The Coming Wave – Preparing for Big Data

For those who aren’t sitting around contemplating the nature, trajectory, and implications of Big Data and Deep Learning, know that you are not alone. I’m pretty sure they haven’t yet hit the top of the cocktail circuit or social media current topics listings.

Which in some respects is interesting; because we are currently becoming immersed in them at about the same rate as if we were sitting in a hot tub being filled by a fire hose. You probably have heard of  Artificial Intelligence, driverless vehicles, Siri/Cortana/Alexa, Amazon Echo, IBM’s Watson, and so forth. The list, believe me, is way longer than almost anyone can imagine; and it’s growing exponentially.

Leave aside for now the technology that makes these applications possible. Their raw fuel is data, and lots of it. REALLY lots of it; hence the term “Big Data”.

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Courts receive, process, generate, communicate, and store data; and for decades automated data systems have helped courts to manage their data. Now, both the volume and the diversity of court data is exploding. Enough to be of great interest those seeking to utilize systems reliant on Big Data and Deep Learning technologies. Body camera imagery, virtual reality presentations, social media – these are just a few of the data sources TODAY. And as Pink Floyd pointed out, every day the paperboy brings more.


Click here to find out how you can effectively manage the data that is coming rapidly into your court.


Consider two ways of “communicating” what’s happening in a baseball game: A telegraph system using Morse Code, on the one hand; and TV with video, audio, imbedded windows, streaming information banners, one-click access to ancillary documents, videos, data bases, etc. Both pass along information. But the volume, speed, level, and depth are literally a universe apart.

Now, one could say, and it would be true, that even getting the Morse Code feed on a baseball game can be interesting, exciting, and informative. However, consider the same question regarding operation of a motor vehicle. Absent access to the massive amount of data, deep learning, and real-time data capture capabilities, operating a vehicle without active human direction isn’t just a different type of experience; it isn’t possible.

And that’s the level of the volume of data and information headed at the courts right now.

While most courts have taken, or at least are considering, ways to automate or improve their automation of their information processing and management, current and future scalability may not be receiving the attention needed. Speeding up both the coding and transmission of a Morse Code signal may increase how detailed a description  of the ball game can provided; but at its absolute best it will transmit only a small fraction of the “data” – and hence the information – surrounding the game.

More and more, courts are running up against similar IT limits. Legacy (and legacy-style) Case Management, Document Management, and E-Filing systems struggle just to capture all the data being thrown at them. Integrating it all, except in the most rudimentary fashion, much less providing the level of information to users, such as judges, police officers, and the public, that they have come to expect in today’s world, is too often well beyond their capabilities.

Systems that cannot smoothly capture, integrate, deliver, and manage late 20th Century and early 21st Century volumes and types of data and information have no prayer of scaling to the levels we are facing now and in the very short term future. In five to ten years, they may border on being entirely useless.

Thus, notwithstanding the indisputable immediate benefits technology currently offers courts,  the real argument for courts to implement the most robust, well-architected, scalable, integrated, configurable systems possible is that they have to have it already in place in order to have any chance of fulfilling their mission as the coming tidal wave of data and information hits the shore.

Thinking Digitally

It takes all types to make a world, so perhaps there are people who actually appreciate and/or read the popups that read something like

“By checking this box I acknowledge I have read and agree to the User Agreement…” [consisting of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of virtual pages of indecipherable gobbeldy-gook].

114_thinking-digitallyOf course, in order to consummate the transaction, you have no choice – you HAVE to check the box. Nevertheless, courts routinely hold that users who check the box have thereby bound themselves to the substance of the said gobbeldy-gook.

I bring up this example to pose a question: Is that which binds the user a document; or is it a data point, meta or otherwise?

