To Wade In Or Jump?

“Big Bang” Or “Staged” Change and the “Open” Versus “Closed” Technology Ecosystem

Everyone who has ever approached a cool lake, stream, surf, or pool knows the conundrum: Enter the water slowly to get acclimated; or take the plunge and endure the shock. Is there a “correct” answer? Maybe; but the truth is, there are disadvantages to each.

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Courts face the same dilemma when it comes to embarking on change, which often includes the prospect of immersion in some new technology. As the desired end-result is to be “in the water” no matter the technique used to get wet, the decision may be reduced to a basic tactical question, “What’s the best way to get the new technology in place?”.

I confess that I may have taken that position on occasion. Yet a strong argument can be made that the decision on how to get there is more strategic than tactical. Consider this statement from a recent Forbes article:

Smart organizations learn quickly enough that if they place efficiency above a smooth organizational transformation, they may find their automation efforts fail to improve their companies’ performance.

My take on this observation is that in this era of constant disruption, the ability of an organization to handle change (including introduction of new technology) constitutes a strategic imperative; not just a tactical choice.


Download a white paper on the business case for a paper-on-demand court.

Given that many courts have a finite capacity to absorb change without breaking some really important things, the “Big Bang” approach may have the dual unfortunate consequences of failing to achieve the objective and unintentionally degrading (or missing an opportunity to improve) the court’s capacity to constructively embrace change.

Moreover, in some ways, these considerations permeate the current discussions in court technology circles regarding the relative advantages of “Open” versus “Closed” technology ecosystems.

At e-Courts 2016, in the session Good Public Policy for Innovation: Open vs. Closed Eco-System , California Court of Appeals Justice Terry Bruniers, Orange County Superior Court CEO Alan Carlson, and Santa Clara County Superior Court CIA  Robert Oyung discussed the plusses and minuses of each approach.

The “traditional”, which is to say, legacy, approach using a “Closed” ecosystem was, to a great degree, forced upon courts in the early days of court case and records management technology. Through the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s, there was little in the way of standards, the consequence of which was that a system developed for one court could rarely be ported to other courts. The overall large court and state court market was, in a business sense, not large enough to attract big players to develop systems that could be built once and resold (usually after expensive rewriting and customization) many times.

The panelists identified a number of advantages of the “Closed” model, based on their experiences: Ease of management, level of control, easier (and more local) governance, and the ability to “have it my way”. And, since many if not most larger courts and systems “grew up” with the “Closed” model, they are at least culturally used to it.

Nevertheless, the panel unanimously concluded that, on the whole, the “Open” ecosystem model today provides considerably greater advantages. Today’s technical landscape, in contrast to the relatively monolithic and sparsely populated landscape of decades past, provides courts with much greater choice and flexibility across CMS, DMS, e-filing, workflow, judicial workbench, cross-system integration, etc.

Panelists felt that “Open” ecosystems offer increased nimbleness and agility to deal with the rapidly changing environment in which courts must operate and plan today. They spoke of the increased power through availability of “Best of Breed” solutions.

And, in line with the strategic nature of the organization’s ability to adapt to and embrace change, they spoke of the advantages offered by partnering with vendors. One observation was that vendors in many ways are more public-facing, and may know and understand the court’s customers in ways that the court itself does not.

Whatever the choice – staged versus “Big Bang”; “Closed” ecosystem versus “Open” ecosystem – courts should base their decisions on more than what, in the moment, feels like the best tactical reason. The changes involve the body, heart, and soul of the court – so the decisions should be strategically aligned with the court’s longer term considerations.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball Part 2: Some Longer Range Implications of Universal Implementation of Paper-On-Demand Courts

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Survey questions from a group looking past the next few years, beyond when Paper On Demand becomes ubiquitous in courts and the justice community have prompted me to embark on a fearless foray into mid-term prognostication (twelve years out, to 2025).  Here are a few of the survey questions, along with my answers:

Question: In what ways can you see courts managing information in 2025 that even the most advanced courts don’t do now?

