6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 5

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

Comply and Fly with ECM: Meeting Mandates and Regulations

153_waitinginline260 minutes. That’s just over 4 hours, which is about half of the average person’s workday. It’s also the amount of time government agencies spend per day just trying to meet public records requests.

When I say this, you may envision stacks and stacks of backlogged requests and impatient constituents lined up. This is true to some extent, but it’s really only half the battle. Not only are these agencies dealing with backlogs and back-talk, but they’re doing so while sweating under the urgency of mandates and regulations. Unfortunately for agency workers, such bold parameters box in almost all of their requests.

How Do They Manage?

Historically, not very well. Constituents with a request need to search the government’s website for the form, fill it out, print the document, and snail-mail it in. The paper document then needs to be hand-shuffled to the right desk, filed, and processed. All this alongside the hundreds of other documents that need the same, vital attention. Sounds fun, right?

Or, if the constituent needs it faster, they drive to your office, fighting traffic, securing close parking, finally get through security and wait in line for the pleasure of submitting the request in-person.

Someone Help These People!

Enterprise content management (ECM) is on it! Using its cloud-based storage, ECM allows public records across all departments to elevate their capacity and ability to comply with the ever-changing public records requirements without cramping their offices with added file cabinets.

Using an ECM system for public records becomes even easier when it manages your processes. For instance, you have dozens, if not hundreds of PDF forms on your website. Many of those are mandated forms that you cannot modify, which makes it hard (if not impossible) for electronic submission.

But an ECM solution, like OnBase by Hyland, comes with Unity Forms which allow you to design documents that will capture signatures, allow attachments and validate data to ensure that you’re collecting all the required information. Then, with the click of a button, the data is merged onto a government form that can be submitted online or printed and mailed. This not only ensures that all required information is filled out, but the constituent doesn’t have to worry about missing critical information and having gone through a ton of work just to have a rejected, incomplete form bounce back to them.

Once the form is in an ECM system, leverage its built-in workflow capability to route the form to the correct person, which is based on data in the form. Yes, it is a huge time-saver! Along the way, the ECM system can also capture those supplemental documents that pop up as work progresses. Automatic notifications at each step will also reduce calls into the office. Workflows can also track each type of form’s legislative requirements and mandates for processing times, and prioritize those forms that are approaching their limits.

As a result of all of this awesome automation, your completed process will not only have a complete audit trail for transparency and reporting purposes, but responding to record requests will be much easier because your documents are in one place and can be delivered in virtually any format. In other words, no more rifling through desks, endlessly searching for misfiled documents or printing a forest’s worth in paper.

I Can Help Myself? Don’t Mind if I Do!

While these features are undoubtedly speeding up the fulfillment of records requests, they’re also enabling a self-serving public through the use of search portals. This saves constituents all the time they would have spent driving to offices or preparing snail-mailed documents, and it saves the agency workers from having to manage and sort stacks of paper.

I’m Ready to Comply and Fly

As you can see, complying with mandates and regulations doesn’t have to be difficult. With a public record agency operating on an ECM, you can ensure all the information that is requested will be securely delivered on time, in proper format, and exactly where it needs to be.

Does your agency leverage an ECM? If so, how is your workload now compared to life before ECM?

Coming in Part 6: Eliminating Duplicative Workflows

 

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 2

By Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

147_megasharkI’ll admit that sometimes I like to watch cheesy, B movies from the SyFy channel. Most of them follow the same script – some greedy corporation or government scientists make a mistake and suddenly we have oversized snakes, sharks, or some other creepifying animal terrorizing an island or a city.

I write this because for some government departments, it feels like a science experiment gone wrong and paper is piling up everywhere, terrorizing the office. The shelves keep expanding, the boxes keep multiplying, and the mounds of paper that have to be processed and stored are ready to drive workers out of the office screaming onto the streets.

In Part 1 of this series, 6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges, we looked at the power that comes when your department or office transitions to a digital workflow to manage the work. Here we’re talking about those paper dragons and how to slay them.

