Attending the National Association for Court Management Conference Debrief and Dancing at the Library of Congress

By: Josh Townsend, Account Executive, ImageSoft

134_postNACM-2Washington, D.C. – hands down – is one of the prettiest and most tourist friendly cities in the world. It’s just one of the many reasons why we enjoyed the recent annual conference of the National Association for Court Management, this year held in conjunction with the International Association for Court Administration. This year’s conference was a weeklong examination of various challenges and solutions facing judicial administration professionals and judges, including technology and its deployment. And it included a spectacular evening of networking, fun and great food, dancing the night away at the spectacular Library of Congress after hours.

How to integrate efiling with case workflow

Among the themes we heard from attendees was an overarching question of how to deal with efiling and electronic case workflow, both for states that have and have not mandated efiling. Courts are eager to streamline their operations and shepherd scarce resources to the most strategic areas.

As states are beginning to use efiling processes to receive documents, court administrative staff are looking for answers as to how to roll out an automated process and how to tie efiling with the various case management systems used by other courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement. So many efiling systems are available; however, many do not integrate with existing case management systems.

Looping judges into the electronic case workflow

A second theme we heard at the conference was how to create a system that fits the needs of judges.

When a state mandates efiling, courts want document management with efiling that has the ability to move documents from clerks to judges using an automated workflow and case management. Courts might receive efiled documents, but if the court has to put them into a PDF and print them out for the judges to use, the streamlining process isn’t working.

Judges have specific requirements as far as case management is concerned. Once the court receives a document, how will the court give judges access to the documents? Similarly, courts are looking for a process that mimics paper processes so that judges can annotate files, search, bookmark, add highlights, etc. Each judge works in a unique way – file views must be customizable to each judge. Conference attendees wanted to know how to customize the automated solution to fit the particular needs of each judge while providing an intuitive experience.

JusticeTech from ImageSoft answers efiling concerns

TrueFiling, JusticeTech’s electronic filing solution from ImageSoft, expedites justice by automating file handling and streamlining case workflow. It is a Web-based solution, available 24/7, that integrates with any case management and document management system. Created to meet or exceed industry standards, TrueFiling is Oasis ECF conformant.

TrueFiling automates the creation of new cases, allows search functions through existing files, and streamlines the addition of new filings to open cases. Courts can send data from approved filings to your case management system, eliminating manual re-keying. Courts reduce costs related to administrative overhead, storage, postage, office supplies, and more.

TrueFiling couples with OnBase single enterprise information platform to manage content, workflow and cases. It helps courts become more efficient and agile in providing justice.

OnBase captures files and organizes them into a single electronic case file. It automates processes and creates routing rules for case file processing. Content is accessible from various devices, anywhere, anytime and can be shared among stakeholders, including law enforcement, prosecutors, DOT, etc. Maintaining the security and integrity of content is ensured with a full audit trail and granular security. Reporting using a set of 180 pre-configured report templates or creating customized reports is an easy process, which reduces the burden of providing information to other agencies.

Solutions for the bench

Courts are looking for solutions that give judges the freedom to design case file viewing and markup to fit their particular styles and processes. aiSmartBench gives judges a solution that allows them to customize file management while still integrating with the host of different case management systems. aiSmartBench currently integrates with 17 different case management systems; it is designed to integrate with any case management system that can exchange and provide the required data. Moreover, it gives the judge the power to customize how files appear and how the judge interacts with files.

What’s next?

We’re looking forward to following up with attendees from the NACM conference over the next few weeks to continue to answer questions about streamlining court operations and saving resources.

While you were at the NACM conference, did you happen to see our crumpled paper video?

Courts and the Network of Everything

80_social mediaThis month’s NACM Annual Conference had excellent presentations and conversations regarding where courts are heading given current and emerging technological, demographic, political, financial and social trends. Big players among the trends discussed included both networking and social media. One result for me was a couple of either epiphanies or mild mental episodes (hard to tell the difference sometimes).

NACM Keynote Speaker Seth Mattison[1] made the point that the post-baby boom generations have grown up in a totally different information, social and structural paradigm than boomers and their ancestors. Up through boomers, the paradigm was hierarchical, linear and flat. Mattison used the example of the Org Chart, top-down information, power and status flow.