 Answer:

  •  Courts will handle only a small fraction of the number of documents they do today.  For example, why have a document for a Motion to Continue?  Or an Order to Continue?  People obligate themselves for great amounts of money; undertake extremely serious commitments, make the most solemn pledges, all without creating documents.  The lack of a document does not make a commitment (traditionally thought of as “signing”) less enforceable.  In the rare instances when something akin to today’s document (however rendered – electronically, physically, or whatever) is required, it will be handled as an exception.

True, certain processes may always produce documents; but those will be exceptional processes.  Generally, information (primary and metadata) will be handled in ways that maximize their integrity, security, and usability.   Always remember: ECM stands for Electronic Content Management.   A document is just one type of container or vehicle for content – one which I predict will decline in importance and use as electronic information management becomes more seamless.

  • Virtually all performance and memorialization of binding acts (today known as “signature”) will involve a hard biometric connection.  Many technologies are coming on line to make this capability seamless; it remains to be seen which ones will become standard.
  • A consequence of ubiquitous adoption of the technology will be standardization, which, together with “shrinking world” pressures,  will be enormously accelerate trans-jurisdictional intercourse.  These trends will result in a level of trans-jurisdictional business standards (court rules and procedural law) approaching if not exceeding that of the federal courts.   

Question: Can you see any societal implications of courts using “paperless” technology as much as we think they will in 2025?

 Answer:

  •  Courts will no longer be able to remain as remote as they have historically been, because they will be connected to the rest of government and society at a much deeper and broader level.  This fact will create a major identity crisis for the judicial branch.
  • Many court actions will approach “real time” effectiveness, with both positive and negative consequences.  An obvious example is an arrest warrant for failure to appear being executed on a defendant who is passing through court security on his way to his hearing, but who is held up because of the long line at the door.

Question: Can you see necessary changes to the court’s physical plant to accommodate “paperless courts”?

Answer:

  • The obvious include less storage and elimination of need to take physical document transport into account in facility design and placement.
  • Coupled with and partially enabled by the migration to Paper On Demand,  revolutionization of jurisdictional and functional boundaries, vast preference for virtual/remote communications resulting in need for far fewer physical courts, even greater reduction in physical trips to courts, and outsourcing and/or centralization of a very large portion of court work (because electronic documents need not be processed locally), will result in  greatly reduced need for physical courts in many locations and reduced size and radically different configuration for the rest.
  • Alternative input mechanisms such as voice, motion, and – most dramatically in 12 years – brain/machine interface (BMI), together with wearable (Google Glass and much more effective successors) or direct retinal receptors will greatly alter the need for and configuration of desktop workstations.  Few people will still be working with either keyboards or monitors.

I included only a couple of examples for each question; but that hopefully will be enough to provoke some reactions.  Others will have their own answers; some, no doubt, exactly opposite my own.  That’s one of the things that makes this type of exercise fun.  The other thing, of course, is that no one can prove that you’re wrong (at least, not yet).

“You Can Sit Here in the Waiting Room; or You Can Wait in the Sitting Room.”

From Nick Danger, Third Eye, by Firesign Theater

Note:  This blog – the fifth installment in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda” as they relate to court document management – deals with the “W” in Tim Wood: Waiting.

Calling out the Waste of Waiting in courts seems like shooting fish in a barrel: Where is the challenge? We know we make people wait; indeed, courts often make people wait to wait.  We’ve got waiting rooms, sitting rooms, court rooms, hallways, jury assembly rooms, ad infinitum.  True, Disneyland does the same thing; but it all seems so much more fun there. 

That Waiting is a Waste for those who are doing the waiting is pretty obvious.  But that’s not why Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System classify Waiting as one of the Seven Wastes.  Not to be callous about it, but if an organization can get away with making other people wait AT NO COST TO THE ORGANIZATION, well, what’s the harm?

Of course, from a customer service point of view, the answer is “Plenty”.  Courts have surpassed Motor Vehicle Departments as most notorious for waiting.  Still, that is not the primary reason why Waiting is one of the Seven.

Quite apart from people (the frittering of whose time waiting is indeed an enormous Waste), whenever things that should be processed are not being processed, Waste occurs.  In the manufacturing world, Waste occurs whenever parts or raw materials to be assembled/processed/used, etc.  are not being processed.  In the court document management world, any document, file or matter that is Waiting for action generates Waste.  Court examples include documents awaiting signature; filings that trigger the need to schedule a matter; matters requiring review and/or approval, matters requiring multi-step preparation, and so on. 

