What Happens in Vegas Will go to Court

Hosted at the Bellagio in Viva Las Vegas July 21- 25, the National Association for Court Management’s (NACM) annual conference is not something to take a gamble on missing. Showcasing today’s best-of-breed solutions for complete courtroom efficiency, the conversations and innovations are, admittedly, rigged in the judge’s favor and include everything from real-time reporting and digital workflow to the newest tools for better managing multi-media evidence and encouraging a bi-directional flow of information between the Court and its infamously disparate stakeholders.

A Judicial Jackpot 

All attendees are invited to walk away with the invaluable winnings from “Empowering Court Administrators and Judges in the Digital Age” – a co-hosted presentation by James “Dan” Wallis, McHenry County’s Trial Court Administrator for the 22ndJudicial Circuit Court, ImageSoft’s Senior Justice Consultant Brad Smith, and Mentis Technology’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ben Martin.

With the CMS typically focused on optimizing clerk-related functions and attorney-clerk communications (think eFiling), the justice technology sector has, ironically, been the worst offender of neglecting the most critical aspect of courtroom innovation – equipping the judge. 

Motivated to bring the judiciary to the front and center of all workflow and information sources, this presentation spotlights innovations, both new and solutions trusted over time, in the judicial toolbox that solve the notorious challenge of connecting disparate court stakeholders while equipping the judge with access to information beyond just the case management system. Attendees will enjoy a demonstration of how the McHenry County Circuit Court integrates with local jail information, provides attorneys with all accurate and necessary information to schedule hearings, and supports stakeholders in communicating with their specific courts. 

Come to Our Table and Forget Rolling Dice

Pulling the lever on a solution for your courtroom shouldn’t feel like a gamble – you should know for certain that your investment will be a guaranteed win. With information and experienced thought leaders on a variety of integrative solutions, visiting us at booth #210 has all your answers surrounding tools like the aiSMARTBENCHecosystem, TrueFiling,OnBase’s digital workflow and supportive tools for managing multi-media evidence, including multiple video file types, pictures and metadata. 

We Want to Hear from You!

Have you been to NACM in previous years, or are you a first-timer? What topics and/or solutions will you be taking notes on? 

Reply in the “comments” section below or on our Court Solutions LinkedIn page. We read andrespond – promise!

Dear Component Model: We’re Thankful!

As colder weather and feel-good movies draw us home, it’s easy to look around and reflect on “the why” of who we are and what we do – making memories with loved ones, embracing the stillness of nature, and finding ways to contribute to and be a part of both.

Enjoy Thanksgiving typography

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, almost everyone is making a conscious effort to unplug from technology, forget about work, and be present in these moments. But, at the risk of sounding millennial, many of us wouldn’t be where we are without the rapidly-advancing technology supporting our daily lives. In more ways than one, it’s a component of who we are, what we do, and how far we’re able to go, and we would all be amiss to not show thanks.

A Case for the Courts

We know – you would expect software developers to draw such conclusions, but hear us out. 2018 has been the year of a system that, through the orchestration of loosely-coupled, modular applications, has digitally transformed courts across the nation to be more accessible, transparent, efficient, and empowered court computing environments to identify gaps in their technology infrastructure, zero in on opportunities for growth and be more strategic with their investments.

What does this mean? That justice is more accessible to everyone. That court managers, CIOs, judicial officers, and many other busy court personnel are getting more done in less time, and are able to recycle these saved resources into addressing triple-bottom-line issues. And that, with snap-on, integrative components now available, we can start having real conversations about long-term court visions and the technology needed to support it.

All of this, thanks to The Component Model.

Functionality Not Far-Fetched

As any court personnel can tell you, the idea of various parts working together to bring versatile functionality to a court’s case management system (CMS) is not original. In fact, many legacy systems are supported by functional components. The issue lies within the limits of those components. You see, the traditional monolithic structure is very tightly wound, and all the components, though serving a niche purpose, depend on one another. So if a court manager decides to alter, add to or take away one component, changes to the model’s code will have to be made, Vendors may not want to pursue new coding if it won’t be beneficial to their customers in other jurisdictions, will be too costly or other roadmap priorities are taking precedent. Not to mention that the court faces the headache of replacing or changing the entire system.