I don’t raise this question to be churlish or legalistic; but rather to point out an increasing and accelerating trend towards the evolution, if you will, of what were formerly regarded as “documents” into pure “data”. The transition seems to be a continuum. First, paper documents were converted to electronic form and stored, with added meta-data. Rapidly, the meta-data itself became first useful, then essential, and (in some cases) of greater significance and greater accessibility than the content of the document.

The move to “born electronic” documents moves everything further along the continuum. The distinction between “content” and “meta-data” has gotten real blurry, in case you haven’t noticed.

In fact, more and more, “forms” are replacing “documents”. The form’s actual IDENTITY – what it IS-  (A Motion for a Continuance? A Change of Attorney?) has become meta-data. There is no verbiage; only identification of the transaction type and the relationships.

Among the many implications of this evolution – which is either approaching or has hit the elbow of the asymptotic curve – is that “Records Management” in the historical sense no longer has much relevance. Concepts related to paper and physical files provide little guidance and much confusion when applied to data. Just one example: In the world of paper and physical files, no one asks how many places or in how many documents the name of the defendant’s attorney is stored. In the digital world, the name of the defendant’s attorney may not actually appear in any record or data on any of her cases. Instead, there will be pointers to a central file with all the attorneys’ names. What happens to the old case records when the attorney gets married?

I bring this up not because I believe problems to be pervasive or difficult to surmount; but because it sure seems to me that the entire subject requires a way of thinking completely different from the old ways. Someone probably has a better term, for now, I’ll call it “Thinking Digitally”.

Courts that are thinking digitally will be wanting to “data-tize” what used to be files and documents as quickly and deeply as possible. Essential tools include robust ECM including E-Filing and Workflow, integrated at the data level with Case Management Systems, with data-level intersystem communications among business partners. Without these tools, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can manage “records” at the data level. Because, let’s face it, at the atomic level, the data is a bunch of ones and zeros. Without knowing where it came from, how it was created, how it was processed, when it was “approved” (“By checking this box’ I agree…”), and so on, you CAN’T know what to do with it or how to manage it. Think of the marrying attorney. Multiply that situation by a zillion.

You can bet that Microsoft keeps track of when you checked the box; and you can also bet that they don’t keep a copy of their “Agreement” for everyone who checks the box. Developing the rules, processes, and procedures for today and tomorrow’s records requires thinking digitally about ALL information, whether it is or previously has been contained in a document.

 

Black Belt: Learning to Learn

113_black-beltThe term “Martial Arts” may seem strange to those who have never pursued them. To those who have, however, the term makes perfect sense. Karate, judo, tai-chi, kung-fu, and myriad others, are indeed arts, requiring years of dedicated study and practice to master.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit at the front end. Beginners can pick up the rudiments of self-defense in a relatively short order. Indeed, a lot of folks look no further, in the same way that tourists can pick up enough of a foreign language to get by on a vacation, although they cannot be said to “speak the language”. And, there are a lot of benefits that accrue at the outset: improved fitness, enhanced self-awareness, increased self-confidence, and so on.

Most of those reasons are why people take up a martial art in the first place. When they start, even achieving Green Belt status seems almost impossibly remote. Mastery requires internalizing a complex and non-intuitive set of reflexes that permeate every action and every thought. And there’s just no way to do that without investing a lot of time and effort. Thus, to novices (White Belts), the Green Belts appear to be outstanding, the Brown Belts appear to be perfect practitioners; and the Black Belts are practically gods.

So, here’s a bit of a surprise: A First Degree Black Belt, achieved after years of effort, does not mean that the person has learned all are there is to know. Yes, he or she has become highly proficient, both in the Martial Art and in life in most aspects of life in general. But achievement of First Degree Black Belt status means, within the Martial Arts community, that the recipient is finally qualified and ready to begin learning.