One big Waste is Time –which really IS Money – which is why the most carefully watched court performance metrics are the case aging statistics.  Other significant, if less obvious, wastes include storage space for piles of documents and files, and unavailability of the documents and files for other processes (causing MORE waiting), to name just two.  Both of these, as it happens, can be greatly ameliorated through use of Electronic Content Management (ECM). 

The largest cause of this type of Waiting generally results from some form of process discontinuity: Either the needed document or file is not available to a process in a timely manner; or the document or file, even though ready for processing, is not forwarded to the next action point in a timely manner.  An associated source of Waiting Waste occurs when the document or file falls through the cracks and is either misrouted or lost at the bottom of someone’s out box.

While not as obvious as many other cost drivers, the amount of time things spend waiting for the next activity or action is extremely significant.  It’s why courts that implement ECM with workflow often find that process improvement is the largest driver of savings and efficiency in operations.  The reason, of course, is that the main purpose of  configurable workflow is to seamlessly and instantly route things that are ready for processing to exactly who and where they need to be, at exactly the right time.  As a bonus, the system will keep track of any subsequent “Waiting” and will give timely feedback to the person responsible for the activity and/or process.

In short, configurable workflow is specifically targeted at the Waste of Waiting in court document management.  When utilized with ECM and electronic signature, it squeezes out Waiting, and thus Waste.  As a result, courts that have implemented ECM with configurable workflow typically find that the improvements and cost savings from process efficiencies alone exceed whatever they had expected.

A major reason is the attendant elimination of lots and lots of Waiting Waste.

 

Going Through the Motions

Note:  This blog, the fourth installment  in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda” as they related to court document management, deals with the “M” in Tim Wood: Motion. 

“The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In the manufacturing context, Motion refers to human bodily movement—turning, lifting, reaching, getting up and going somewhere, and so on.  In the court document management context, it means EXACTLY THE SAME THING.

So why is “Motion” a Waste?  My brother, an engineer for a vehicle manufacturing company, tells a story that well illustrates the point.  When line production changes from one type of vehicle to another, the setup of the assembly line stations must also be changed.  While of no direct value to the end customer, the change is necessary for the line is to produce more than one type of vehicle.  Thus, the more time it takes to make the change, called “setup”, the more “waste”; because the changeover produces nothing that a customer would pay for.

This company’s setup time was about four hours.  They’d heard that their Asian competitor claimed it was accomplishing essentially the same setup in less than half an hour.  The obvious conclusion was that the competitor was lying and was in fact illegally dumping  its vehicles on the American market at a loss.

To prove their case, the company decided to video and time their entire setup process, to demonstrate the physical impossibility of doing it any faster.  Here is the essence of this video demonstration:

1.  The last vehicle of the “old” run is processed.  Once done, the manager in charge of the experiment starts the clock.

2.  The first station operator says, “Where is my Work Order?”  The manager stops the clock while the Work Order is located.  The clock is then re-started.

3.  The operator says, “I need the tool set for the new pieces”.  Again, the manager stops the clock while the appropriate tools are located and brought to the station.  The clock is once again re-started.

And so on.

The demonstration took all afternoon.  However, the total recorded elapsed time was just 45 minutes.

The 45 minutes were the “value-adding” time.  The rest of the afternoon’s time and activities were pure waste.  

The funny thing— in a Dilbert sort of way— was that, according to my brother, initially some of the managers didn’t get it.   Stopping the clock seemed to them perfectly reasonable; and using the recorded time (and ignoring the unrecorded time) made perfect sense. 

Imagine doing the same type of thing with a court docket.   Suppose we evaluated the time and effort, but as soon as the clerk has to reach for the next file and hand it to the judge, we stop the clock.  Every time the clerk or judge has to search through a stack of documents or files, we stop the clock.  Every time someone has to get a document or file, we stop the clock.  Doing this, we can easily cram 45 minutes of value-added court processing into an entire morning.