Fast-forward to loosely-fixed, NextGen application components, and enjoy defined interfaces that make it easy to snap-on and snap-off parts as you see fit. This type of flexibility allows each court system to decide on and invest in the specific functionality that best serves their needs. Despite these boundaries, however, the components use open data standards and can still communicate with one another to maintain seamless automation and workflow.


Because, just like maintaining peace with your relatives at Thanksgiving dinner, communication is key.


The Component Shop

Whether adding new functionality or enhancing existing operations, these highly-configurable (not custom, AKA vendor-coded), scalable application components work together to support the court’s business goals, technology platform, data management and reduce currently-unnecessary application complexity. Below are just a few of the many in-demand functionalities that you can mix-and-match for a best-in-class court solution:

  • eFiling
  • eBench
  • Online Dispute Resolution
  • Litigant Portal
  • Evidence management
  • Electronic payment processing
  • Compliance monitoring

 

Now, We Want to Hear From You!

As much as we like to talk, we’re also great listeners. And that’s something to be thankful for!

What does your ideal component model look like? Which functionality would you choose to work with your CMS?

Join our industry-specific conversations by following the LinkedIn page below that best fits your industry’s needs:

ImageSoft Court Solutions | ImageSoft Government Solutions

 

When Failed Integration Turns into Wrongful Incarceration

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

Unless you’re a part of the super cool, niche group of people that doesn’t talk much but, when you do, it’s about software, you probably don’t get too pumped up about the word “integration.” We, on the other hand, could talk about the transformative effects of powerfully integrative software until our smartwatches tell us to go home. Even then, we would stay late to show you a fun demo, but most people will have left by then anyways.164_Chance_go_to_jail

So when real-world examples of preventable integration fails have life-changing impacts on innocent people, we get all riled up.

What to Say When You’re Being Arrested for a Dismissed Case?

Not me. Well, that’s what one of the nation’s biggest names in software development is trying to say after its court case management system was the reason for dozens of defendants in a very populous county being wrongly accused, arrested, jailed, and even registered as sex offenders.

Worse yet, these incidents are not isolated. Distressed by the same errors, numerous courts across the nation are responding to the county’s claims with “us too!”

How Could This Happen?

We thought you’d never ask! Let us explain. Again.

Integration is key when trying to successfully leverage any software. This is especially crucial in court cases where real-time information about prisoners and warrants needs to flow statewide among prisons, officers, courts, and more.

In situations like the above, failure to integrate with a court’s case management system means mistakes. Big ones. A lot of them. This is because the same case information lives in multiple systems across the criminal justice system, but updating that information at the sheriff’s office doesn’t update it for the court. And vice versa.

Simply put, the case management systems among the courts, prisons, police departments, etc., can’t talk to one another if they’re not integrated. When this happens, the status quo of a case isn’t clarified across the board and people act based only on the information they have. Cue wrongful arrests.

So Integration is Just a Group Chat?

Not quite. By integrating case management systems, the efficiency of your processes and the integrity of your data are both strengthened. Not only is data safely stored and accessible by all authorized parties, you never have to re-key information into multiple systems. Once the data is in, it’s everywhere it needs to be and always up-to-date.

When you’re processing nearly 1,000 cases per week (as most counties do), the time and money saved by having an integrated software is kind of a big deal.

Ready for Integration That’s On Point?

We’ve helped hundreds of criminal justice systems throughout the country stay in immediate and constant communication by exchanging data and documents among law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and more with just the click of a button.

How so? Through our eFiling technology for civil courts, our LEAP portal for criminal filings, and with a little help from our friend OnBase by Hyland. OnBase has standard APIs that allow for the secure exchange of data and documents with virtually any system.