Reducing paper is one of the first considerations that opens the door for people yelling “help!” But before you run into the arms of the first dashing archiving software hero to knock on your door, you must think beyond that moment when your immediate problem is solved. That brave hero might be great at slaying paper dragons and archiving digitized documents but could become an awful life partner because he or she doesn’t possess the workflow skills required for a long-term partnership. You might want to check out our infographic before saying “I do.” You want to settle down, not settle for.

Back to paper dragons.

Reducing the amount of paper we use is a worthy goal for any government agency. Most people don’t think of the overall cost of living in a paper-based environment because the tools we use to deal with paper are so ingrained in our psyche.

For instance, consider the tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and maintain a few copy machines and then add the costs to feed those monsters with toner and paper  each month. Frequently, you have to stick your hands into their jaws to remove paper cavities. If you have four or five of these medium-sized units around the office in their second or third generation, you have likely already bought and paid for an ECM system, like OnBase, to store your documents.

How Much Does Your Storage Cost?

The other cost is obvious – storage. If you have fifty shelves or filing cabinets at $1,500 apiece, that’s $75,000 or more depending on which unit you’re using. If you’re a county or city, imagine what that storage cost looks like across all your departments. You just bought another ECM system.

And then there is office space. Where do you put all your workers? Are you thinking that you have to build another building or move to a larger office in the next few years to house both your staff and your paper? Now you’re faced with options of a budget challenge to justify spending millions on a new building because you’ve outgrown the old one, spending hundreds of thousands on new office leasing, or searching online for double-decker cubicles because things are getting tight. Not only can an ECM system   reduce your storage requirements, but with workflow automation, it can increase your processing capacity without increasing your headcount. That’s pretty powerful.

Getting a handle on headcount increases and real estate are your two biggest budget items. An ECM helps avoid the challenge of too much government at the end of the money.


Read how OnBase can help you to reduce paper and increase automation.

 

Backing Up the Back Up

But there is one more storage cost to consider – backup. To protect against the loss from fire, flood, earthquake, or other catastrophe, it’s not unusual to send off the original to an off-site storage facility while the staff makes photocopies of files to keep on hand. That’s a tremendous number of hours spent by your staff to reduce risk or to have convenient access. And if the only copies of your documents are the ones in a file cabinet, then you need to assess the risk and cost if critical records are lost and you need to recover them. Think land records, executed contracts, invoices, warranties, receipts, tax documents, reports, and any other document where no electronic version exists.

An ECM system with a good backup strategy eliminates the need to create copies for off-site transport and storage. In the event of a disaster, you can recover files much quicker with little to no loss of data. And potentially shield yourself from expensive lawsuits.

The point of reducing paper with an ECM solution is to increase efficiency, access and redundancy so that you can drive out those paper monsters and the machine that feeds them. And leave the real monsters to the SyFy channel.

Where are you seeing too much paper in your office?

Coming in Part 3: Increasing Transparency

Going Beyond your CMS with ECM

112_bucketMany CMS systems come with some form of a “bucket” that holds documents that can be attached to a case file. These folders of attached case file documents are a great resource when looking at a specific case. However, they leave a lot of the real value contained within and about the documents themselves.

An integrated ECM (enterprise content management) system can provide far more benefit than a simple bucket because it’s able to unlock:

  • The content of those documents
  • Much more detailed information about each document
  • Rich information about the documents and the information within them in aggregate form in ways that are helpful to the court

Courts love the benefits of the full text searching capabilities provided by an ECM system. Full text searching allows you to search using a combination of metadata and text search criteria, the contents of a document, an entire case file, a group of files, or even the global case file spectrum for information of value that would not appear as data in your CMS. Judges will find this capability can be particularly helpful when rendering a decision in regards to a motion, evidentiary hearing, or final judgment.

