regarding the architecture of courthouses. He shared with me that he had recently authored a paper in which he presented a pretty harsh critique of one of the relatively new (within the past ten years) courthouses nearby. I asked him, in layman’s terms, what he saw as the problem.  His response, I believe, highlights an important principle that those of us involved with court technology should – but do not always – keep clearly in mind.

The shortcomings, he said, were not at all functional. As an office building, the courthouse was fine. The problem, he said, was that it was really just that: An office building. It could have housed any office-centric business. To an observer who had no idea what the building was, there was nothing to indicate, internally or externally in its architecture, that it was a courthouse.

That comment surprised me more than a little bit. Not because I disagreed with it (I know that courthouse); but because he, as an architect, thought it important.

I generally have to “tone down” my evangelical impulses to try to explain what I see as the fundamental power of the concept of an independent, robust judicial system. When I can’t contain those impulses, I at best bore, and more often probably irritate people by pointing out that there are really, really good reasons why judges typically sit higher than everyone else; why everyone rises when the judge enters; why only those “admitted” or with permission may “pass the bar”, and so on. But I went through the Law School Indoctrination; I don’t usually encounter non-lawyers or non-court folks who really give those things much thought.

Well, it turns out architects (at least some of them, including my friend) understand that the design and architecture of a courthouse has an importance beyond basic functionality. There is an importance in having people feel, however subliminally, that the courthouse is an institution of justice, solemnity, fairness, and truth, critical to the well-being of a free society.

I hope we folks who bring and work with technology in the courts make it a point to keep these values in mind. I think of the number of times that I have dealt with, discussed, or done business with technology providers who, however experienced in their own domains, have little or no experience in working with courts. At first, THEY JUST DON’T GET IT. But there it is: Courts ARE different.

As I participate in “Futures” discussions and planning, I find one exercise particularly worthwhile in this regard. Futures planning naturally attempts to predict what will change. But it helps to also identify what WILL NOT change. In the future there may be hover cars and controllable weather; but couples will still meet, fall in love, and try to live happily ever after. Teenagers may communicate with their friends through electronic tattoos; but they’ll still be terminally embarrassed by their parents.

All information may some day be digital; all communication may be wireless and instantaneous. But there will still be need for a strong judicial system; and the technology we bring must support that institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countdown to e-Courts 2016

I’m looking forward to e-Courts 2016 in a couple of weeks; and not just because it’s in Las Vegas and likely to be sunnier and warmer than the December cold and gray at home. e-Courts and CTC conferences stand well on their own in that they are rich in information, networking and exposure to the latest technological innovations. The e-Courts experience, being court-centric, “lessons learned” as well as future planning makes it all that more relevant.

Beyond all that, for those of us fortunate enough to have attended a number of these conferences over the years, the cumulative “arc”, if you will, of the conferences provides an interesting view of where court technology has been and where it is headed. Each conference has its own special vibe or theme (sometimes more than one); and while there are definite similarities from conference to conference, the differences reflect the advances in the technology and their effects on courts.

118_e-courtsA glance at this year’s agenda provides immediate insight into this year’s theme. All past conferences, of course, have dealt with changing technology. This year, from Gary Marchant’s Keynote Address  through sessions with titles like Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change and Courts Disrupted, the pattern seems to be identifying and describing not only the technologies, but also discussing how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor. Because, while each new technology in of itself engenders change, the cumulative effect of the myriad of technological, societal, environmental, medical, pedagogical and other tsunami-like changes are altering the very face of the justice system.

One area I hope gets some discussion at and following the conference (while not necessarily under this label) is Complexity Theory. (Several years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog on Complexity Theory, also known as Chaos Theory. The editors mercifully elected not to publish it.) The particular point I made in that piece that should be considered is determining whether, in a very dynamic (that is, rapidly changing) environment, organizations can maneuver more effectively with one large, tightly integrated system, or with multiple smaller, integrated but interchangeable systems. In a broad sense, the answer, of course, is “It Depends.”