In that regard, the recent announcement that Macomb County, Michigan Circuit Court now processes more documents through its E-Filing System than are received in paper format caused me to reflect that Macomb County and others who have been diligently working on ECM for years are approaching new thresholds. Yes, the ECM systems long ago began providing significant savings, efficiencies, and improved customer service, much as a White Belt realizes great benefits from the first several years of training. But as the courts leave the old paradigm behind – shedding its old skin, as it were – after significant time, effort, and learning, they are positioned to begin leveraging ECM by fully shifting to information management paradigms unencumbered by the limitations of the old world. Things like automatic redaction, fully automated document lifecycle control, rich and detailed metrics of all kinds, real-time data aggregation, and much, much more will be just the beginning.

In fact, no one knows the nature and extent of the capabilities that will be emerging, because unlike martial arts, there are not generations of high-level Black Belts who have been here before. The currently emerging ECM-cognizant courts are the first generation.

The next several years will be interesting and fraught with possibility. Organization, including courts, have to “learn to learn”, just as people do. Many of those who embarked on the ECM journey years ago are, after years of effort and experience, becoming comfortable with Change Management at levels never before possible or even contemplated. For adults set in their ways (and courts, as we know, have been very set in their ways), learning a second language is usually pretty challenging. But learning a new language makes learning yet another language much, much easier. Likewise, fully internalizing a new technology paradigm such as ECM makes identification of and transition to even better operations significantly smoother and less traumatic.

Macomb County Circuit Court and its peers have come a long ways. More exciting, they are in much better position to move forward with each passing step. Tipping to a majority of e-filed documents is a big one. Moving up to the darker-colored belt. Congratulations; I look forward to watching as the journey continues.

 

eFiling: Audit Trail and Confidentiality

This is Part 10 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 9 here.

To conclude this eFiling series, let’s look back at a few pieces posted in the past that dealt with the enhancement of both the audit trail and the control over confidentiality offered by eFiling.

Audit Trail

One of the fun pieces I wrote, inspired by a presentation David Slayton, included an explanation of the audit trail provided by a good eFiling system.

[David] says … “… I know EXACTLY where the document came from, and whose profile was used to send it.” Knowing that a document has come from the right place, and knowing whose secure profile was used to send it, constitute security orders of magnitude greater than a written signature on a piece of paper…

Taking David’s point a step further, in an appropriately implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow system, not only do you know where the document came from, you know where it’s been and where it’s supposed to be going. It’s like Billy’s trail in the Family Circus: it leaves its tracks. It keeps track of who has looked at it and when. It keeps track of what was done to it, by whom, and when. And, unlike Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t disappear.

91_familycircus

…. [I]n a properly implemented ECM with workflow system, not only do we know that the document comes from who it’s supposed to; we know whether or not it’s been altered since it was sent, who has touched it, where it’s been, where it’s heading, whether it’s behavior makes sense, and if not, what would make better sense.

Stalking the Wily Electronic Documents, January 12, 2015

In another piece, I got to use one of my favorite pieces of doggerel (“Last night I saw upon the stair/ A little man who wasn’t there…”) to illustrate how a well-designed ECM system provides auditable Record Integrity:

A reliable document Chain of Custody in the paper world is merely a means of attempting to protect the Principal of Integrity. (Albeit an expensive, labor-intensive, highly unreliable, almost-never-completely followed means). Even with special viewing areas and monitors, do courts control ALL access by ALL staff, ALL attorneys, and ALL judges, not to mention cleaning and security staff? Not usually.

ECM provides a built-in mechanism for maintaining an audit trail of the Chain of Custody for court documents, providing end-to-end assurance of document integrity. ECM users view documents on screen and don’t come in contact with the physical file. From identity and signature authentication (when needed) at the front end, through tracking who accesses each document and when, to ”locking out changes” to prevent tampering, ECM absolutely protects document integrity…

Proving the Negative, October 3, 2011

Confidentiality

Confidentiality has several aspects. There’s things like judge’s notes, intended only for the judge or designated persons. Then there’s confidential information, like Social Security Numbers, minors’ names, abuse victims’ addresses, and so on, contained in otherwise public documents. There are totally confidential documents, like Secret Indictments. There are confidential case types, like some juvenile matters or adoptions, where the entire case is confidential.

eFiling and ECM provide greater control of confidential information, at all levels of granularity – from individual data element to entire case. Who can see what can be tightly controlled and administered. So, for example, attorneys on confidential juvenile cases can see their clients’ files, but no others. Court employees and judges with clearance can see confidential data that has been redacted using automated, workflow-enabled tools making it invisible to unauthorized persons.