 

For post-boomers, the paradigm is network. The very term “peer to peer” is completely antithetical to a hierarchical structure. Millennials don’t reflexively look for channels to go through—they go directly to the end target. Boomers are appalled that the “youngsters” (now in their 30s and early 40s) don’t get it. Meanwhile, Mattison points out, those “kids” grew up being the family CIO.

Regarding social media, much discussion centered around:

a) How do courts control it, and
b) How can courts use it?

Both are interesting and complex topics. IMHO[2], those aren’t the most important questions. Most important is not what social media does or how it works or who is using it. Rather, most important is that today’s social media is symptomatic of the very paradigm change that Mattison discussed.

Question: What does your preference in, say, music have in common with the Taj Mahal? My Answer: They’re both nodes on The Network of Everything.

What’s going on with social media is that information and records, to paraphrase Karl Heckart, Arizona Judicial Branch CIO, in his excellent NACM presentation, are “shifting from Analog to Digital”. The Internet arms race is expanding the population of network nodes –people, places, things, thoughts, relationships and more – at a rate and through dimensions inconceivable even five years ago. And the rate is exponentially accelerating.

The social media technology that’s driving the Internet has unstoppable momentum, and your court has no choice but to embrace it in order to manage it. If you don’t, your data will find its way into the social media realm without your control.

What does this portend for courts and the content that needs to be managed? Part of me answers honestly, “Darned if I know.” So much is unknown. Yet, another part of me thinks, here are a few things we can say with some certainty:

  • Paper documents as containers for information may be a current challenge; but in ten years, they’ll likely be as relevant as drawings on the side of a cave in Madagascar. To the extent the informational elements in documents cannot be integrated to the Network of Everything, they’ll become irrelevant.
  • The very concept of a document, in a fully networked universe, becomes quite different than what we use today. For example, in a paper-centric world, the defendant’s name or the charge may be part of many documents in a case file, from the Complaint to the Judgment. Yet in a digital, fully networked world, the defendant’s name is more correctly understood as a data element that is part of a number of associated groups of elements. Some of those groups might be loosely analogous to documents; others will not. Certain external parties and events will continue to require the reproduction of a document, but this will occur from data, on demand (a key component of “Paper on Demand,” about which I’ve previously written).
  • Heck, social media has ALWAYS existed: The back fence, the telephone, surreptitious notes in class, gossip columns, TV and radio. The fundamental shift is in the mechanism of data transport. What’s changing so fast now is the relationships of people to one another and to the elements of the universe in which they live, enabled by technology that becomes increasingly transparent.
  • Soon, we’ll likely see a continued expansion of the meaning and scope of Electronic Content Management. Already, it bears noting that ECM is about far more than managing electronic content. It’s about managing the relationships among an almost infinite variety of things that are networked, including documents, people, events, courts, responsibilities, rights… and more.
  • But what about the “Process”? Because of the explosion of content, a key way to make sense of information in the Network of Everything paradigm will be – and probably already is – workflow technology. Workflow won’t just be AN important thing – it will be THE important thing, because content and people are all nodes on THE SAME NETWORK. Workflow is what makes their relationships to one another have useful and/or rational meaning.

So that’s what I think is facing the courts. Part of it, anyway. More later.

[1] http://sethmattison.com
[2] In My Humble Opinion

A Brief Memo from the Future

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Like Billy Pilgrim, in Kurt Vonnegutt’s Slaughterhouse Five, I sometimes become “unstuck in time.” So it was that I recently came across an article I wrote in early 2019. Oops, that’s five years from now. I really need to clean up my filing system… Still, it did catch my attention, and since it deals with courts of the future, which is also the theme of this week’s NACM conference, I thought it would be a timely blog topic.

In the 2019 piece, I was looking back, reflecting on the time when just about everyone involved in court document and record management assumed that there was no way court documents and records would ever be stored largely “in the Cloud”:

Back in those days [2014], it went without saying that there was no level of security that could be high enough to justify putting critical, sensitive court documents and records “at risk” in some virtual, remote “place.” In fact, a lot of courts didn’t even have to consider it because their statutes and regulations required physical storage within the geographical jurisdiction.