Documents have metadata associated with them. For many CMS, if you wanted, for instance, a list of all judgments on a particular defendant or case type, or to see all complaints filed by a plaintiff, performing this kind of search would be quite cumbersome, if indeed it was possible at all.  In comparison, with an ECM system, searches across documents and cases are quick, simple, and may even be set up to be automatic.

With a CMS, viewing multiple documents side-by-side, particularly if they are from different cases, is problematic.An ECM system makes side-by-side viewing simple and clear.

Another advantage is that some ECM systems, such as JusticeTech by ImageSoft, allows case file to be displayed differently to different groups of people. A clerk and judge may want to look at a case file set up differently because they have different functional needs. A modern ECM system can provide that flexibility without having to re-arrange, develop a “compromise” arrangement, or, worst of all, duplicate a file. Furthermore, documents that only the judge should see, such as medical reports and confidential information, can be made available only to authorized judges and staff.

To obtain the full benefits of an ECM, It is vitally important for the court that the ECM system have a seamless integration with the CMS. For a quick overview of some of the reasons, see the blog post Deja Vu All Over Again.Well-designed integration will make the overall system feel natural to users and be easy for the court to maintain, thereby helping with user adoption and the long term viability of the solution.

eFiling: Audit Trail and Confidentiality

This is Part 10 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 9 here.

To conclude this eFiling series, let’s look back at a few pieces posted in the past that dealt with the enhancement of both the audit trail and the control over confidentiality offered by eFiling.

Audit Trail

One of the fun pieces I wrote, inspired by a presentation David Slayton, included an explanation of the audit trail provided by a good eFiling system.

[David] says … “… I know EXACTLY where the document came from, and whose profile was used to send it.” Knowing that a document has come from the right place, and knowing whose secure profile was used to send it, constitute security orders of magnitude greater than a written signature on a piece of paper…

Taking David’s point a step further, in an appropriately implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow system, not only do you know where the document came from, you know where it’s been and where it’s supposed to be going. It’s like Billy’s trail in the Family Circus: it leaves its tracks. It keeps track of who has looked at it and when. It keeps track of what was done to it, by whom, and when. And, unlike Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t disappear.

91_familycircus

…. [I]n a properly implemented ECM with workflow system, not only do we know that the document comes from who it’s supposed to; we know whether or not it’s been altered since it was sent, who has touched it, where it’s been, where it’s heading, whether it’s behavior makes sense, and if not, what would make better sense.

Stalking the Wily Electronic Documents, January 12, 2015

In another piece, I got to use one of my favorite pieces of doggerel (“Last night I saw upon the stair/ A little man who wasn’t there…”) to illustrate how a well-designed ECM system provides auditable Record Integrity:

A reliable document Chain of Custody in the paper world is merely a means of attempting to protect the Principal of Integrity. (Albeit an expensive, labor-intensive, highly unreliable, almost-never-completely followed means). Even with special viewing areas and monitors, do courts control ALL access by ALL staff, ALL attorneys, and ALL judges, not to mention cleaning and security staff? Not usually.

ECM provides a built-in mechanism for maintaining an audit trail of the Chain of Custody for court documents, providing end-to-end assurance of document integrity. ECM users view documents on screen and don’t come in contact with the physical file. From identity and signature authentication (when needed) at the front end, through tracking who accesses each document and when, to ”locking out changes” to prevent tampering, ECM absolutely protects document integrity…

Proving the Negative, October 3, 2011

Confidentiality

Confidentiality has several aspects. There’s things like judge’s notes, intended only for the judge or designated persons. Then there’s confidential information, like Social Security Numbers, minors’ names, abuse victims’ addresses, and so on, contained in otherwise public documents. There are totally confidential documents, like Secret Indictments. There are confidential case types, like some juvenile matters or adoptions, where the entire case is confidential.

eFiling and ECM provide greater control of confidential information, at all levels of granularity – from individual data element to entire case. Who can see what can be tightly controlled and administered. So, for example, attorneys on confidential juvenile cases can see their clients’ files, but no others. Court employees and judges with clearance can see confidential data that has been redacted using automated, workflow-enabled tools making it invisible to unauthorized persons.