However, as I noted in the March 14, 2012 posting,

This does not mean courts should not carefully review and, if required, modify rules and statutes to make certain there are no unpleasant surprises … The paper-on-demand court environment IS different than the hard-copy environment. The area of Public Records discoverability has wrinkles in the paper-on-demand environment that never arise in the paper world…

… Recommended best practice:

1) Ensure that disclosure rules call out both electronic and paper work product as their own non-disclosable category of information;

2) Maintain the non-disclosable work product documents in separate document types from formal court records, with security configuration that prevents viewing by unauthorized system users; and

3) Support electronic document annotations that don’t technically alter the original document and have their own security distinct from the document

Assuring Judicial Work Product Confidentiality in a Paper-On-Demand Court, March 12, 2012

While the business case for eFiling generally emphasizes the savings, convenience, work process streamlining, and quality improvements, the benefits of having a robust, easily managed audit trail and greatly enhanced control over confidentiality certainly should not be overlooked as additional “low-hanging fruit” when moving to eFiling and ECM.

The Art and Folly of Prediction

Go to any court conference these days and you’ll find that a main topic, if not THE main topic, is “change.” In my previous post, I discussed my sense that the rate of change occurring in the courts surpasses almost all current expectations. A part of me hopes I’m wrong. However, I’m keeping that part of me well away from my wallet.

What this means to making predictions about the future of the courts is that it’s far less likely to be anywhere near as correct as predictions from 1960 could have been for the year 2015. Historically, virtually all attempts to predict the futunwo xanderre err on the side of being way too conservative. In 1960, no one was predicting most of the things that define our world today, such as instant world-wide communications; immediate access to virtually all facts, written information and other forms of content; and the ability to store, access, and interpret all that information, just to name a few.

Nevertheless, there are some extremely valid reasons for looking toward the future and making predictions. That plans will have to change and adapt is no reason not to have plans. Indeed, the reverse is true: the more that change is inevitable and unpredictable, the more important it is to put significant effort into making the best predictions possible and making plans for dealing with them.

Therefore, in a demonstration of my complete fearlessness of being completely wrong in public, in my next few blogs, I plan to offer predictions of what may lie on the path ahead for the courts. With each will come some thoughts as to the role and effect Electronic Content Management might have should such changes come to pass.

Here are a few ground rules for long-range prediction.

  • Choose what is meant by “long range.” Is it five years? Fifty years? In the nineties, 25-30 years was standard for long-range planning. Moore’s Law suggests that technology alone will advance through 15 doublings, which is a factor of over 30,000 times what it is today, in 30 years.
  • Be aggressively original. You’ll still end up being too conservative.
  • Try not to bet the farm.
  • Be strategic. A classic organizational strategic map includes not only the enterprise, but suppliers, customers, competition, distributors, market, regulators and business environment. So, what changes will be affecting courts’ suppliers, such as the Bar, Law Enforcement, etc.? How about its customers, including what kind and their demographics?
  • Identify what is highly UNLIKELY to change. Death and taxes are good bets, and both have implications for court futures planning. There are others.
  • Eschew wishful thinking. Note that this rule does NOT mean to be pessimistic. It DOES mean to avoid assuming that things the courts hold dear – a public desire for impartial resolution of disputes or guaranteed respect for judges, for example, will endure like the Law of Gravity.
  • Really look at trends. DO NOT assume they are fads that will slowly abate. Rather, assume they will accelerate.
  • Assume that everything will scale to infinity. How much information storage space will a court need? How long will court information have to be kept? How secure does court information have to be (in all dimensions)?