The Toyota Manufacturing System[i] mandates aggressively identifying ALL motion, and just as aggressively designing workflow using available technology not just to streamline, but to eliminate as much motion as possible.  One of the most powerful— and often overlooked in initial planning—potential benefits for courts of ECM with configurable workflow is to eliminate vast amounts of motion.

Give it a try: Watch any process in your court, and take note anytime anyone moves to get a document or file, moves a document or file, or moves to be in position to do something with a document or file.  Then ask yourself :

1) Why did the person move; and

2) How many times does the person do that every day?

My guess is that after doing this drill a few times, you’ll start to understand what makes Motion one of Taiichi Ohno’s wastes.


[i] See previous posts

Finished Inventory and Why You Don’t Want It

Note:  This blog is the third in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda”.

In the previous post, The Costco Conundrum – Supply Inventory, we considered the impact of front-end inventory (things waiting to be processed); and we examined how Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with configurable workflow can eliminate what the Toyota production System calls “The root of all evil” – inventory – at the front end of court processes that use files and documents. 

“Finished” inventory is no less a target for management responsibility for eliminating waste (Muda in the Toyota Production System (TPS).  (See Introduction to Waste.)  Some of the same psychology applies.  It sure seems more efficient to keep lots of finished inventory on hand and then move it in large batches.  And it sure seems like you’d want inventory on hand in case a buyer came along.  As it turns out, once again, the results are counter intuitive.

When the Detroit auto executives made the visit described in The Costco Conundrum, in addition to seeing that parts and supplies were arriving at assembly stations only as needed, they were also shocked to see a major difference at the end of the assembly line.  In Detroit, finished vehicles rolled off the assembly line into a massive parking lot, where they sat until they were shipped.  The cars awaiting shipment constituted “Finished Inventory”.   The lot – and the management of the cars on it – consumed considerable resources (cost). 

At Toyota, vehicles were not produced until Toyota knew where they were going to be shipped.   Each vehicle was immediately dispatched as it rolled off the line.  There was no storage lot, and thus no overhead, for Finished Inventory.  And, when dealers or direct buyers got their cars, they were truly brand new, not having sat on a lot at the factory for days, weeks, or months.  (Of course, Toyota had a lot fewer vehicles to unload at the end of the year, so their discounts were not as good as Detroit’s, since they didn’t have to dispose of unsold product.)  The savings resulted in considerably less overhead cost per vehicle, which allowed lower sales prices to customers than Detroit could offer.

Consider how these same forces come in to play with “processed” files and documents in the court.  After they are processed, they are stacked into outgoing piles (“Finished” Inventory), where they await transport to the next step of processing.  Thus, the first item processed does not go out until the last item in the batch is completed.  In some cases, events will have moved ahead so that the previous document processing is rendered moot or, even worse, has to be “undone” and redone.  Think about a Warrant for Failure to Appear, signed by a judge, which waits for a few days in an out-box, during which time the subject of the warrant comes in to court.

Once again, ECM with configurable workflow can eliminate this Finished Inventory.   The processed electronic document or file is instantly routed to the next processing point (or points; as more than one thing can happen at the same time) based on the business rules imbedded in the workflow.  There need not be any “latency” – when the judge e-signs the first document, it can go on its way without waiting for the rest of the documents to be signed. 

By eliminating inventory, Toyota dramatically reduced its costs AND improved its quality.  Ancillary benefits included greatly enhanced flexibility in the face of change and faster fulfillment of customer orders and requests.  ECM with configurable workflow provides the means for courts to achieve a similar level of benefits.  Indeed, while inventory reduction is rarely expressed as part of the initial business case for ECM, it often turns out to be one of the areas of greatest positive impact on operations and cost.

 

 

TIM WOOD: T is for Transportation

Note:  This blog is the first in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda”.

 A favorite exercise to test your memory is to recite the names of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves: You know, Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, … ah; well; you know them, right?  (I can usually get five or six of them.)  How about Santa’s Reindeer?  Or the nine (or is it eight now?) Planets?

 How disappointing, then, if you can’t remember the Seven Wastes of Muda. My favorite pneumonic for them is Tim Wood, or TIMWOOD:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over Processing
  • Over Production
  • Defects

While you may have trouble remembering their names, courts work with them every day.