I hope there is some discussion of what it depends upon. For one thing, it depends on where the court is coming from. If the court has a tightly integrated system that handles CMS, DMS, work flow, judge’s work bench, public access, web portal, and so on, no doubt there will be real advantages with staying with that model. If, on the other hand, each (or at least many) different functions are handled by separate systems, the answer may be very different. In cases where there is NO current system for certain functions, like Content Management, Workflow, Judges’ Workbench, it’s a serious question whether to try to expand an existing system like a CMS or go with a Best of Breed system that can be elegantly integrated with the existing systems.

The Complexity, or Chaos Theory reference pertains to a characteristic with which we are all familiar but rarely articulate, and for which there is some truly incomprehensible math. Since I am not real sharp with math, here’s an example: If you want to pave an area, are you better off paving it as one section, or as a bunch of smaller sections fitted together (like squares in a sidewalk)? Or, should you have one large single-pane window, or a set of smaller window panes that together form a large viewing area?

While the single area may be easier overall to put in, there are a couple drawbacks. One is that you must be able to do it all at once. Another is that one crack, anywhere, destroys the integrity of the whole thing. Thus, when there is the prospect of variability (like heat changes winter to summer) or instability (like ground tremors) that can damage the window, builders go with the smaller, sectioned design.

I think there’s a real analogy here to the situation courts find themselves in as the gale winds of change blow over them. The Pyramids could withstand a lot of weather. But even they were made of individual building blocks. Yes, we’re all finding new functions we want to migrate onto electronic platforms. everyone should carefully consider not just what works best; but what model will best withstand the certainty of future uncertainty.

Bippity Boppity Boo – ECM, Workflow, and Magic

117_fairies
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable for magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

Walt Disney was a man way ahead of his time. Yes, long before anyone coined the term, ole’ Walt managed to embed a major plug for advanced Electronic Content Management with configurable workflow into his 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty. This feat was remarkable, even for Disney, considering that it would be decades before ECM would be invented.

Don’t just take my word for it; go watch the movie. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t use the terms “ECM”, “configurable”, or “workflow”. No, futurist that he was, Walt cleverly used code words and allegorical situations. But, when you see the scenes in which the Fairy Godmothers try to manage their “household” WITHOUT workflow (they use the code-word “magic” instead; but, clearly, it’s configurable workflow), things are a hot mess. Once they return to using workflow – ok; call it “magic” if you insist – everything settles right in and works like, ahem, a charm.

Yes, the dishes put themselves away. The cake not only puts itself together, but it’s quality is without compare. That doesn’t mean the ladies don’t create the cake. They decide what the result should be and fashion a masterpiece. But there’s no muss, no fuss, and absolutely no wasted effort, duplication, errors, or sloppy work. Materials, ingredients, pots and pans, utensils – all arrive just when needed, then clean themselves and put themselves away.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a practically perfect illustration of the power of ECM with workflow. For those who have implemented it, the thought of doing without it, however briefly, is no less terrifying than the thought of cooking and cleaning without magic was to the Fairy Godmothers. For those who have not implemented it, the purported benefits sound like, well, magic.

Consider: Not only did the cake get baked; but all the ancillary prep work and cleanup were automatically executed as fully integrated functions. Suppose holding a court hearing operated the same way. No gathering documents and files; that’s done. No arranging the materials for the judge; that’s done, too. The judge can hold the hearing, the output (order, hearing, warrant, whatever) can be generated with a flick of the wand — uh, or the proper command issued by the proper person (there’s a difference between this and magic?).

Afterwards, the files and documents can hie themselves to their proper next places, be it “storage” or the next step in the process; notices can generate themselves, and so on. Moreover, for those who like to keep track of what’s been done (that is, every court manager who ever lived) all the proper recordings of what has been done, who was involved, and so on will be made without even asking. Want the answer to  any type of statistical or historical question? Just ask.