But more important than the technology, we’re a company that loves to do integrations – it’s in our DNA, and we can’t help but to take the lead on working with your technology vendors to get you where you need to be.

And if you ever want to stick around for that fun demo, we know a few people who would be happy to show you!

After hearing what has happened to innocent people in several courts across the country, do you feel your court is vulnerable to the same miscommunication? How could the components of your case management system be more in sync?

Star Trek, Component Model and ECM

By Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

144_mirrormirrorAs a Star Trek fan, I grew up watching the original series and one of my favorite episodes was one where a transporter accidentally launched Captain Kirk into a parallel universe. It intrigued me that two separate universes had the same people, the same spaceship, but very different cultures (and moustaches).

At a recent Hyland Partner conference in Cleveland, I couldn’t help but notice how developments in the enterprise content management (ECM) industry parallel what’s happening in the justice industry. In the justice space, the big news in terms of the future of technology is the Application Component Model, as championed by the National Center for State Courts and drafted by the Joint Technology Council.

The Component Model was drafted to address the slow pace of innovation with courts. It’s not that innovative technology is not available, it’s that courts purchase monolithic applications that have broad (but sometimes uselessly shallow) functionality that locks them into a particular vendor. This means that if you don’t like how your case management system handles document generation (or maybe not at all), you believe you have no recourse. Manual Word templates it is. The current state of affairs is that the majority of technology vendors have little to no interest to integrate with other applications, particularly in areas that compete with their own products.

Instead, the Component Model proposes that applications should be developed in smaller, detachable chunks that are designed to naturally integrate with other applications. For example, if a court only needs one key area of functionality, e.g. document generation, it can add that component without having to replace the entire case management system. Both the case management system and the document generation micro application can easily exchange the data that makes it possible for almost “snap-in” integration. This allows a court to implement best-of-breed solutions that provide a high degree of functionality, with minimal impact to operations, at a much faster pace.

The industry trend within ECM is following the same path. Historically, to access the advanced features of an ECM solution it required that you actually be logged into the client application which sometimes can be a clumsy transition. Today with OnBase, we can make small bits of ECM functionality available within a core application without having to load the entire ECM client. For instance, while in a case management solution, a function key could be used to generate an order even though the case management system does not possess that functionality natively. To the user, new functionality was added to their familiar interface. For the court, they just saved hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) in replacing a still working and supported case management system. That’s just one example of the many ways that a court can leverage small functional blocks within core applications and gain a faster path to a digital transformation.

ImageSoft has always pursued this kind of model as technology allowed. All of our solutions, whether it’s eFiling, workflow and ECM or eBench, are all designed to be integrated with existing case management systems. When you design your software that way, you have to design it to be able to exchange data in many different ways and include tools that can get around intransigent vendors that aren’t interested in connecting with other solutions. It will likely take years for the rest of the industry to catch up where a philosophy of openness and data exchange permeates the development and design of court applications. You can’t just beam into a parallel universe.

Thankfully, we are already there. Every one of our court projects involves integrating with an existing case management system or core application. And, we are working on the next generation of rich, consumable components that addresses the various gaps that courts have to achieve for an efficient, paperless case flow.

What do you think of this approach?

Hacking Outside the Box

I think it was Arnold Palmer who remarked that beginners often find golf easy because they haven’t had time to learn how hard it is. That’s essentially the sentiment that drives the “Hackathon” mentality. At e-Courts 2016 last month, the Court Hackathon sessions were among the most interesting and the most eye-opening.

121_hacking

I didn’t know, going in, what a “Hackathon” is. I assumed it was a bunch of real-life Big Bang Theory young techies trying to break court enterprise systems.