However, as I noted in the March 14, 2012 posting,

This does not mean courts should not carefully review and, if required, modify rules and statutes to make certain there are no unpleasant surprises … The paper-on-demand court environment IS different than the hard-copy environment. The area of Public Records discoverability has wrinkles in the paper-on-demand environment that never arise in the paper world…

… Recommended best practice:

1) Ensure that disclosure rules call out both electronic and paper work product as their own non-disclosable category of information;

2) Maintain the non-disclosable work product documents in separate document types from formal court records, with security configuration that prevents viewing by unauthorized system users; and

3) Support electronic document annotations that don’t technically alter the original document and have their own security distinct from the document

Assuring Judicial Work Product Confidentiality in a Paper-On-Demand Court, March 12, 2012

While the business case for eFiling generally emphasizes the savings, convenience, work process streamlining, and quality improvements, the benefits of having a robust, easily managed audit trail and greatly enhanced control over confidentiality certainly should not be overlooked as additional “low-hanging fruit” when moving to eFiling and ECM.

Workflow – The Life of a Document After Review

This is Part 5 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 4.

flintstonesAn image I use to describe eFiling without automated workflow is Fred Flintstone’s car: it looks automated; but somehow the driver is still doing all the work. From the filer’s perspective, once a document is filed, electronically or otherwise, the “processing” fun is over. But from the court’s perspective, receipt and acceptance of the document initiates an interconnected flow of activities, including identification, recording, and routing it across tasks, processes, and procedures through its lifecycle. This flow of activities is generally known as “workflow”.

Each workflow step has three basic parts. First, what it is. Second, decide what to do with it. Third, transport it to where the next step must be performed. With electronic documents, the third step obviously gets a lot easier, since the document need not be physically transported. But what about the first and second steps?

Consider for a moment the distinction between “Discretionary” and “Ministerial” decision-making. Discretionary decisions are those where the decision maker weighs the information and, based on his or her knowledge, experience, and authority choses which outcome or action would be most appropriate. Ministerial decisions, on the other hand, are those where the outcome is to be decided based on a set of rules known to the decision maker. A judge’s bail decision is discretionary. A traffic court referee’s determination of a fine amount, being based on a formula, is ministerial.

Discretionary decisions made by qualified people provide the “value added” in knowledge-based service industries like courts. In other words, that’s what the public is willing to pay for: well reasoned decisions.

When it comes to ministerial “decisions”, like where to send a document for the next step in a business process, while the rules may be complicated, following them does not require judgment; only knowledge of the rules.

Paradoxically, the more complicated the rules are, generally the more qualified is the person who must make the “decision”, both because that person is more likely to know the rules and because that person may be deemed more trustworthy to correctly follow them.

The result is that courts generally expend an enormous amount of their most valuable human resources on ministerial tasks that could be performed by anyone sufficiently versed in the rules. Meanwhile, those resources are considerably less available to provide the much higher value-added activities for which they are qualified. Indeed, in most courts, more time and effort goes into figuring out what to do with documents than is spent actually working with them.

Implementing eFiling, with or without also implementing automated workflow, certainly confers major benefits on the filers. From the court’s perspective, though, all other benefits pale before the benefits from implementing automated workflow.  A few years ago I wrote in a white paper:

“Where potential workflow improvements stand out, they tend to stand out impressively. Filing incoming mail, for instance, is a critical task requiring a high level of business knowledge. The individual performing this task must know how to “route” each incoming item (and often several items in one submission must be dis-aggregated and routed to separate locations), sort them into piles, then assure they are accurately fed into whatever distribution process is used to physically move them. In a system with properly implemented workflow, the document (usually self-identifying), once entered into the ECM system, will be automatically routed to the correct place.

“The first key savings is the time of the knowledgeable staff who no longer have to individually assess and route each document. Next is Elapsed Time savings: delivery can go from days or weeks to minutes. Then there is the savings not only of the reduction of lost and misrouted documents to near zero, but the elimination of the need for redundancies and safeguards that are commonly in place to deal with those errors when they inevitably happen in the paper document world.”