 The Toyota Production System defined “Value” as “Something a customer is willing to pay for”.  Almost axiomatically, then, the definition for Waste is, “would somebody pay for this activity?”.   If the answer is not “Yes”, then the activity is waste in that, if the outcome/product can be produced without it, the customer will not miss it.  Would a litigant miss judicial impartiality, procedural fairness, or legal correctness in a court determination?  Absolutely.  Would that same litigant care whether a paper file was retrieved from a central file storage, carried to the judge (perhaps even in a different building), then returned (timely and accurately) to file storage?  No.  While access to the file and documents may be necessary to an appropriate consideration of a matter, any effort or expense beyond what is minimally necessary is waste. 

 Some studies claim that over ninety percent of an organization’s work is Waste, when the above descriptions are applied.  While there might be some quibble about the actual figures in courts, I doubt the percentage is not pretty high, making the strategic importance of the management effort to eliminate waste (muda in the Toyota Production System) paramount.  And muda in courts invariably and rapidly leads to the need to develop and implement a robust Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. 

 Consider the Waste of Transportation in the above example.  Of course there is the cost of staff labor to move hard copy files and documents from place to place.  Also, the court then has the choice of which OTHER waste it prefers: Should it incur Waiting, while the transportation is in progress?  Or, would it be better to transport the materials in advance, thereby creating work-in-progress Inventory (stacks of documents and files waiting to be processed)?  And, considering that it’s probably the practice to send anything that might be needed, more will go than is ever used (Overproduction).

 Here we see how ECM can eliminate huge pools of “waste”.  In just the relatively simplistic Transportation category, ECM can save both the staff cost in transport AND the related waste of either Waiting, as when a judge needs a file unexpectedly during a hearing; or Inventory, as where many files are pulled and transported, often well in advance.

 By implementing ECM with appropriate workflow, routine document and file transportation can be almost, if not completely, controlled and accomplished using configurable workflow based on the court’s rules and practices.  Non-routine transportation (again, consider the judge on the bench who needs another file) can be accomplished in seconds (eliminating Waiting).  Furthermore, staff need not be interrupted and tasked with fetching (in TPS called Muri: Overburdening).

 There are many ways, in courts, to attack and eliminate the waste of Transportation.   Remote video hearings and location of a court in close proximity to frequent participants (juvenile hearings at a Juvenile Center, for instance) are a few non-document centric examples (although implementing them gives even greater rise to the need for ECM).  Nevertheless, when seeking to minimize waste in court processes (Muda), Transportation, considered in the context of the potential of ECM, presents a huge area of opportunity.

When Reasonably Accessible is Practically Inaccessible: Digital Stores of Public Records

Many records, including a vast proportion of court records, are “public” records, and must be maintained and made available for reasonable public inspection.  As we see in many aspects of society today, the definition of “reasonable” continues to shift.

Recently the Encyclopedia Britannica announced it will no longer produce a printed edition.  Though I well understand the business reasons behind the decision, I confess to feeling pangs of nostalgia, remembering the innumerable times I went to it over the years, from grade school through college, law school, grad school, and in my professional life.

Encyclopedia Britannica is not going away.  The publisher denies that the end of printing hard bound volumes is due to Google or Wikipedia.  No; the reason is that most users find the digital version of Britannica much more powerful, more current, and easier to use.  And the primary reason is: Full Text Search.  Despite the Encyclopedia Britannica having arguably the best indexing system ever devised for the printed work, Full Text Search provides faster, more direct, and more complete access to document information.

Return to the subject of public records and the changing standards of what constitutes “reasonable accessibility”.  Suppose a court made its records accessible like this:  The records are stored on an island 500 miles off the coast.  There is no airstrip, and no harbor for access.  The records are dropped onto the island by parachute.  To view them, one has to paddle out, and sort through the boxes to find the desired document.  While technically “public”, for all practical purposes the records remain completely inaccessible.

Sound extreme?  Granted, but it  illustrates the principle of “practical inaccessibility”; even though it may be theoretically possible to find information in a record, as a practical matter the information remains completely inaccessible.  If “practical inaccessibility” constitutes failure to comply with requirements for making records public — and recent rulings and trends indicate that is becoming the rule — then the days of paper-based, hard copy court files are numbered.

