Is Automation in Government Programming Fear in People?

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

151_terminator copy.jpgIn a society where self-driving cars are actually in progress and movies like Her are not completely unthinkable, it’s easy to feel fearful when we speak of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Although we don’t realize it, both AI and automation are already a part of many people’s daily lives. For example, everyone would probably agree that there’s nothing wrong with asking Alexa to play your favorite song, setting an away message on your email, or engaging a bot to really challenge you in chess.

But mention these similarly helpful tactics in the same breath as “government practices,” and everyone’s nerves get a little tender.

AI or Automation? Let’s Be Clear

Judging by the continued debates, pushbacks, and horror movies, many people probably envision both technologies to be physical robots (think Rosie from the Jetsons, only not as sweet), chasing government staff and officials out of their offices, and reprogramming communities to serve their evil demands.

Well that is definitely not the goal of either technology, it is actually a very extreme illustration of AI. Not the evil-taking-over-the-government part, but that AI technology is developed to learn and mimic human behavior, and apply it in appropriate, positive situations.

Automation, however, is exactly what it sounds like: transforming a historically manual process into an automatic one. The stark difference between this and AI is that humans drive the automation process. You tell the technology where to always send or file a specific email, and the automation will continue to do that, and nothing more. Unlike our kids, pets, or AI, automation is very obedient.

Technology Takeover? More Like Technological Teamwork  

As the government begins to toss technology innovation ideas around, it’s critical that officials and the public understand why and when it’s a good idea to apply these processes.

A recent Route Fifty article was speaking to some of the successful integrations of AI and automation already in government. Mentioning the IBM Center’s “Envision Government in 2040” series, the article cited a recent report by the IBM Center stating that The Bureau of Labor Statistics is already using AI to facilitate a survey coding process. The article reported that the bureau “improved both the quality and efficiency of the work,” and “employees are able to focus on more complicated cases that require human judgment.”

You see, most technology is not coming to replace your desk – it’s simply taking care of tedious “grunt work” so you can continue to make real, human impact. And, unlike some summer interns, it’s never late to work and can’t talk back.

I Think You’ve Already Met

You may not realize it, but many people in government offices, law firms, and courts are already harvesting the benefits of automation. If your organization uses an ECM (electronic case management system) or EDM (electronic document management system), you might find that your office is more productive than that of or similar agencies. Because cases and documents are electronically searched for, filed and routed, you never have to think about things like snail-mailing, paper filing, or digging through cases for information.

ECMs and EDMs are actually becoming a very common, well-received form of automation in justice, especially among prosecutors, courts, lawyers, and law enforcement, to expedite justice for victims.

Besides the courts, these systems are helping government agencies of all stripes whether it is managing permits, vital records, agendas, public works or finance and HR.

If you’re interested in learning more about automating your government agency’s paper flow, you should check out this page!

Coming to a Town Near You (Hopefully!)

Already dealing with the effects of car-sharing services, pay-by-phone integrations, and an app for everything, government officials are foreseeing a major disconnect with their publics if they do not continue to stay on top of practical technology issues and advancements.

This is the exact reason that the National Governors Association recently developed “NGA Future,” an initiative to prepare for the incoming wave of technological innovation. The goal is to educate legislators about certain technological areas so they can create policies around any potentially disruptive inventions on the horizon (looking at you, self-driving cars!).

Hand-in-hand with better policies, governors are also hoping to add some new tools to their toolbox by utilizing any innovations that might help them better run their offices, serve constituents, create new jobs and, ultimately, grow their economies.

Don’t Fear Because Automation is Here

Because it happened so fast and integrated so smoothly, it’s difficult to believe that automation and AI aren’t on their way in – they’re already here! And, when applied appropriately, these technologies are making everyone’s lives easier by taking care of the tedious work and leaving human-element decisions to real people.

So as the government continues to leverage AI and automated processes, it’s critical that we stay informed about the technologies that are improving our lives. So let’s start by discerning between the benefits that real-life automation and AI are providing, and the fiction-based plot of a horror movie.

Which benefit of a more streamlined government process are you most excited about?

 

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 4

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

150_roundtuit.pngMusic to Everyone’s Ears: Better Serving Constituents and Employees with ECM.

“I just love frustrated phone calls from residents!” said no government official ever.

When you’re serving an entire state, county, or even a city of people who all “want their answers now!”, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. And as if the natural demands and conformity laws of your job don’t stress you enough, the hoops you jump through just to play your part surely will. Why is that? Because paper drives so many of the government’s processes, including the management of records, contracts, cases, photos, and other sensitive information. I light-heartedly refer to any office like this as a “paper prison” – it’s a term of endearment, really.

Moving from desk to desk, and sometimes even to other locations, clerks and staff waste time they typically don’t have just on finding documents for people at the counter who have their own timelines to attend to. And if you’ve already read Part 3 of this blog series, you know this old-school system also doesn’t bode well for transparency, as there is simply no secure way for your public to self-serve their informational needs.

With an enterprise content management system (ECM), also commonly referred to as an electronic document management system (EDMS), you can easily meet all of your constituents’ needs, and not drive your staff crazy while doing so.

Too Much Time on My Hands

A good song by the Stix, but an even better “problem” for you and your constituents to have! With an ECM, not only do you not have to jump from file to file, you don’t have to click from system to system. All of the information your customer is asking for is stored on one, connected platform, and within a few click’s reach. This facilitates much faster responses, such as responding to public housing status updates or making better decisions because you now have all the edits and notes to a plan. So, what would you typically churn out in a few months to a year gets returned to your customer long before they have a chance to call and check the status.

