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In Michigan, a Friend of the Court (FOC) is the regional name for a Child Support Enforcement office. Also in Michigan is the Ottawa County FOC – one of the state’s highest performing child support enforcement entities, and a leader in configuring automation and workflow technology to meet constituent needs, achieve state and federal statutes and safeguard trusted practices.  

In conversation with Ottawa County FOC’s Assistant Director Kathy Winston and Technology Specialist Amy Debault, we see how one, comprehensive platform can iron out even the most intricate of processes. After designing a workflow that mimicked the office’s historically manual processes, catering to the individual needs of case investigators, judicial clerks, support staff, and custody and bench workers, the Ottawa County FOC eliminated time wasted on manually retrieving a case and melted down turnaround time to one day. Succeeding with such a high case volume naturally qualifies their office for more federal incentive criteria.  

Join Kathy and Amy as they explore the numerous, realized benefits of digitalized child enforcement practices, including: integrations with Clerks and the Court for streamlined order creation and processing, automating much of the customer’s communication with electronic filing, greater accountability and transparency (including document redactions and the ability to block staff from certain documents), payment allocations and much more.  

Resources relating to the podcast can be found here:

Court Technology Standards – Application Component Model

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Steve Glisky:

Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we have experts give you the insights, knowhow and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital, while making your work life better at the same time.

Steve Glisky:

Thanks for joining us. My name is Steve Gliskey, your host, and today we’re going to be talking with Ottawa County about the value that they receive using OnBase Workflow. Several years ago, the National Center for State Courts recognized that there isn’t a single CMS in the marketplace that satisfies all the court’s needs. To address this issue, they developed the application component model, which is a standards driven approach that allows courts to pick and choose best of breed pieces of functionality that extends the capability of their CMS. Ottawa County has done this quite successfully and here to share their story with me is Kathy Winston, who is the Assistant Director of Ottawa County Friend of the Court, and Amy Dubault, the Technology Specialist within the same office. Welcome Kathy and Amy.

Kathy Winston:

Thank you.

Amy Dubault:

Thank you.

Steve Glisky:

Kathy, it’s an honor to have you on today’s call. I know that you’ve got a tremendous amount of experience there working at the county and also I wanted to congratulate you again on receiving the Outstanding Supervisor of the Year award from the Family Support Council of Michigan. You received that last year, right? 2019?

Kathy Winston:

Yes, I did. Thank you so much. I appreciate you acknowledging that.

Steve Glisky:

Yeah. Hey, Friend of the Court is kind of an unusual phrase, I think, for people outside the state of Michigan. Could you give us an overview of what your office does?

Kathy Winston:

Yes. We at Friend of the Court enforce child support, parenting time and custody orders. That’s our main objective. We here at Ottawa County have two circuit court judges who handle the domestic relation cases and we also have three attorney referees who handle our docket of approximately 12,000 cases here in Ottawa County. The Friend of the Court does that enforcement and then we have the judges and referees who help process these cases, with hearings and so forth.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, great.

Kathy Winston:

In addition to that, the office is divided into two. We have field services staff and we have support staff to help manage these cases that I mentioned earlier, the 12,000. We have four custody investigators who does the custody investigation when a client files a change in custody. We also have 13 investigators who managed a alpha split caseload, and that … we have some specific investigators for interstate cases for medical, for paternity establishment. We have bench warrants and we have enforcement. So those are all investigators who are assigned based on an alpha split or the specific type of cases that we’re dealing with. In addition to that, we have 16 support staff that fall under operations, and so we have a team that manages our front lobby, the reception staff, for clients coming into the courthouse for front of the court to check in for a hearing.

Kathy Winston:

Then we also have our order entry team who gets all of the orders from either the judge or the referee and make sure it’s entered into our child support system. I also want to mention that in terms of our child support system, we process these cases through the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System. So if I mention MiCSES, that’s what I’m referring to, the orders that entered into that. That generates the income withholding and all of the other enforcement remedies that we have available to us here in Michigan. Then we have a team of data processing staff who process child support reviews. We are mandated to review cases every three years, and so that team handles that portion of it. Then we also have one last team and that would be our order prep team and they create all the orders and all of those orders are processed through our OnBase system. So that’s really a basic overall of our office.