It turns out I was half right. It does involve a bunch of BBT young techies. However, rather than breaking things, they are building them. Hackathoners enter a convention hall-size room filled with tables, chairs, computers, and various forms of highly caffeinated beverages and high caloric-content junk food. They are tasked with conceiving, designing, and creating a working, useful application. They have something like thirty-six hours in which to do it. They form teams and have at it. At the end, they show what they’ve built.

The really exciting part is that these folks, being not only young, but also largely unencumbered by any idea of the internal operations of the justice system in general or the courts in particular, are literally unaware that certain things JUST CAN’T BE DONE.

At one session, the Grand Prize winners presented their winning solution (their presentation, along with the others from the conference, is available online).

In many ways, the actual solution took a back seat to the attitude, approach, and world view of the “Hackathoners”. These young people view courts and the justice system from the perspective of people who have never, since the time they were slapped with GPS bracelets in the hospital before they were all the way born, known a world without the Internet, Google, Amazon, smartphones, and so on. When they have a question, they expect to be able to ask in normal language and to instantly get a straightforward, relevant response.

When describing how the team determined what “problem” to solve, they told a very non-flattering (to the justice agency) story of trying to report a theft. The online interface consisted of a half-dozen or more text-packed screens requesting myriad information, almost none of which seemed (to the victim) to be even slightly relevant to his attempt to report the crime. (The victim’s date of birth? His employer? Really?)

Now, from an internal agency standpoint, the question would be, “Well, what’s wrong with that? We’re on the cutting edge – we’re actually using Form-Driven E-Filing. Not only that, the citizen (to whom we have outsourced our data entry) can access it online. You mean you’re not thanking us for this?

The team decided to attempt to develop a more friendly experience for the user. They selected a court application: responding to an eviction (FED) notice. To see how it works, watch the presentation, which includes a demo.

Here’s what I think is particularly important: The key to the solution is what is known as Natural Language Processing (NLP). You know it as Siri, Cortina, Alexa, Echo, and so on. As the team pointed out, only now is the processing power becoming available to make NLP a part of practical solutions.

So here’s the punch line insofar as it relates to ECM and E-Filing. Remember the Six Building Blocks of ECM?  (Feel free to go back and review… ) Well, Number One is Capture. And Capture is starting to move to interactive, NPL interfaces: the next evolution beyond form-driven data capture.

The data so captured from natural conversations will feed into the Workflow engine. And the results will in turn be consumed by, among other things, the NLP itself as it hones its ability to effectively interact with users, making sense of what it hears and giving appropriate and meaningful responses.

Really, really exciting stuff. At least to a geek like me. The Hackathoners, not knowing any better, gave us a glimpse of where we’re all headed. Seemed to them to be the right thing to do.

 

e-Courts 2016 Quick Review

e-Courts 2016 is “in the books”, as they say. My understanding is that video of the sessions is or will soon be available online. Check the e-Courts 2016 website for information. I strongly suggest viewing those sessions in which you have an interest when they become available.

120_conferenceStarting with Gary Marchant’s Keynote, attendees confronted the evidence that technological changes in society at large have started to overwhelm the justice system; and courts, by and large, are not prepared for it. From body camera data to genetic data to virtual reality evidence, Marchant described how new technologies are overwhelming the ability of governing institutions – including the Justice System – to cope within existing customs, laws, ethical guidelines, rules, processes, and economic models. While much of government may simply refuse to act – pass laws, promulgate regulations, etc. – courts have no choice. They are confronted with the dilemmas created; but have little to no relevant guidance from either the statutory/regulatory framework or prior experience.

Moreover, the shear size of the quantity, and variety of incoming data has begun to overwhelm the infrastructure. For example, how to handle the exploding increase in body-camera data? Not only is the amount huge; but the formats are not standardized; the courts do not have the capability to display all formats, and efforts to convert to “standard” formats constitute alteration of evidence. The need for the technology to manage the technology is manifest.

Meanwhile, as Tom Clarke, Vice President of Research & Technology, pointed out, surveys starkly reveal that the public regards the courts as extremely out of step with what are considered the minimal standards of technological competence for today’s world. In what was possibly the most memorable line of the conference, Clarke described the public’s attitude toward court technological prowess as “Bringing the public yesterday’s technology tomorrow”.

