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/

 

 

 

Justice Summit Reflection: From Case Management to Information Management

Experiencing June’s Justice Summit in Grand Rapids as usual felt like drinking from a fire hose.  Sadly, I have yet to master the trick of sitting in on three sessions at once, so will have to content myself with reviewing the materials and watching the videos of the sessions I missed when they are posted to the conference website.

IMG_1273I chose to follow the Case Management track, which Jim McMillan set up with his keynote on current developments in utilizing the plethora of data flowing from all forms of Electronic Content Management systems to enhance Case Management and Decision Support. From the fire hose I came away with, among other things, the following observation.

The justice system, often led by the courts, is approaching or at a “tipping point” in the management of information.  As I listened to how modern systems incorporate, integrate, and internally leverage the three traditional informational pillars – Case Metadata (Case Tracking Systems), Content (Document and Content Management Systems), and Process (workflow) – I realized that the improvements have gone beyond evolutionary to revolutionary.

Here’s what I mean.

The original electronic Case Management Systems (CMS) automated the systems previously kept in large files or books, typically called The Register of Actions, The Judgment Docket, and The Court Docket, or some similar terms.  Thus the DNA, or “lizard brain” of even the most sophisticated of early CMS were electronic “direct descendants” of the old, physical record. As such, they are of course “case-based”.

Likewise, Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) automated what had previously been physical case files. Again, they were direct descendants. So, for example, the electronic documents “of course” had “page numbers”, for instance.  And perhaps “Title Pages”. And, also of course, they tend to be very “document” and “file based”.

Workflow systems were a little different.  While their antecedent was written or institutional process information, generally they came into being either with or following implementation of EDMS and began with “smart” routing of documents through the process cycle. As such, they really were not different just in form (electronic versus paper based), but also in function, from their great, great grandparent, the Routing Slip. From the start they were able to take advantage of the electronic information contained in or accompanying the very documents they were tasked to route.

As time has gone by, Electronic Case Management, Electronic Content Management, and Electronic Workflow have become more tightly integrated and cross-leveraged. This trend has led to much of the almost incredible new capabilities of modern systems to impact

What I began to notice, from Jim’s Keynote through the various sessions on Case Management, is that the newest systems are starting to leave some of the old DNA behind. Instead, they start from ground zero and are designed to capture, store, utilize, disseminate, exchange, secure, manipulate, manage, and control information electronically from end to end, without resort to “lizard brain” limitations imposed by the physical limitations of previous ages. Concepts such as “case”, “file”, “person”, and so forth can be dynamically formed and utilized as needed, without imposing design or performance trade-offs necessary in bygone days. Furthermore, they are not so much “integrated” as they are reformed into a new, more complete, flexible, and robust whole.

What is emerging is a new type of system that is designed, from the ground up, to holistically handle all types of information – meta data, content, institutional knowledge and rules, security – without regard for system boundaries imposed by either information type or historical format limitations.

For those aficionados of Arthur C. Clark, what I think we are seeing is a Childhood’s End moment. The first wave of automated systems got us to where we are today. Now courts and the wider justice system are poised to move to a new level of Information Management, the successor to Case Management.

Mrs. Wormer’s Coat

In one of the numerous classic scenes from “Animal House”, future gynecologist to the stars Eric Stratten finds himself in his dorm room with the evil (and clueless) Dean Wormer’s very inebriated and forward wife.  Mindful of the lady’s need for some class, he chivalrously takes her elegant dress coat from her with great fanfare.  As her gaze turns elsewhere, the lad unceremoniously drops the coat on the floor behind him in a heap.  Her coat is not part of his agenda.

I have used this scene for decades to illustrate a very important and all too often overlooked principle of information technology:  Taking the “stuff” — data, documents, fur coats — up front is being noticed, so everyone tries to look good doing it.  Sort of like valet parking.  But, let’s face it, that’s only half the fun.  As important as it is to making the one handling the turnover look good, the owner of the “stuff” has a major stake in and ought to pay serious consideration to what happens to it once it’s changed hands.

69_mrs wormer

As implementations of court e-Filing solutions continue to proliferate and accelerate, this principle bears mention.  Historically, for reasons of business, of funding and of technical complexity, Case Management Systems (CMS), Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS), and e-Filing Systems (EFS) have often been developed and implemented separately.  Optimally, all would be eventually integrated in a rational and seamless (at least to the user) Electronic Content Management  (ECM) system.

Increasingly, courts are expecting more tightly integrated solutions “out of the box”.  Thus it sometimes comes as a surprise to find that some e-Filing systems, while doing a creditable job of handling front-end filing for both the fliers and the court, really have nowhere but static repositories with fairly limited functionality for the documents once they are received.  The result is that in order to actually use the documents, many of the difficulties, limitations and costs of paper documents not only remain, but often require duplicate and/or additional effort because of the introduction of another system.

For this reason, courts looking to acquire an e-Filing solution should look not only to the “capture”, but to the other legs of Electronic Content Management (ECM).[i]  If the court already has an ECM system, it should verify that the new e-Filing System will gracefully integrate with it.  If, on the other hand, there is really no robust ECM in place yet, the court should seek an e-Filing System that will include adequate ECM functionality “out of the box”.[ii]  The risk is that otherwise, by the time the court turns to full-fledged ECM,not only will many of the benefits of e-Filing not materialize; but also the workarounds and tradeoffs will be difficult, painful and expensive to eliminate.  A wrinkled coat indeed.

The floor will hold a coat.  A document repository will hold documents.  As we have stressed many times, for courts to make “Paper On Demand” cost-effective and leverage its many advantages, they must implement ECM with workflow.  Just having a place to put the electronic documents is not enough.


[i] In addition to Capture, Process, Access, Integrate, Measure, and Store.  See What the Heck IS ECM, posted August 12, 2013.

[ii] For example, TrueFiling, from ImageSoft, includes  limited use license for industry-leading ECM system OnBase.