Steve Glisky:

Very good, Kathy. I really appreciate that. Amy, could you give us an overview on your workflow solution?

Amy Dubault:

When we were discussing how to set up our workflow, we basically set it up to mimic, as Kathy mentioned, how our office is divided up. We have our investigative staff and we have support staff and within the support staff, there’s judicial clerks that do this and there’s judicial clerks that do that. We have a data processing department and an account specialist department. So within the support staff, there’s four or five other areas that we’ve broken it up to. Then also in our investigator staff, we have nine investigators that handle just specific alpha split. Then we have the others that are specialized, which is such as custody workers and bench warrant workers.

Amy Dubault:

So when we created it, we basically wanted to mimic how we have the office set up. So we created several different life cycles to manage that for us and everything is basically routed around the office based on the father’s last name, the first letter of his last name. So we have about 14 different life cycles and within those life cycles, we have individual work cues that holds all of our documents after they’re imported into OnBase and indexed.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, great. So you got rid of the physical case file and you’re just routing around documents as they come in using different roles.

Amy Dubault:

Correct.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Kathy, Ottawa County, they consistently perform at a very high level when you look at state and federal standards. With that mind, in what ways has OnBase Workflow helped you achieve this?

Kathy Winston:

So with OnBase, as Amy mentioned about the lifecycle in the cues that set up, I mean, she identified that where we have life cycles for each process basically we have, and based on how our office is split up. So for our paternity establishment, they have their own. So for federal incentive, we got to work those cases within a certain amount of time. So by processing them through there, through OnBase, we’re able to meet that incentive because we’re able to process the case quicker than we would if we were doing it by paper. Also, we have the support of the child support enforcement collections. Even that, we have an internal process where if someone comes in our office and make a payment, we have internally, through OnBase, a special instruction where they can identify where the payments should be allocated to and we make sure some gifts allocated to arrears, so then that helps in that area.

Kathy Winston:

So they use that template that’s within the OnBase system to workflow it, so it goes to our data processing staff who makes sure that money is applied appropriately. So as Amy said, we basically took our processes and move them into OnBase and that just requires us to be able to operate more efficiently.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, very good. So you institutionalized that process knowledge and then you automated the repetitive steps and that’s helping you to meet these standards in order to get reimbursed for your incentives. Correct?

Kathy Winston:

Yes. When you talk about the institutionalization, we have those templates in place and that creates the repetition. So then our judicial staff or that team that I have with order prep, they can easily go and create an order based on the order type, make changes if necessary, process it quickly, and then it works flows to the next person who needs to sign it, ultimately get into the judge until we have a final order and then comes back to our judicial clerks to e-file with circuit court records. It happens pretty much within a day. If they create the order today, it goes out. Then once it’s signed by the judge, it’s e-filed with circuit court records that gets e-noticed to the parties in respect of attorneys. So it’s just a quicker process versus having to do extensive mailing like we’ve done prior to this process.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Excellent, Kathy. So you mentioned the day turn around and that’s a good kind of metric. Did you have any kind of other metrics as far as how it’s improved productivity for the court based on how long would it take to turn that order around when Ottawa County was paper based?

Kathy Winston:

So at the time when we were looking into OnBase solution, there was a time study conducted among all of Friend of the Court staff, where they had to identify step by step of the work they were doing. If they went and grabbed the file, how long it took, was the file signed out to someone else or another department, how long did you have to wait to retrieve the file to be able to process whatever you had in front of you? So at that time, it really transitioned the time down to zero. Once we went into OnBase because with OnBase, multiple people can access the same file at the same time. So you’re not walking around or scrambling trying to figure out who has the file to process it. Sometimes you may have had someone in front of you. Where now, if I have someone in front of me, and that’s the same with the Referees on the bench, they can access all of the documents, whether they file was circuit court record or in the Friend of the Court file and it has reduced the time down to zero.

Steve Glisky:

Great. So that transition time between steps goes right down to zero and you’re able to-

Kathy Winston:

Another part too I want to mention is that prior to COVID, we had an alternate work location where we had the ability to work from home. So we use a duo that gives us the second layer of security for any solutions we access from home. So the good part about OnBase is we’re able to access OnBase and still conduct our work affectively, having OnBase offsite as well.