Pretty rough stuff. Still, I thought e-Courts 2016 was far and away the most HOPEFUL court technology conference I’ve ever attended. What to me was most striking was not the fact that speakers were talking about the judicial system being left in the dust. It was that most people were staying to hear it, and ask “So, where do we go from here?”

The very first session, Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change, observed that courts have moved from a place where a very few are willing to embrace newer technologies to the place where very few are still actively resisting. The session provide insights on how court managers and technologists can affirmatively advance their courts’ ability and willingness to adopt a culture that thrives on constant change.

The Courthack sessions were extremely well received – something I question would have been the case five or ten years ago. Very bright, very energetic youngsters come together to conceive of, design, and build “outside the box” (potentially disruptive of current practices and procedures) applications intended to improve the court customer experience and court product quality.

The JTC – Improving the Administration of Justice Through Technology session laid out the current major initiatives of the Joint Technology Committee – a collaborative effort of COSCA, NACM, and NCSC – to provide practical assistance for dealing with technology change . These include technology standards development, process improvement, technology training for court leaders, and dialog within and among the justice community on technology matters.

Courts disrupted (which Tom Clarke hastened to point out was way too big a topic for a single session) identified some major disconnects in the way courts may perceive their business and what their business really is. For example, the actual mix of case types varies dramatically from what courts are designed to handle. Just one example: cases involving lawyers constitute a small fraction of the total case load.

Fittingly, Good Public Policy for Innovation: Open vs. Closed Ecosystem concluded the conference. I will have more to say on this topic later. The very practical question, in facing the upheavals and the technology choices, is whether to integrate “Best of Breed” components on the one hand (“Open” ecosystem); or to build or acquire a single system that does everything (“Closed” ecosystem). The panelists did a very nice job of identifying the issues involved, the relative advantages and disadvantages.

Again, I strongly encourage you to check the e-Courts website and view some, or all the sessions. And I look forward to future conferences, white papers, and educational opportunities that build on the material presented at this conference to provide practical assistance to court leaders in the facing today’s profound changes.

 

Countdown to e-Courts 2016

I’m looking forward to e-Courts 2016 in a couple of weeks; and not just because it’s in Las Vegas and likely to be sunnier and warmer than the December cold and gray at home. e-Courts and CTC conferences stand well on their own in that they are rich in information, networking and exposure to the latest technological innovations. The e-Courts experience, being court-centric, “lessons learned” as well as future planning makes it all that more relevant.

Beyond all that, for those of us fortunate enough to have attended a number of these conferences over the years, the cumulative “arc”, if you will, of the conferences provides an interesting view of where court technology has been and where it is headed. Each conference has its own special vibe or theme (sometimes more than one); and while there are definite similarities from conference to conference, the differences reflect the advances in the technology and their effects on courts.

118_e-courtsA glance at this year’s agenda provides immediate insight into this year’s theme. All past conferences, of course, have dealt with changing technology. This year, from Gary Marchant’s Keynote Address  through sessions with titles like Embracing the Accelerating Pace of Technology Change and Courts Disrupted, the pattern seems to be identifying and describing not only the technologies, but also discussing how courts can deal with the accelerating rate of change for which technology is a major causal factor. Because, while each new technology in of itself engenders change, the cumulative effect of the myriad of technological, societal, environmental, medical, pedagogical and other tsunami-like changes are altering the very face of the justice system.

One area I hope gets some discussion at and following the conference (while not necessarily under this label) is Complexity Theory. (Several years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog on Complexity Theory, also known as Chaos Theory. The editors mercifully elected not to publish it.) The particular point I made in that piece that should be considered is determining whether, in a very dynamic (that is, rapidly changing) environment, organizations can maneuver more effectively with one large, tightly integrated system, or with multiple smaller, integrated but interchangeable systems. In a broad sense, the answer, of course, is “It Depends.”