Short-Term Payback and Long Term Gain from Transitioning to a Paper-On-Demand Court, Jeffrey N. Barlow, 2011.

Yes; eFiling can be implemented without automating workflow. But it makes no sense.

Coming up next: Blog 6 of 10: eFiling Blog Series – Data Centric eFiling

 

When E.T. Can’t Phone Home

82_etAs court implementations of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems move past installation and into maturity in their lifecycles, the “Give A Mouse A Cookie” syndrome gets stronger and stronger. That’s because as a robust ECM system with configurable workflow can do so much more, we feel entitled to EXPECT it to do more.

Today, let’s consider a subset of “Access”– the ability to get to documents. Few will disagree that Internet access to electronic documents is much more convenient and easier to manage than paper documents. People can view documents and files remotely; there’s no need to transport them, etc.

So we’re all happy, right? Well, sort of…

Actually, No.

Granted, remote access via the Web beats having to retrieve things from the file room. It works whenever there is an Internet connection. However, there are some big caveats when away from the court or office.

Think of judges who need to have access to not only read documents, but who need to work on, edit, create or sign them from home, from another court, from an airport, from the beach, and so on. Working on the documents across the Internet has some real limitations.

For starters, Steve Jobs’ vision of universal, 24/7, free access to the Internet notwithstanding, access is NOT always available. E.T. can’t always phone home and when he can’t, he’s stranded.

Second, even when Internet access is available, download speed for documents and files can be painfully slow.

Third, for various reasons (which I won’t go into here; but you can find a lot of court folks who will attest to it), if there is no persistent connection, managing the documents and the workflow becomes significantly more difficult and adds some major layers of complexity for the user to deal with.

The answer to this challenge is to utilize application sets that allow users to have access to and to work offline with the documents they need, then to be able to effortlessly sync the documents back to the ECM system when connectivity becomes available. Such applications effectively provide an electronic “briefcase” to users who must utilize and work with court documents and files while away from their court or office.

Unlike a paper-holding briefcase, these applications, when integrated with workflow, can automatically load and remove some or all of the necessary documents with as much or as little involvement as the user wants to have in the process.

So, for example, a judge can have the files that are on his calendar for the next day automatically stuffed into the electronic briefcase each day. The judge can then work on them at home, on a laptop or on a tablet. If the judge wants other files on an ad hoc basis, those can be easily added. Furthermore, the applications can also automatically empty the briefcase contents, sending the processed documents to whatever, wherever and whomever they should go.

Mobile access continues to grow in importance. Easy manipulation of remote documents was never a problem when documents couldn’t be remotely accessed. Now that ECM enables remote access, courts are, and should be, demanding that such access comes with the tools and power to maximize effectiveness. Fortunately, with the right ECM system and applications, E.T. can continue to get work done even when stranded in a backwater part of the universe.

 

 

Court Document Retention

64_flipside

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say, up front, that I believe both ends of the Court Document Retention discussion will be laid to rest and ultimately forgotten over the next five to 10 years, if not sooner. By “both ends” I mean, first, the question of “In what medium (paper, microfiche, or digital) should court records keep particular documents?” and second, “What to do with court documents (regardless of medium) once the retention period expires?”

My reasoning is that societal and governmental trends vis-a-vis public records (and I think, particularly, court records), are rapidly and inexorably moving toward requiring perpetual retention of all documents, particularly as storage costs continue to shrink.

Notwithstanding my (admittedly rosy) prediction though, that is not the world courts live in today. Consequently, there is a lot of effort being expended to remove the paper/michrofiche requirement barrier. As previously discussed, that can’t happen too soon .

Beyond the anachronistic medium requirement, under current laws and policies, courts are going to have to continue to manage which documents to keep and for how long. And rarely considered, but extremely costly, is the flip side of document retention: document purging and disposal once the retention period expires.