Steve Glisky:

So that’s really helped out tremendously, I imagine, in this COVID area where you’re doing all your Zoom meetings and not holding face to face meetings. Is that correct?

Kathy Winston:

That is correct. Or we have investigators staff who are working from home and they’re processing work and they need to access the files to see what was sent the last time. So it goes both ways. Yeah. So it really has helped for hearings and for just looking for information in the FOC file, or if you get a call regarding a parenting time to look up a parenting time, or to see if there’s some validity to a complaint. But they can do that all from home.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. So it really enables that remote workforce of yours. So, terrific. Hey Amy, I know that we’ve talked a lot about workflow and how it’s being used in the office. Are there any processes you want to highlight, whether they’re intra or inter, because I know that your other courts for other case types, they all use workflow as well. So any particular processes that you want to highlight as far as you were receiving a lot of value from.

Amy Dubault:

We like the fact that we’ve created ways for documents to easily be transferred or routed from one worker to another. So they may also look at it or if one worker receives the document, they can put a note on it using sticky note or overlap text. They can put a note on it and manually route it to another person and another department within the Friend of the Court. So that has proved very nice because otherwise you’re putting a sticky note on a piece of paper and putting it in a box and hoping that the sticky note stays attached to it. So that was a big thing.

Amy Dubault:

We’ve also created a way for our clients to submit their issue or question via the internet. We have a link on our website where they can submit a question, they just fill in their case number and their name and address and email address. Then they can type out what they are questioning. There’s not a way for them to attach a document to it, but they can type anything they need. Then when they hit submit, it comes into our OnBase solution and it immediately routes to a caseworker’s box. So it’s a big customer service aspect that we’ve been able to create for our clients.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Great. How about with different offices? Your workflow integrates with the clerk and the court, right, for order creation and processing. Is that correct?

Amy Dubault:

Yes. Correct. So after our investigators have participated in a hearing, or if they need to create a motion for a hearing, we have templates made up that they fill out and it routes to a staff worker and they are able to create the motion or order from within OnBase. We have several different templates that they can fill in the blanks that need to be filled in, and it can be then routed to the referee or the judge to affix their signatures. Then it can route back to our office where we can print and mail it if we have to and affix any other signatures, we may have to affix for a certificate of mailing. Then they can just be routed up to circuit court records to be filed with the court.

Amy Dubault:

At the same time, if it’s an order, at the same time it goes up to records, it goes to our order entry department, to our account specialists where they could enter that order into the child support system. So an order could be turned around within a day or two of the client being in front of the judge for our court hearing or in front of the referee.

Steve Glisky:

Wow. Okay. That’s fantastic. Kathy, I know that recently, I think it was for about eight months or so, you went mandatory e-filing for your case types.

Kathy Winston:

That’s correct.

Steve Glisky:

That must have just, again, kind of amplified all the productivity that you’re realizing with the solution, because now you don’t have to handle those incoming documents.

Kathy Winston:

Exactly. That is correct. So even with getting out notices for hearings and then sending the e-notices for completed orders that’s signed by the judge or the referee, it really works out really nice. It’s just a matter of clicking the button. So there was … what you want to call it? A intro period and we still are not there where we have all of the cases, all of the parties, I should say, signed up for Mifile, but the majority of them over time have signed them because it’s mandatory. So it is nice. So there are a few notices or orders that we have to physically mail, but not at the same volume that we did before the mandatory e-filing.

Steve Glisky:

So in many respects, when you do have the email address and that through e-filing and that it’s really kind of automated a lot of the communication you have with your constituents.

Kathy Winston:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. We’re looking to expand that more broadly with the electronic signatures for the external constituents. So we are working on other avenues to further utilize OnBase.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, great. So Kathy, how has OnBase Workflow helped your office to kind of achieve those state and federal statutes?

