Hindsight may be 20-20, but that won’t matter if you don’t bother to look back. Here’s a lesson from the 90s about systems developed in the 80s that many are having to re-learn today.
The 1980s saw the genesis of enterprise-level court electronic information management systems. These systems were designed to deal with metadata –information about cases, filings, parties, hearings, etc. The actual content and documents were, of course, stored outside the electronic system, in paper files.
Some of the first systems were extensions of law enforcement information management systems, which tend to be either person-based, incident-based or some combination of both. Because of the case-centric nature of court processes, the law enforcement models were hard to fit neatly into courts’ needs. As a result, the primary court information system model emerging from the 1980s was case-centric. Indeed, the most widely used term for court data information systems for the past 25 years has been Case Management System (CMS).
Courts quickly came to realize that while much of their information was attached to cases, “much” is not the same as “all.” Law enforcement systems are “person-based” for a lot of good reasons. Family Court, Juvenile Court and Drug Court all require workarounds within a case-centric system. Likewise, non-case business processes, such as administrative functions (financial, human resources, regulatory, budget, etc.) don’t fit the model at all.
As a result, great strides have been made in modern Case Management Systems to extend their applicability with non case-centric information management needs.
Yes, it’s all easy to see now.
And yet, some courts today risk making exactly the same kind of self-constraining, non-scalable choices when it comes to content management as they did years ago with metadata management. Because of the largely case-centric view of court processes, the temptation arises to simply extend the CMS to allow storage of the case documents for retrieval and use by the CMS. Such a decision is shortsighted for at least three reasons.
First, electronic content is too important to be managed as an afterthought. In the pre-electronic document era, no court could have long done business by simply storing all documents in a single room with no other management tools (indexes, ordered case files, taxonomically meaningful shelving, check in/out mechanisms). Just having a place to put documents is not sufficient.
In fairness, most document management systems that are “bolted on” to a court CMS do have basic document and file handling tools. Rarely, however, do they include much beyond simple filing, retrieval and basic document creation. Yet “Advanced Searching” capability grows increasingly critical as tools that can mine the information contained in “unstructured” text documents provide access to intelligent systems. For perspective, think of the revolutionary impact that Google has had on shopping and navigation.
Secondly, they are almost entirely designed to store and, at a very surface level, manage court case documents. Documents and content not related to cases, or that relate to multiple cases, are not easily managed. There is almost no capability of utilizing the system to deal with administrative and enterprise functions.
Third, because robust, full-featured Electronic Content Management systems are designed to deal with ALL aspects of the management and use of ALL forms of content across ALL business and justice relationships, they offer an ever-expanding array of additional capabilities. Examples include Advanced Capture (using OCR to auto index and auto classify documents); Report Management (storing large volumes of report data); applications to develop Web forms with a powerful point-click tool instead of custom development; integration to a plethora of third-party systems (SAP, Lawson, Oracle Financials, Microsoft Dynamics, etc.); Mobile Device support (document retrieval and workflow from IOS, Android, Windows, & Blackberry) and on and on.
In hindsight, the overly narrow case-centric definition led to development of systems that were not sufficient as designed to meet the needs of the courts. Courts developed workarounds in an effort to fill the gaps. Over time, the systems proved unscalable, resistant to change, increasingly unstable and ultimately too costly to support. It is absolutely predictable that treating content management as an “add-on” to court information systems will have the same sort of result.