In 2019, it’s as hard for people to understand how anyone could have ever considered “local” storage and management of court documents and records to be more secure as it had been in 2014 to believe that anyone ever thought that courts were the only viable source of court systems software development.   Both, of course, were making the same mistake.

Those involved in court technology management in 2014 sometimes failed to appreciate that the technologies and products then available and required for state-of-the-art court systems software HAD NOT BEEN AVAILABLE 20 or even 10 years earlier. For that reason, in the 1980s and 1990s, in-house court software development was, in many cases, the best practice. By 2014, though, it had become technically, financially and politically difficult and risky for courts to attempt in-house software development and maintenance.

Likewise, in 2019, people often forget what the security landscape looked like in the first decade of the millennium. The Internet often resembled the 19th century Wild West. The safest place to keep your data was completely separate.

Of course, over the not-so-long haul, that method worked about as well as keeping your money safe by stuffing it in the mattress. In order for the information to actually be useful, it couldn’t be kept totally separate. So much for security based on isolation.

In 2019, of course, everyone understands that the ONLY real security for court data is in the Cloud. Nowhere else are the tools, infrastructure and oversight either sophisticated enough or cost-effective enough to adequately protect critical, sensitive information. Five to 10 years ago, those tools and that infrastructure were still in development, which is why court record managers of the time could be forgiven for trying variations of mattress-stuffing. Today, in 2019, we are thankfully past all that and our court records are all the more secure for it.

Now, the reason this little piece caught my eye (even though I shouldn’t have seen it for another five or six years) is  the part about statutes and regulations requiring local storage of court records. Technology and security aside, there are some pretty compelling arguments (and certainly a lot of emotional desire) for requiring records and data to be locally stored. Fortunately, even today, that is no barrier to cloud storage. Robust Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems already provide the capability to specify storage in close geographical proximity to courts anywhere in the country.

As courts implement their ECM solutions in good ol’ 2014, they probably ought to pay attention to whether their solution could, one day in the future, be migrated to the Cloud. Not that anyone’s suggesting it, mind you! Just sayin’.

 

Background Buzz (More reflections from NACM)

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Despite the undisputed convenience and lower cost of online and virtual conferences, there will always be hard to replicate benefits from live conferences. Good conferences, in addition to the material presented, include networking and information exchanges that occur outside of and ancillary to the formal sessions. Moreover, I have found that most court conferences (and all the good ones) have a “buzz.”

I think the buzz from last fall’s Court Technology Conference and this winter’s NACM Mid-Year Conference have an interesting sub-theme of a major change in the wind.

Ever since the onset of the tsunami that now goes by name of “The Great Recession,” the background buzz at court technology conferences has been centered around catastrophically shrinking budgets and the dilemma of the need to invest in technology to meet the budget crisis, with no money to invest. My sense, from this year’s conferences, is that, while courts aren’t out of the budgetary woods yet (and probably will never be entirely), the focus of the conversation has changed. There’s still lots of discussion about cost benefits and how to best finance Information Technology infrastructure, but the attitude is, it’s happening and it’s going to continue to happen at an ever-increasing rate. So the buzz has now morphed to, “What does that mean? What’s going to happen? How do we ride this tiger and not become lunch?”

A not-so-secret fact of life for IT folks for the past few decades has been that one major (unacknowledged) strategy of a lot senior executives and judges regarding technology planning was to make certain that actual implementation would occur sometime AFTER their own retirement. In many ways, The Great Recession played right into that strategy.

No more. Most of the managers at CTC and NACM realize the change is going to occur on THEIR watch, and indeed is already under way.

In some ways, it feels like waking up from a long dream. True, some courts have pressed forward during the hard times. Still, many others have had to either postpone or greatly reduce their efforts, creating a huge, pent-up backlog of projects. Justice system pressures that were stressing court IT infrastructure five years ago are now past critical.

One result is that some questions from five years ago are simply not relevant today. For example, how tightly should document management be integrated with the Case Management System?