Applying these principles, the next several posts will identify what I believe are “megatrends” that will affect the courts well into the future and beyond. Each one has implications across many dimensions.

So off we go – perhaps over the deep end; but hey, it ought to be fun. The trend to be examined in the next post is

Access to specialized knowledge, information and expertise is heading toward ubiquity.

Stay tuned.

Before the Tide Goes Out

As the Great Recession finally starts to recede, one interesting and potentially important dynamic is taking shape in the form of generational shift. During the recession, two things happened to court staffing. On the one hand, many Boomers delayed retirement in the face of substantial losses in their stock-market heavy portfolios, drop in 81_before-tidetheir home values and financial uncertainly. On the other hand, plummeting court budgets prevented not only expanded hiring, but much of the regular attrition replacement.

The result in many courts five years down the road will be a demographic “doughnut hole” in the workforce: Way more than the normal population of senior staff and finally some new hiring of entry level staff. What’s missing is the cadre of staff in the two to six year experience range.

This demographic represents some interesting challenges and some opportunities. One of the challenges – particularly when coupled with the increasing rate of technological and institutional change – is that the missing “middle” cohort is that which would, under normal circumstances, have been absorbing the court’s institutional history as it is passed to them from the senior staffers. But those middlers simply aren’t there. Thus, as the senior staff leave, their institutional knowledge will be lost to the court. With the recovery, the senior staff are starting to leave in droves.

How to capture and retain this institutional knowledge before it washes out to sea on a tide of well-deserved retirements? There are a lot of ways, almost all of which are time-consuming and labor-intensive; although I personally believe the effort and cost are well worth it. But there is one opportunity that not only doesn’t add cost (in the sense that it needs to be done anyway), but also has the salutary effect of capturing, organizing and maintaining that institutional knowledge.

The answer is configurable workflow. In a very real sense, configurable workflow’s primary purpose is to act as a repository of institutional knowledge. As things change, so too will the workflows; but they will always tie back to the original, fundamental court processes.

Don’t confuse this with institutionalizing “The way we’ve always done it.” The fact is, the pre-Electronic Content Management (ECM) ways of doing things were there for reasons, and Configurable Workflow captures and assures satisfactory management of those reasons. To get the best possible workflows, you want to involve the staff most familiar with the current processes and the institutional knowledge that provides the context for why those processes are important.

The REALLY good news for courts is that these forces – influx of new, more tech-savvy, young staff; funding and urgency to undertake long-delayed technical infrastructure upgrades; and the availability of technology that, as an integral part of its design, captures, organizes and manages institutional knowledge – combine to make this the perfect time to implement ECM with Configurable Workflow.

Because of the distortions in staff demographics resulting from the Great Recession, it is imperative for courts to take advantage of the soon-to-depart repositories of this knowledge before they are gone. Their ability to hand it down in the traditional fashion to those coming behind them has been diminished, which makes the urgency of moving forward considerably more time sensitive. “Time and tide wait for no man.” Time to shove off.

The Fact Is, It’s a Better Record

77_better-record

You know the monkeys are winning when even the dinosaurs start betting on and rooting for them.

An interesting debate between those involved in the medical field and those involved in the legal field is over who is more technologically change-averse — doctors or judges? It’s one of those neck-and-neck races in which it’s difficult to tell who’s “winning”. Fact is, both professions — particularly with those in the gray-of-hair demographic — are, as a group, pretty tough to sell on the desirability of moving away from paper-based records. Both have been clinging to paper a lot longer than much of their surrounding worlds.

As part of my ongoing crusade to support the medical services community, I recently visited a doctor — a specialist with whom I have had a long and heavily documented history. The doc is about my age, which is to say, certified dinosaur.