Kathy Winston:

So it’s helped because all of our processes are within OnBase and so it eliminated … So like I explained before, someone comes in to make a payment, my frontline staff generates a template in there. Now, mind you, the templates are … this is like a worksheet sort of to speak. It identifies different debt type where we can allocate money. So they know they have to put a dollar on arrears to count so if they’re paying current support, and they’re making a $200 payment, they’d pay the $199 to the current support and a dollar to a arrears for a total of two, but they have to give us permission. Most often, or always, they give us permission to do that, but we have to put at least a dollar in there. So that helps with that arrears case collection, which is one of our federal incentives. So that helps us get to that 80% or close to the 80% that’s required to make sure we maximize that based on our performance. So that’s just one of many processes we have within OnBase that really has helped us achieve the high standard.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, that’s excellent. How about just in general as a tool to administrate the office? Any particular areas there that you want to focus on?

Kathy Winston:

To administer the office? In terms of managing the staff, is that what you’re referring to?

Steve Glisky:

Yes, exactly.

Kathy Winston:

Okay. It really holds staff accountable. So as a supervisor, Amy was instrumental in setting all of the life cycle and work queue for staff based on how our office is divided. So myself, I have access to all of the queue. So for me as a supervisor, I can go and see what my account clerks are doing, I can see what my data processing specialists are doing, I can see what investigators are doing. If I receive a complaint, I can see where that complaint is. For instance, if I get a call to say, “John Doe investigator has not returned my call,” I can look up the case number and see if they’re talking about a specific document and to see if that was processed, they submitted something two days ago or what have you. But I could easily look at that.

Kathy Winston:

So it helps you locate documents a lot better because you can look up the docket number and then see where the document is at in the life cycles, is what I’m saying. So then it can help you provide customer service to the client. Also, with notices of hearings also, prior to us going to OnBase, clients and attorneys would call and say, “Hey, I submitted a request for a hearing.” You can look in the OnBase and see where it’s at in the process, because if it goes from step one to step two, step three, you can watch the queues in OnBase to see where that document is moving to and the next step where it’s going. So that helps. So it lessens the phone calls and even if you do get a phone call, you can get an answer pretty quickly. Yeah. So it basically consolidated all of our processes in here, which makes it a lot more manageable without pushing all of the paper.

Steve Glisky:

So it makes it very visual. Right? You can look in there and you can identify particular bottlenecks and then provide assistance to help bring it under control.

Kathy Winston:

Absolutely. So from time to time, I also look at my teams to see if the work is being distributed equally because sometimes, as Amy described, we have an alpha split. So operation or support staff teams also have an alpha split. So you want to make sure that the workflow is equally because you don’t know if J, K and L is heavier than ABC in terms of by the noncustodial parent’s last name. That’s how the alpha split goes. So OnBase helps us evaluate that quickly.

Steve Glisky:

And the overall, I think, transparency, right? You’re working remotely. You can see things visually. Do you use the audit tracking, the history features of OnBase much?

Kathy Winston:

Yeah. So in the past, especially when you get high profile cases or if you have employees who have cases within Ottawa County, it used to be problematic. So they would not enter the case into the case management system, in fear of other staff being just gossipy or nosy about a coworker’s filing or whatever the case may be. It could be a divorce, it could be a parenting time issue.

Kathy Winston:

So they would hold out the file, the complete file out, and so you had to go to circuit court records and check it out. Well, now it gets scanned just like everything else and supervisors monitor that file and manages that file because it’s assigned to a supervisor and we are able to look at the history. Every document has a history, and so you can tell if a coworker looked at it, looked at a specific document. It’s very easy to locate. So it provides some accountability to staff to know that, and not be nosy and gossipy. If it’s not related to your work, you should not be accessing that case to look at any document. So that’s made very clear from the management.

Steve Glisky:

Oh, thank you, Kathy, for touching upon that. Oh yeah, go ahead.

Amy Dubault:

Steve, if I can just add on to that. Time to time, we’ll get a complaint from a client that states that, “So-and-so is looking at my file. They’re telling my friends things about my case.” Well, when that complaint comes in, we can look at the history and we can prove that our employee has not looked at that file. We can see everyone who’s looked at it. So that also helped from the customer service aspect that the clients can trust us. We’re not looking at things we shouldn’t be looking at.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, great point there, Amy. It establishes that trust because you got that … It protects the office from a liability standpoint, and you’ve got that level of transparency. Hey, Amy, are there other ways … I know that child support cases are very sensitive. Are there other ways that your solution has helped improve security?