Every court knows the pain, expense and conflict involved in purging documents. With paper documents, even the best systems are highly labor-intensive, and usually involve multiple checks, verifications and quality controls to assure that nothing is inadvertently purged that should be kept. First, there is the management to keep track of when files and documents should be purged. It’s not as simple as a one-time calendaring at the case’s conclusion: What if something else happens in the case later to extend the time?

Once identified, in some instances, some documents must be physically removed from the case file while others are left in. In others (if not all for some case types), someone must go through the entire physical file to make sure there is not some “keeper” filed inside by mistake.

Then there’s the question of what to do with all that paper. (By the way, microfiche, being also physical, has corresponding problems). You can’t just toss it in the recycle bin — there are confidentiality considerations. If you outsource (a common solution), the service provider usually has to be bonded, provide security assurances, etc. And, ahem, they charge…

A dirty little secret among many courts is that they don’t actually purge until they have run out of storage space, because the cost of storage space, while not insignificant, is a lot less that the cost of purging in a legally and procedurally acceptable manner.

Given these factors, consider this: Every paper document a court receives or keeps — even if the court does absolutely nothing with it — is creating a downstream expense. Think you’ll move to an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system and then just go digital “Day Forward”, leaving as many old, sleeping paper dogs (I mean documents) to lie? You might want to take into account what those documents are going to cost to get rid of.

One of the major benefits of ECM, and one that I think gets far too little credit in up-front financial business case development, is that it massively cuts the cost of compliance with the current requirements for document purging and destruction. From the time of receipt or creation, the document can be managed for retention, and ultimately, purging. If the policies change, no problem; the workflow process will be changed and the document correctly managed under the new rules. When the time comes to purge, varying levels of review can be selected and administered. Destruction itself can be securely accomplished, monitored, documented and later audited.

While courts are permitted/required to purge and destroy old documents (and no one but me is predicting that won’t be forever), that fact in itself provides huge, if not independently sufficient, incentive to move as expeditiously as possible to ECM.

Channeling Ben Hogan: How eFiling Helps Improve Court Data Entry

One of the classic urban legends of golf goes like this:  An amateur once asked, I believe, Ben Hogan, “How can I increase my percentage of one-putts?”   To which Hogan famously replied, “Hit your approach shot close to the hole.”

59_ben hogan

With that broad hint, consider the following trick question:

Question: What is the best strategy for managing court data entry?

Answer:  A) Improve speed.

                B) Improve accuracy.

                C) Reduce Cost.

                D) None of the above

                E) All of the above (including “D”)

The correct answer, of course, is E.  The best strategy for managing court data entry is — Stop doing it.

Hogan’s point was not that there aren’t better ways to make a putting stroke.  And you can believe Hogan knew them all.  His point was, the object of the game is not to hole long putts.  The object is to hit fewer strokes.  Improve your putting stroke all you can; it’s still not as good as having a gimmee after your approach shot.

Likewise, while there are lots of ways to improve court data entry, the objective is to get the information into the court’s data base in a timely manner with as little effort, cost, and chance of error as possible.  In golf, if you can get the ball in the hole without putting (as, say, with a hole-in-one), that’s considered pretty darn good.  For courts, getting data into data bases without data entry is also pretty darn good.

Enter robust, full-featured electronic filing with workflow.  I don’t have to take a position on the question of what constitutes the best or most important aspect of court e-filing.  In golf, some golfers need work on their long game; some on their wedges, etc.  For some courts, cost savings will be most important; for some it will be speed and efficiency; for some it may even be raising revenue by charging attorneys, who benefit greatly from being able to e-file.   I certainly do not minimize the importance of these and numerous other benefits.  But whatever the primary benefit, removing the data entry burden from court staff unarguable gets the ball closer to if not in the hole.