Walt even foresaw one of the less obvious considerations with using magic; at least, less obvious until the first time you get burned. That is, the need for security. Fortunately for today’s courts, they’re not the first ones to try using magic in the heart of the woods with Maleficent on the prowl. Today’s systems come with robust security; and staff awareness and training are among the highest priorities of professional court managers. Courts have gotten very good about keeping their windows and chimneys shut, so to speak.

And then, there’s the final scene. As the Princess and The Prince dance into Happily Ever After, the Fairy Godmothers each change the color of the Princess’s gown to conform to their different fashion tastes. What a concept: Configurable display, to suit the needs, wants, and preferences of each particular user. Guess what? Your wish is granted.

Bippity Boppity Boo.

Happy Halloween

116_men-in-blackOne of the great motifs of the “Men in Black” movies is the human disguises used by aliens. A perfectly normal looking human turns out to be a sort of robot or exo-skin for some alien inside who is driving the apparatus. The allure of being able to wear a young, buff, fully-coifed humanoid exterior could in fact appeal to me; but that’s another story. For an alien, life in a human-suit draws a lot less attention. It’s like Halloween every day.

How many judges, court managers, court staff, and court records users live most of their lives in a snappy, graphic, touch-screen electronic world, only to have to deal with an ancient (if venerable) Court Management System (CMS) that is monochromatic, text-only, keyboard-driven and is based on codes that only the long-time insiders can decipher? It’s not that the information management function provided by the old CMS isn’t vital. It is. It’s just not very attractive, very accessible, very easy to use, or very extensible by modern standards. Worst of all, it almost certainly doesn’t handle ALL the information management functions; things like document management, E-Commerce, workflow, and so on.

One solution, of course, would be to replace that old CMS with a spiffy new one that has all the new bells and whistles. Frankly, that’s not a bad idea. However, that’s sometimes not practical. Barriers like cost, process change, technical support staff, to name a few, litter the real world of court managers.

Imagine if the old CMS could look like, act like, and (to some extent) change like a much more full-featured, modern system. Sort of like the alien deep inside the “Human” costume.

Integrating a legacy CMS with a full-featured E-Filing solution can provide this type of leverage. Here’s some of how it could work:

The E-Filing System can extract necessary data from the legacy CMS and store a copy in a much faster, much more accessible repository that is updated at regular intervals. Because the updating involves only changes, regular updating itself is fast.

When dealing with users – for viewing, for data entry, for communications – the E-Filing System provides the interface. Of course, incoming and outgoing documents comprise a large part of the changes anyway; so in fact what is happening is that the E-Filing System is updating the legacy CMS, saving redundant data entry while providing a much more elegant interface.

Likewise, users seeking to view court information, whether it be documents, CMS data such as the Case Register or Judgment Docket, things like attorney names and addresses, and so on, all can do so through the interface provided by the E-Filing System.

Much more extended uses, including E-Commerce (where users pay for court information), and secure E-Notification can also run off the E-Filing engine, all the while using back-end information from the CMS and in turn updating the CMS with the relevant transactional data and metadata.

Another major new “face” made possible by an integrated E-Filing System can be a customizable “Judicial View”. The E-Filing System can be configured to provide judges with views and access to exactly the information they need, whether on the bench, in chambers, or on the go. The E-Filing System will collect the variety of information from the disparate back-end systems in which the information resides, such as the court CMS, the Jail Log, the Court Docket, the Document Management System, and so on, and present it the way each judge chooses to have it presented.

Perhaps best of all, when the time comes to actually replace the legacy CMS, the impact on the end users can be considerably lessened. After all, what they will see probably won’t change much – because they will be used to dealing with the E-Filing System’s front end.

So, as everyone dresses up for Halloween, consider whether your old creature might not be a whole lot easier to deal with if it were “wearing” a full-featured E-Filing suit.

Happy Halloween.