Already, rules and case law concerning discovery in litigation are well down that path.   Making records available only in hard copy, or even in non-searchable electronic format, does not comply with the discovery requirements if the records can be made available in searchable format.

Think Sarbanes/Oxley.  Can a business shield itself from practical disclosure by printing hard copies and deleting the work copy?   It’s not a long walk to the proposition that rendering documents that at one time were searchable to be no longer easily searchable (say, for example, printing out e-filed documents, then printing them and discarding the electronic, searchable version) would be destroying evidence.

And where the private sector rules are today, public records laws cannot be far behind.  At first we can expect that only the most interesting and valuable public records would be affected.   Oh; by the way: court records are arguably both the most interesting AND the most valuable of all public records.  Just ask the news media.

If you want to avoid these issues, then best practice for Courts is to go digital and stay digital.  If you can’t avoid receiving paper, then turn it into digital content as close to the reception point as possible.  For the paper lovers in the group, printed copies can be provided on demand.  This is what we refer to as the “paper-on- demand court”.

If Courts don’t get out in front of the rule and policy considerations surrounding electronic public records, someone else is liable to do it to for them.

Helpful Hints to Get Judges to Use (and Like) ECM in Courts

I recently read Ken Follett’s historical novel A Dangerous Fortune, about English bankers in the late 1900’s.  Follett’s novels are always well researched and full of really cool contemporary technology. 

A few days ago, while discussing judicial use of digital documents with a judge, I observed that many judges are deeply concerned that they cannot easily navigate and use digital documents and files.  Interestingly, their areas of concern — finding the correct document(s), grouping needed documents together, finding information within documents, opening and reading multiple documents simultaneously and switching between them, making notes, etc., — can  be handled better using digital documents within an effective ECM system than by using hard copy files and documents.  The judge laughed, and commented that she drives a car with so many technological features that she doesn’t even know what half of them are, much less how to use them.  Her analogy hit the nail on the head:  A lot of judges simply do not know what today’s ECM systems can let them do.

As we continued talking, I recalled something from the Follett novel.  The difference between the technology being available and people being able to use it has always and probably will always exist.  In A Dangerous Fortune, a young banker, in the aftermath of an embarrassing error by his boss involving a mislaid letter, conceives of and implements a radical new solution:  He takes two boxes, marks one “IN” and the other “OUT”, and places them side by side on his boss’s desk.  The point being, up until then, the technology to order things existed; but no one had figured it out.

The technology of paper documents — arranging them in files; left-side/right-side documents, file tabs, case numbers, color coding, sticky notes, tickler systems — these uses of the “paper” technology were not developed over night; they evolved over a long period.  Eventually, what we use becomes not only familiar, but necessary.  You can bet that at the bank, within a year, no one could operate without IN/OUT boxes.

In the early days of electronic documents, navigation and manipulation presented formidable challenges.  But electronic documents have been around for over fifty years –TWO GENERATIONS.  In the beginning, things as “obvious” as IN/OUT boxes were unknown.  But today, those decades of experience, together with more powerful technology, as well as dedicated design involving judges as core participants, have enabled implementation of electronic document interfaces for judges that are better than paper.  What remains is to show it to them.

Judges and Doctors share a somewhat unique and sometimes counter-productive trait. They are expected by society to know everything, and therefore they find it difficult to be put in situations where they are not the experts.  This keeps them from using technology, and it sometimes keeps them from getting trained.  Zen Buddhism has a term called Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind”.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.

Courts moving to ECM are well advised to find out, from the most techno-adverse judges, what capabilities and features are most important to what they do with files and documents.  And here’s a hint (as if you didn’t already know it):  They don’t really know how to tell you.  Do yourself a favor and utilize qualified Business Analysts who are experienced in helping judges articulate what they don’t know they know.

Another hint:  Arrange for the judges to SEE how a well-designed and implemented ECM system will be easier and more powerful for them to use, because as much as you talk about it, they will not believe it until they see it. Then provide top-notch training, because they won’t REALLY believe it until they DO it.