When correctly implemented, e-filing constitutes a win-win situation when it comes to data management.  In today’s world, virtually every document that is filed (at least by attorneys) is created in electronic format.   Thus, just for starters, the e-filer does not (absent anachronistic rules; a topic for another day) need to print out copies to file.  While it may be necessary to enter address, type, and other meta-data in particular places to effect e-filing, this is NOT meta-data that the filer wasn’t already entering in the first place.  In other words, the tasks on the front end may look different (to the extent they are still necessary); but they are not additional or new.

On the court (receiving) end, though, the difference is dramatic.  E-filing with workflow can reduce the court staff’s data entry tasks to quality control — analogous to a six-inch putt instead of a thirty-footer.

Over the past several years, many courts have followed a “staged” approach to implementing Electronic Content Management (ECM) in which the first stage is to move internally to ECM while still receiving filed documents as paper, then scanning them into the court’s ECM system.  As an implementation strategy, this often makes a lot of sense.  It’s sort of like learning to get real good at “lag” putting, to leave the long putts close to the hole.

For such courts, moving quickly on to e-filing should be a top priority.  You’ve mastered the game; now start leaving the ball next to the hole on your approach shot.

What the Heck IS ECM?

bw_teacher_pupil_blackboard

In elementary school, my daughter had to write about our family. She had little trouble explaining what her mom did: “My Mom is a Legal Secretary.” I presented a bit more of a problem, to say the least. She wrote, “I’m not sure what my Dad does, but he works with computers. He used to be a lawyer.”

Ah, well. Over the years, I have found that I can do little to improve on that explanation.

Nowadays, when I am asked what I do, I tell people (including my daughter, who now works in courts herself) that I write, speak and consult regarding Electronic Content Management (ECM) for courts and justice agencies. People may nod politely, but I always suspect they are thinking, “What the heck IS ECM, for crying out loud?”

Attempts at more detailed explanations usually result in a response along the lines of, “Oh, I get it — you mean ‘imaging’.” Sigh. And, I used to be a lawyer, too.

I have tried countless ways to explain what ECM is. In June I attended the ImageSoft Government Summit, a conference designed to help court and other government professionals share experiences and tips for planning, financing, implementing, deploying and managing ECM systems . Unable to attend all the sessions, I recently listened to a recorded session presented by Colleen Alber, a Product Evangelist with Hyland Software , who spoke on “The Skinny on OnBase.” OnBase is Hyland’s industry-leading ECM suite of products. Not surprisingly, Colleen had no problem explaining what ECM is. Although Colleen’s talk focused on new developments, by way of context, she gave the most succinct yet comprehensive description of ECM that I can remember hearing.

She explained that Hyland divides ECM into six Building Blocks:

1. Capture:

  • The ability to capture any file type from any physical location and automatically classify the documents.

2. Process:

  • Automate structured processes (workflow);
  • Consolidate unstructured information; and
  • Facilitate case management;

3. Access:

  • Provide access to documents and data quickly and easily, to everyone who needs and is entitled to access, easily, from anywhere, any time.

4. Integrate:

  • Seamless integration of documents and data with critical business applications, such as case management, docketing, office productivity (e.g., word processing, spread sheets, etc.), court recording, etc., with limited or no additional data entry.

5. Measure:

  • The ability to monitor and report on the information and activity within the ECM system, without involving IT or database administrators.

6. Store:

  • • Manage the security of the documents and their timely destruction according to court retention policy.My guess is that many, if not most, people who have not researched or had hands-on experience with ECM assume it involves only capture (and probably only the scanning portion of that) and storage (and probably only the elimination of paper aspect of that).So the next time someone who you’d like to have support your ECM initiative asks, “What the heck is ECM?”, don’t just say, “It lets us image our documents.” Instead, try something like, “It allows us to:
    1. Receive
    2. Use
    3. And provide and control access to documents
    4. While reducing or eliminating duplicate data entry across our systems
    5. All of which we can monitor for quality and productivity
    6. While keeping the documents secure and automatically purging them in a timely manner
      1. Capture
      2. Process
      3. Access
      4. Integrate
      5. Measure
      6. Store

    If my daughter ever asks again, I’m ready, thanks to Colleen.