Now, my history with this physician goes back over 20 years. The last time I saw my “hard file”, it was in fact two files, each of which was about four inches thick. Since, if the doctor and I get our way, we’re less than halfway through dealing with my condition, I figure I’ll eventually have my own shelf in the file room.

Over the past several years, he and I have discussed the paper versus electronic record question. He’s an outstanding physician, tops in his specialty, and works very hard to stay current on the explosion of progress in his field. But, when it comes to dealing with records, he admits to being a true dinosaur — the paper is just easier for him to use, he claims.

Thus, when I had my most recent appointment, it did not escape my notice that when he entered the room, he did NOT have my file with him. Instead, he accessed my record on the computer, and as the exam progressed, he entered information into it.

I, being not exactly the shy, quiet type, said to him, “I have to tell you that I’m impressed with the fact that you’re accessing and entering my information on the computer.”

He stopped, looked at me over his reading glasses and said in a somewhat sheepish tone, “Well, the fact is, it’s a better record.” [emphasis added]

Kaboom. There you have it. This from a guy for whom the quality of the record is, quite literally, life and death. I didn’t even have to say, “Told you so.” He got there on his own.

I asked how the Electronic Content Management system worked for him. He said it had taken him awhile to get used to; but now that he’s been using it, he actually can’t imagine going back to paper files. He also said that, while doctors in “our” age group are still somewhat resistant and slow to get on board, younger physicians universally want nothing to do with hard files and paper. He added that, in fairly short order, they (the younger, more tech-savvy doctors) are going to succeed in moving everyone away from the paper files. And, he said, that was a GOOD thing.

So we two dinosaurs agreed that the smart money is on the monkeys. And that we’re rooting for them.

 

 

Ditch the Training Wheels with Electronic Content Management

75_training wheelsOn hearing of a particular court’s experiences with implementing a new information system recently, I was reminded of a scene from Carl Sagan’s science fiction classic, Contact. In the story, an advanced civilization has sent specifications for construction of a craft to permit communications. The specifications call for a sphere, the interior of which is to be empty of everything except the human operator.

The humans figure out how to read the plans, and they understand them well enough to build the craft. The one thing they think they have to add is a safety seat for the human operator. Against the strong objections of some of the team, a sturdy, padded seat, complete with seat belt, is bolted to the center of the floor.

The operator (in the movie, Jodie Foster), is strapped in. As the final countdown proceeds toward its climax, the craft begins to shake violently. It shakes so hard that it seems the craft will be destroyed. The mission controllers are on the verge of aborting the mission.

Finally, the shaking becomes so severe that the bolts attaching the seat to the floor break loose. Instantly, once the seat dislodges, the shaking stops. The craft proceeds to function smoothly as it had been designed to do. Turns out that the designers knew what they were doing: Not only didn’t the craft need the “safety seat”, but its presence introduced critical disequilibrium into the system.

Many (if not most) courts, when it comes time to implement Electronic Content Management (ECM), have a hard time resisting the temptation to install “safety seats” on top of the new paradigm. Sure, the documents are electronic, but we’ll just require paper copies as a backup to be on the safe side. Sure, we’re keeping the documents electronically, but we’ll insist on printing documents to be signed, having them signed manually, then re-scanning them into the electronic system. Oh, let’s leave electronic filing to be discretionary so that those who are still uncomfortable with e-Fling can continue to file in the traditional manner.

While these “safety” measures are usually intended to be (or are at least alleged to be intended to be) “temporary”, the problem is that they can create critical disequilibrium. If the court is not careful, it may conclude that the new system itself is unstable and not workable, when in fact the problem lies with attempting to build in remnants of the older systems for the perceived comfort of familiarity. The real danger is that, instead of jettisoning the “safety seat”, they will curtail their migration to the new systems.

