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.
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.