I hope there is some discussion of what it depends upon. For one thing, it depends on where the court is coming from. If the court has a tightly integrated system that handles CMS, DMS, work flow, judge’s work bench, public access, web portal, and so on, no doubt there will be real advantages with staying with that model. If, on the other hand, each (or at least many) different functions are handled by separate systems, the answer may be very different. In cases where there is NO current system for certain functions, like Content Management, Workflow, Judges’ Workbench, it’s a serious question whether to try to expand an existing system like a CMS or go with a Best of Breed system that can be elegantly integrated with the existing systems.

The Complexity, or Chaos Theory reference pertains to a characteristic with which we are all familiar but rarely articulate, and for which there is some truly incomprehensible math. Since I am not real sharp with math, here’s an example: If you want to pave an area, are you better off paving it as one section, or as a bunch of smaller sections fitted together (like squares in a sidewalk)? Or, should you have one large single-pane window, or a set of smaller window panes that together form a large viewing area?

While the single area may be easier overall to put in, there are a couple drawbacks. One is that you must be able to do it all at once. Another is that one crack, anywhere, destroys the integrity of the whole thing. Thus, when there is the prospect of variability (like heat changes winter to summer) or instability (like ground tremors) that can damage the window, builders go with the smaller, sectioned design.

I think there’s a real analogy here to the situation courts find themselves in as the gale winds of change blow over them. The Pyramids could withstand a lot of weather. But even they were made of individual building blocks. Yes, we’re all finding new functions we want to migrate onto electronic platforms. everyone should carefully consider not just what works best; but what model will best withstand the certainty of future uncertainty.

Bippity Boppity Boo – ECM, Workflow, and Magic

117_fairies
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable for magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke

Walt Disney was a man way ahead of his time. Yes, long before anyone coined the term, ole’ Walt managed to embed a major plug for advanced Electronic Content Management with configurable workflow into his 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty. This feat was remarkable, even for Disney, considering that it would be decades before ECM would be invented.

Don’t just take my word for it; go watch the movie. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t use the terms “ECM”, “configurable”, or “workflow”. No, futurist that he was, Walt cleverly used code words and allegorical situations. But, when you see the scenes in which the Fairy Godmothers try to manage their “household” WITHOUT workflow (they use the code-word “magic” instead; but, clearly, it’s configurable workflow), things are a hot mess. Once they return to using workflow – ok; call it “magic” if you insist – everything settles right in and works like, ahem, a charm.

Yes, the dishes put themselves away. The cake not only puts itself together, but it’s quality is without compare. That doesn’t mean the ladies don’t create the cake. They decide what the result should be and fashion a masterpiece. But there’s no muss, no fuss, and absolutely no wasted effort, duplication, errors, or sloppy work. Materials, ingredients, pots and pans, utensils – all arrive just when needed, then clean themselves and put themselves away.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a practically perfect illustration of the power of ECM with workflow. For those who have implemented it, the thought of doing without it, however briefly, is no less terrifying than the thought of cooking and cleaning without magic was to the Fairy Godmothers. For those who have not implemented it, the purported benefits sound like, well, magic.

Consider: Not only did the cake get baked; but all the ancillary prep work and cleanup were automatically executed as fully integrated functions. Suppose holding a court hearing operated the same way. No gathering documents and files; that’s done. No arranging the materials for the judge; that’s done, too. The judge can hold the hearing, the output (order, hearing, warrant, whatever) can be generated with a flick of the wand — uh, or the proper command issued by the proper person (there’s a difference between this and magic?).

Afterwards, the files and documents can hie themselves to their proper next places, be it “storage” or the next step in the process; notices can generate themselves, and so on. Moreover, for those who like to keep track of what’s been done (that is, every court manager who ever lived) all the proper recordings of what has been done, who was involved, and so on will be made without even asking. Want the answer to  any type of statistical or historical question? Just ask.