Courts are increasingly finding that CMS systems that provide “bolt-on” document management that allows documents to be stored with the case, as opposed to full-featured ECM, seriously limit the flexibility, leverage, systems integration and scalability required in today’s – and tomorrow’s – integrated justice system environment.

Likewise, is it better to start with ECM implementation first, then move to e-filing or vice-versa? Today, it’s pretty widely understood that courts need both; they need them universally and they need them yesterday. Attempts to implement ECM without e-filing run head-first into painful tradeoffs and limitations. Attempts to implement e-filing absent tight integration into a robust ECM with court-centric configurable workflow feel like building an airport on an island with no bridges to the mainland: passengers arrive; but they have nowhere to go.

So the talk seems to be turning to emerging Best Practices. Some of them include paper on demand, make e-filing mandatory, plan for and implement configurable workflow with your first (not last) implementation phase, and get in front of legislative and rule changes through ongoing and committed efforts across the justice system.

My guess is that the pace and penetration of ECM implementation in courts will continue to accelerate. The reason for the “What does it mean?” buzz is that people are realizing that, however implementation happens, it’s either occurred, occurring, or about to occur, and the planning for court life in the new IT paradigm, the vanguard of which is now ECM, is far from complete.

Exciting times.

 

 

Notes from NACM

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Best line of last month’s National Association of Court Managers (NACM) Mid-Year Conference in Savannah, coming late on the last day, as everyone with return flight connections through Savannah or Charlotte (essentially, everyone who wasn’t from Savannah) remained riveted to their flight status updates on their smartphones, universally finding their flights cancelled:

Speaker: “You know what this means, don’t you?”

Silence. Wait for it…

“Underwear rationing.”

Yes; these socks can surely last another day or so…

Which has almost nothing to do with Enterprise Content Management except this: The speaker was relating his state’s experiences with e-Filing, and his second and third most memorable points (to me) were:

1. Far and away the best decision they had made was to go to universal (as opposed to voluntary) e-Filing; and

2. As a result of going to paper on demand, they were

a. ABLE to fully cross-train staff; and

b. REQUIRED to cross-train staff.

We hear the former statement from just about every court that has gone through the paper on demand implementation lifecycle. Indeed, the very term “paper on demand” implies that all documents are managed in electronic format, even if paper is sometimes used. Thus, courts generally find themselves impelled, sooner or later, to electronic management of all documents.

We don’t hear so much about the cross-training point. Not because it isn’t universally true (it is), but because it is often so unexpected that no one thinks to ask. And, once a court has fully implemented paper on demand, the folks really don’t think much about the time when a large portion of staff were required to be fairly specialized and a single absence, even if just a coffee break, could bring an entire functional area to a halt.

I, however, thought back to my 2012 visit to the Ottawa County, Mich., court. [See the October, 2012 Order In The Court posting “After the Dust Settles“.] One of the main points District Court Civil Clerk Laura Catalino emphasized was that, prior to implementation of paper on demand, it was difficult for her and her team to be away from their desks, as only one or two (and sometimes no) other staff knew the desk’s job well enough to fill in. Even scheduling breaks was a challenge; leave aside vacations or illness.

But once paper on demand was in place, automated workflow made cross-training easier and freed up staff time to get cross-trained. Furthermore, other staff could fill in without leaving their own desks, as it was now unnecessary to physically “go to” the files and documents on the desk to be covered.

From Laura’s standpoint as a clerk, the improvement was obvious. The NACM speaker articulated what to me is another compelling reason, as seen from the management perspective: They HAD to cross-train staff in order to equalize the workload across the organization. Had they failed to do so, benefits would have been much more localized and disparate. Some areas would have benefited; while others would have been put under added stress.

As it happened, cross-training resulted in synergistic benefits: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And another–again usually unanticipated, and perhaps counter-intuitive–result occurs. Staff who are cross-trained in numerous functions tend to report greatly enhanced job satisfaction, with commensurate improvement in both productivity and quality of work.

More later on a few interesting observations from the conference. For now, suffice it to say that it was well worth the winter travel adventures and “rationing.” And, Savannah isn’t a bad place to be stranded.

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