Still Want Those Printers? Ask Benjamin the Donkey

“Benjamin the donkey… would say … that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would rather have no tail and no flies.”

From Animal Farm, by George Orwell

A friend complained to me about the succession of problems with her printer. It was when she started telling me how important her printer was to her that I began to reflect on the insightful, if cynical, observation by Orwell’s donkey. Who knew he was a systems analyst?

When dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a young systems analyst, courts were just learning that unless printers were made readily available, users simply would not use them as intended. Eventually, courts figured out that if people had the choice of electronically creating their output, followed by having to leave their desks to go to a printer down the hall to retrieve it, they’d simply write it out or type it instead. Thus court management (reluctantly, in view of the price) purchased and installed a lot more printers because of the strategic importance of getting everyone to maximize use of the systems.

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Now, every tech support person knows that printers, however necessary, are the Devil’s work. Trouble tickets regarding printers are probably more frequent and more frustrating than just about any other kind. But, thank heavens everyone has those printers.

Because they need those printers for… for… Well, yes, there are some things they need the printers for; but they sure aren’t the same things they needed them for 20, ten, or even five years ago. The fact is that managing content electronically changes both the tactical and strategic importance of printers. Courts should give some attention to both.

Tactically, it’s almost like Benjamin gets his wish for no more flies. Or at least a lot fewer of them. Thus, every printer acquisition and placement should be made in view of the need to print in a court with fully implemented Electronic Content Management (ECM). Analysis will probably show need for fewer, less powerful (at least locally), and less expensive printers. Acquisition and maintenance cost of printers should be expected to drop.

Strategically, the objective should be to have the minimum possible distribution of printers. Simply stated, minimizing the amount of paper documents goes a long way toward maximizing the effectiveness of ECM. In instances where printing a document may appear to be a better, faster, easier or more efficient, the court should stop and more carefully analyze the situation.

Pete Kiefer, of Maricopa County Superior Court and leader of NACM’s Court Futures project, reminds me that that in cases such as this, application of The Five Why’s would be in order: Asking iterative questions to get to the root reason(s) for the perceived situation. For a first iteration I suggest, “What causes printing a document to seem a better solution in this case?” Almost always, upon consideration of all factors, printing paper documents turns out more expensive, less efficient and disruptive to the overall process.

Whether, in the face of a 95% plus drop in the fly population, Benjamin (curmudgeonly cuss that he was) would actually have had his tail bobbed, one will never know. If he resisted for fashion reasons, absent other consequences he could be given a pass. But if it markedly impacted his personal hygiene, bring on the clippers. Likewise, if the only consideration with where and how to use printers were people’s comfort with paper, so be it. But, really, the stakes are much more strategic.

 

 

 

 

 

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course…Unless It’s an Electronic Document

When the locomotive first appeared, and for some time thereafter, it was commonly called “The Iron Horse.” The use of “horse” certainly helped cast the new technology in terms people who had grown up in a horse-drawn society could understand.

85_horseHowever, while locomotives performed functions once performed by horses, they were not, in any sense, mechanical horses. To the extent the terminology suggested that the new machines were simply faster, stronger, more efficient versions of horses, that terminology interfered with clear understanding of the transition and its future implications.

I wonder if the domain of content management is not currently experiencing a similar sort of language-induced interference with clarity of vision. Specifically, I am more and more seeing the term “Electronic Document” in about the same way as I see the term Iron Horse. Why would one try to make a locomotive look, act or operate like a horse? Why would one try to make electronically managed information look, act or operate like a piece of paper?

I recognize the obvious reasons: People are used to it; existing laws, procedures, standards, practices, etc. are built around it; and there is a huge, existing infrastructure and legacy. OK, but we’re rapidly working our way through and past those challenges. The fact is, those are transition considerations, not fundamental aspects of content management.

As Electronic Content Management (ECM) with configurable workflow rapidly permeates society in general, and courts in particular, it is becoming clear that we are in a major transitional period when it comes to documents. Documents are not simply being transitioned from paper to electronic form. More accurately, and far more important and profound, documents are being “unbundled.”