There is no question that some interim dual systems and temporary processes are helpful and necessary to facilitate smooth implementation. Indeed, the very term “Paper On Demand” is an acknowledgement of this important reality. In many ways it’s like kids using training wheels to learn to ride their bikes: it helps at the very outset. However, once the kids want to get out of their own driveways and start actually using the bikes, those training wheels are in the way, limit what can be done, and can be dangerous. They should come off at the earliest possible moment.

Likewise, a court ECM implementation plan that envisions putting interim, dual-system, backup processes in place during the implementation should include a tight schedule for phasing them out or cutting them off altogether. Furthermore, counterintuitive though it may seem, if things seem not to be working as smoothly as hoped during or immediately following implementation, attention should focus on accelerating the abandonment of such processes, rather than attempting to enhance or expand them (tightening the bolts, as it were) and pull back from the new system. Chances are excellent that they are what is causing or exacerbating the disequilibrium and that, once they are removed and the system can function as designed, the ride will quickly become a lot smoother.

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.

They Are Coming – You Better Build It (A slight variation of the theme from Field of Dreams)

futuristic-buildingPeter Kiefer, Civil Court Administrator for the Maricopa Superior Court, and Phil Knox, the General Jurisdiction Courts Administrator, are engaged in a Court Futures study for the National Association of Court Managers (NACM) and last summer they addressed the American Institute of Architects.  The architects know they will have to design the courthouses and related infrastructure that the justice system will use for the next hundred years or so.  And, Pete and Phil went to great effort to get a lot of input from knowledgeable people within the justice and related communities to make reasoned predictions of what forces will be acting on the courts and what that will portend for the administration of justice.  For that reason, the architects were extremely interested in what Pete and Phil are finding.

Without giving away too much about the NACM study findings[1], I will (with Pete’s permission) reveal that, unsurprisingly, one of the scenarios deemed extremely likely to occur by the year 2025 is that most courts will have gone “paperless.”   The fulfillment of that scenario alone will necessarily carry large architectural implications.

For starters, when I began researching the AIA, I found that Pete and Phil had been attending and addressing the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice Fall Conference.  Their website states that

“The AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) promotes and fosters the exchange of information and knowledge between members, professional organizations, and the public for high-quality planning, design, and delivery of justice architecture.”

Thus, not only is the AIA looking at the courthouses of the future, there is an entire academy that focuses on the subject.

Consider first the term “justice architecture.”  One inescapable consequence of “paperless” courts is significantly increased emphasis on Integrated Justice.  Courthouses (or whatever they are called in the future) are already, and will be designed in the future, as a component of this integrated justice system.   The infrastructure will both support and leverage internal (within courts and other justice agencies) and external (cross-agency and public-facing) workflow and content flow.  Physical proximity will not be the key element for effective interaction; systems integration will be.

Second, much baggage from current designs will not make the trip into the future.  Imagine a funding body — legislature, county supervisors, city council — approving a design that calls for extensive square footage for document and file storage. “Mail room” will take on a completely different meaning as content is received, categorized and routed in ways designed to maximize security, efficiency and effectiveness using state of the art paper on demand processes with workflow.

Third, structures can be designed based on ergonomics, rather than to accommodate movement of paper and files to people or vice-versa.  Public spaces can be located where it is more convenient (and/or more secure) for the public to visit.  High-cost, high-risk transport of prisoners can be minimized or eliminated through effective leveraging of an infrastructure that supports remote audio/video conferencing and hearings, together with paper on demand that enables timely and appropriate document distribution, delivery and signature within a fully integrated environment.

These are just a few “armchair” ruminations on the implications of paper on demand for courthouse design.  Doubtless many, many other interesting, exciting, and important consequences will suggest themselves to those who actually know something about architecture (of whom I am not one).  For me, it is exciting to know that those who will be tasked with designing courthouses for the next century are even now engaging in this type of outreach to those attempting to understand and prepare for the future of the courts.


 

[1] To learn more about or to participate in the NACM Future of Courts study, contact Peter Keifer at pkiefer@superiorcourt.maricopa.gov