Walt even foresaw one of the less obvious considerations with using magic; at least, less obvious until the first time you get burned. That is, the need for security. Fortunately for today’s courts, they’re not the first ones to try using magic in the heart of the woods with Maleficent on the prowl. Today’s systems come with robust security; and staff awareness and training are among the highest priorities of professional court managers. Courts have gotten very good about keeping their windows and chimneys shut, so to speak.

And then, there’s the final scene. As the Princess and The Prince dance into Happily Ever After, the Fairy Godmothers each change the color of the Princess’s gown to conform to their different fashion tastes. What a concept: Configurable display, to suit the needs, wants, and preferences of each particular user. Guess what? Your wish is granted.

Bippity Boppity Boo.

Happy Halloween

116_men-in-blackOne of the great motifs of the “Men in Black” movies is the human disguises used by aliens. A perfectly normal looking human turns out to be a sort of robot or exo-skin for some alien inside who is driving the apparatus. The allure of being able to wear a young, buff, fully-coifed humanoid exterior could in fact appeal to me; but that’s another story. For an alien, life in a human-suit draws a lot less attention. It’s like Halloween every day.

How many judges, court managers, court staff, and court records users live most of their lives in a snappy, graphic, touch-screen electronic world, only to have to deal with an ancient (if venerable) Court Management System (CMS) that is monochromatic, text-only, keyboard-driven and is based on codes that only the long-time insiders can decipher? It’s not that the information management function provided by the old CMS isn’t vital. It is. It’s just not very attractive, very accessible, very easy to use, or very extensible by modern standards. Worst of all, it almost certainly doesn’t handle ALL the information management functions; things like document management, E-Commerce, workflow, and so on.

One solution, of course, would be to replace that old CMS with a spiffy new one that has all the new bells and whistles. Frankly, that’s not a bad idea. However, that’s sometimes not practical. Barriers like cost, process change, technical support staff, to name a few, litter the real world of court managers.

Imagine if the old CMS could look like, act like, and (to some extent) change like a much more full-featured, modern system. Sort of like the alien deep inside the “Human” costume.

Integrating a legacy CMS with a full-featured E-Filing solution can provide this type of leverage. Here’s some of how it could work:

The E-Filing System can extract necessary data from the legacy CMS and store a copy in a much faster, much more accessible repository that is updated at regular intervals. Because the updating involves only changes, regular updating itself is fast.

When dealing with users – for viewing, for data entry, for communications – the E-Filing System provides the interface. Of course, incoming and outgoing documents comprise a large part of the changes anyway; so in fact what is happening is that the E-Filing System is updating the legacy CMS, saving redundant data entry while providing a much more elegant interface.

Likewise, users seeking to view court information, whether it be documents, CMS data such as the Case Register or Judgment Docket, things like attorney names and addresses, and so on, all can do so through the interface provided by the E-Filing System.

Much more extended uses, including E-Commerce (where users pay for court information), and secure E-Notification can also run off the E-Filing engine, all the while using back-end information from the CMS and in turn updating the CMS with the relevant transactional data and metadata.

Another major new “face” made possible by an integrated E-Filing System can be a customizable “Judicial View”. The E-Filing System can be configured to provide judges with views and access to exactly the information they need, whether on the bench, in chambers, or on the go. The E-Filing System will collect the variety of information from the disparate back-end systems in which the information resides, such as the court CMS, the Jail Log, the Court Docket, the Document Management System, and so on, and present it the way each judge chooses to have it presented.

Perhaps best of all, when the time comes to actually replace the legacy CMS, the impact on the end users can be considerably lessened. After all, what they will see probably won’t change much – because they will be used to dealing with the E-Filing System’s front end.

So, as everyone dresses up for Halloween, consider whether your old creature might not be a whole lot easier to deal with if it were “wearing” a full-featured E-Filing suit.

Happy Halloween.

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.