Amy Dubault:

Well, we have a specific document type created for confidential documents. So any documents with social security numbers or tax information on them, they’re indexed with a confidential code and a confidential document type. So if we have a small workflow set up because our clients can request to review their file. So if they were to come in and review their file, we have a workflow set up that we can take all the documents in their file and put them in a specific little lifecycle of their own. But when we move them, it doesn’t move anything with a confidential document type. So those are automatically weeded out. We don’t have to do anything to it. If there are other documents that are not confidential that have maybe an address on them and there’s a personal protection order, we can redact an address so the person coming into view the file cannot see the addresses.

Amy Dubault:

We can redact all of those things out, make them a public viewing document, and we don’t have to worry about anything getting out that would put someone in danger. We’ve created a way where they can print the document and it works just like a little checkout system. They click on the print task and it tells them it’s going to cost them a dollar and it goes into a little shopping cart and one of our clerks will print the documents and collect the money from the client and they can get a copy of the documents.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Sounds good. There’s also the ability … like if you have one of your staff members that’s related to a particular case, you can black them out through the security system OnBase.

Amy Dubault:

Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Yes. I had that written down to make sure I mentioned that. As an OnBase administrator, I can go in and block people from seeing the Friend of the Court file. I can block them from seeing the circuit court record file, if there is the need. If they have a client or if they’re a friend, they don’t want to be able to see anything, their neighbor. It’s a protection for them and it’s a protection for us. So as an administrator, I can go in and block them out.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Very good. So yeah, the security controls that are very granular. Hey, Amy, another question. I know from time to time, you need to … processes change. How easy is it for you to make changes to your routing rules or the way your system behaves?

Amy Dubault:

Well, I also have a workflow administrator training, so IT has given access to the OnBase studio. So I can go into studio and I can troubleshoot any problems. Or if a document is not routing correctly, I can go in and correct that. When something changes within the office and we don’t want these documents going to this department anymore, we want them going to this department, I can easily go in and adjust that workflow without having to wait for our IP OnBase administrator to do it for us. So I’ve freed up a lot of their time to work with other offices within the county that have OnBase.

Steve Glisky:

Understand. So you’re a sub administrator, you’ve offloaded a lot of that work, and OnBase is an easy point and click interface where it’s easy for you to make changes?

Amy Dubault:

Yes, the studio is very nice.

Kathy Winston:

Can I give you an example of one of the recent tasks Amy had? So our judges received ex parte orders regarding an emergency change in custody or parenting time. It comes over to our custody team to give the judge a quick summary of the case, then the summary is like a supporting document. So you have in records the ex parte file and then that actually comes over to FOC to create a summary that goes to the judge to review it. The judge, all he has to do is access his ex parte queue, and if he double click on that case, it will give him the supporting documents to look at before he decides if he wants to assign that order or not.

Kathy Winston:

So Amy created the rules behind the scenes to make sure that in that life cycle or that queue, he can double click it to look at supporting documents, which is coming from FLC, which is like a recommendation based on any activity that’s been on the case to the judge. Then that helps him make a decision if he’s going to grant the ex parte order or not.

Steve Glisky:

Oh, nice enhancement there, Amy.

Amy Dubault:

Yeah. Prior to that, we printed our summary out. We went in, we waited for the judge to be available and then we discussed it with the judge and then he signed it. We’ve basically cut out that entire step.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Terrific. Well, I tell you, thank you so much for your time today, Kathy and Amy, for being on the call. It’s been a wonderful discussion. I’m so impressed with all the work that you’ve done. Let’s see, for our listeners, we appreciate you downloading this podcast. If you’d like to learn more about ImageSoft, please visit imagesoftinc.com, and then also be sure to see the show notes regarding a link to NCSC for the application component model. So this concludes this podcast. Thank you and have a great day.

Steve Glisky:

Thanks again for joining us on this podcast, to learn more about ImageSoft, please visit imagesoftinc.com. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.