For those not familiar with the term, unbundling in a process sense refers to separating previously connected services, products or processes. Paper documents historically bundle numerous separate, although often related, functions. A few of these include:

  • Carrying information –– For example, a pleading or a grocery list.
  • Preserving information –– For example, a judgment, a receipt or a historical account.
  • Triggering action — For example, a notice or an order for action.
  • Acting as a token –– For example, a plane ticket, a Release Order or a Warrant.
  • Possessing an existential value –– For example, a $100 dollar bill, an original will (because of its direct physical link to the decedent) or an original manuscript (because of its direct link to the author and its historicity).

In the new ECM world, best practices now “decouple” information from documents. Documents, whether paper or electronic, are no longer essential to carrying information, preserving information or triggering action. Rather, well-designed ECM with configurable workflow works far better, with far greater control, at far less cost.

Creating electronic versions of documents ancillary to, or after, these processes is totally feasible; and most, if not all current systems can do it. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that such artificial documents, whether rendered on paper or maintained electronically, are simply superfluous. The image of a horse attached to the front of a locomotive may look impressive, but it doesn’t do a thing to improve the locomotive’s operation.

While many documents are rendered unnecessary through ECM with workflow, some still serve other purposes. Despite smartphone and wearable technology that can render most tickets unnecessary, there will be need for tokens for a long time. And, some documents will always have an existential value.

Nevertheless, just because this is so does NOT mean that the old rules, practices and infrastructure relating to documents in general should be merely adapted to assume that previously paper documents may now be electronic. Just because we still have horse shows, riding clinics, and cowboys does not mean that every city street still needs hitching posts and water troughs.

From here on out, courts will be managing content, not documents per-se, electronic or paper. The Post-Document era is upon us.

Steps to Transition Courts to eFiling

Question: How do you eat an elephant?  Answer: One bite at a time.  When it comes to courts considering which “bite” to take first when moving to E-Filing systems, many choices present themselves.  Each choice has plusses and minuses; and different courts have done it different ways, proving that there is no single path to success.  Today I want to discuss some of the reasons a court might want to consider starting with what might seem like a big bite: Criminal.

Everyone who has ever raised a teenager recognizes the phrase that begins with “Mom, where is my [fill in the blank]?”  And Mom is expected to know exactly where it is; and be able to produce it instantly.

Courts often feel they are playing the “Mom” role in the Criminal Justice “family”.  They get the “stuff” from all directions – fingerprint documentation from booking agencies; custody and scheduling documents from release offices; transport requests and notifications from jails; pleadings from prosecutors and defense attorneys.  And just like Mom, the court is expected to take care of it.  Eventually, like Mom, the court may be inclined to put its foot down and insist that the “kids” hang their stuff up themselves.  Welcome to E-Filing.

In the non-criminal area, there are a myriad of different participants; and in many instances there is no way to know before hand who will be involved.  Moreover, the participants themselves may only deal with the particular court one time; or they may deal with multiple courts, or both.  This diversity can be managed through a solid E-Filing system with the appropriate capabilities; but there is no getting around the fact that the participants are diverse.  It is a different challenge for “Mom” to deal with all the occasional visitors.

The criminal justice community, though, is mainly the family.  Generally most of the interaction is with the same set of prosecutors, release offices, jails, indigent defense providers, community corrections, and so on.  This situation makes the criminal area an attractive candidate for E-Filing implementation.  Since the participants are known to “Mom”, she can focus her powers of persuasion to involve them in planning, training, and implementation.  Moreover, a huge part of criminal case processing is highly standardized already.

If the court has already implemented ECM, two other factors militate toward a compelling case for criminal case E-Filing.

First, one of the major up-front challenges in E-Filing preparation is identification of the incoming documents – what they are, where they come from, what to do with them.  Incoming document types will have already been identified and attached to workflow as part of the ECM implementation.

Second, the close business ties, together with a great degree of political and funding overlap, put the rest of the “family” in a good position to share the overall costs with the court.  For those with no enterprise content management (ECM) or workflow in place, it represents an opportunity to leverage the infrastructure investment the court has already made to implement their own.  Likewise, extending E-Filing “back”, into the siblings’ operations, should receive serious consideration.  For example, law enforcement could “E-File” with the prosecutor, who E-Files with the court.

One of the lessons courts have learned is that that E-Filing implementation success is greatly enhanced by making E-Filing mandatory.   In many instances, courts find themselves with somewhat more “parental” leverage with their close criminal justice system partners, thereby making universal E-Filing easier to achieve.

All of this would make “Mom’s” life a lot easier.  And, the “kids” might find they actually like living in cleaner rooms for a change.