Automatic

A shout-out to the country music fans of government agencies, particularly Miranda Lambert. But, contrary to the song, many processes for constituents can be described as anything but automatic. One of the best features about an ECM is its automation. When a citizen submits an electronic request form, such as a request to address a pothole or a civic complaint, it’s automatically routed to the right person for further development. No more sitting on someone’s desk until they get around to it. ECM also ensures accountability and can notify supervisors when cases are not being handled according to the department’s policies.

Legal documents are even integrated with the court’s CMS, so you don’t have to worry about running over to physically file or find a case. With a click of a button, all necessary documents, discovery materials, and contracts are shared and accessible to the appropriate parties. So you can take your time with the old-school traditions you do like to keep, like cassette tapes and window cranks, while still keeping up with society’s fast-paced demands.


To continue reading more about how an EDMS can help you better serve your constituents, click here!

Born to Run

Maybe you aren’t an actual runner but, like Bruce, you might always been on-the-go. But just because you travel doesn’t mean you have to keep your public waiting. Inspectors can submit work order requests on-the-spot from their laptop. People in public works can pull up plans, manuals and schematics from a layer’s map on their iPad. Invoices can be approved during a break at a conference from a mobile phone.  In the age of the mobile workforce, people expect that you’re not completely disconnected from them just because you’re on the road, off-site, or even on a plane. With an ECM, you can keep up with the mobile workforce. Simply grab your smartphone or tablet, pull up the document you need, and consider it signed, sealed, delivered!

Remember that ECMs with all of this functionality, like OnBase by Hyand, is also making life much easier on constituents. Empowering your employees with the tools they need allows them by to serve constituents faster and easier with mobile-accessible content and overall communication.

What Are You Waiting For?

Because I truly believe there are still Nickelback fans still out there!

But really, when you free your staff from “paper prisons,” you’re also making an investment in the people you serve. Not only will you see a dramatic upswing in productivity, but doing your job in this workflow will be like music to your ears – without upset constituents calling in the middle of your favorite guitar solo.

Look Back to Keep Moving Forward with ECM

If you’re not following our Paperless Process Blog, check out the rest of our blog series “6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges” – Parts 1, 2 and 3. In Part 1, we discuss the ways a digital workflow adds value to your operations. Part 2 focuses on slaying the paper dragons that want to take over your office. And Part 3 speaks to leveraging ECMs to strengthen transparency.

Coming in Part 5: Complying with Mandates and Regulations

If you adopted an ECM, what kind of benefits would your constituents enjoy?

 

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 3

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

148_fullinbox

You show up to work, get coffee, open your mail, open your email and check your phone and just like that, you have tens if not hundreds of requests for public records that you need take care of. Even if you can charge for it, the work is tedious, particularly if the records that you’re looking for aren’t where they’re supposed to be, or are covered in cobwebs and dust.

Virtually every government agency is bound by rules of transparency and openness to ensure public accountability. But short of allowing the public to come in and rifle through your files, search your network folders, or setup a new desk in your office, there just isn’t a good way to allow for self-serve access. Things get particularly thorny when you have to redact information or secure certain items from the public because of the sensitivity of the information that you are entrusted to protect. Those requests can take months or years if paper-based.

Public offices have tried to solve this by implementing some kind of image archive where staff can at least access that information faster – if they know what to look for. As an interim step, some offices have provided a kiosk in the lobby for the public to use but this still is not a very convenient solution. At ImageSoft, we hear these stories all the time.

Another challenge to transparency and openness is how to find the information when it has been converted to a digital format. Sometimes, things are not always indexed correctly, so finding the right information can also be an exercise in frustration. And if there is a legal proceeding and you find more stuff after you said that you provided everything, you probably won’t be having a good day.

An enterprise content management system (ECM) like OnBase, or what some call EDMS (electronic document management system) can help with transparency in several ways:

Read more about how ECM can address the challenges of various government offices.

Faster and more complete searches

While any system may have good metadata, a lot of useful information may not be stored as metadata but may be contained in the body of the content. For instance, a sub-contractor on a project may appear in a paragraph but the document may have been indexed using the name of the general contractor. A text search would be the only way to find what you’re looking for.

Easy redaction capability

Some documents should be available to the public but contain sensitive information that needs to be redacted, and at the same time, you need to keep the original. A good ECM solution allows you to create redacted copies for public consumption in the application while retaining the unredacted original securely without having to print, markup and rescan.

Online search access

Allowing the public self-serve access with both metadata and text searches frees up critical office resources. This method is only cost-effective if your ECM vendor offers some form of constituent or external user licensing.

Better tracking system

As we described, the process to track and handle the requests for which the public cannot access a record can be time consuming as well. We will cover more of this in a future blog post but an effective workflow tool that is integrated with your ECM/EDMS can receive requests electronically, track their progress and then electronically deliver results, which greatly reduces the burden on internal staff.

So, whether you store your documents in files and boxes, in network folders, or in an old archive, you can benefit significantly from upgrading to a true enterprise content management system that increases your ability to be transparent and open while reducing your staff’s workload.

If you’re not following our Paperless Process Blog, check out our blog series 6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 1 and 2. In Part 1, we discuss the ways a digital workflow adds value to your operations. Part 2 focuses on slaying the paper dragons that want to take over your office.

Coming in Part 4: Meeting Constituent Needs

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 1

By Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

143_dilbert
Do More with Less Money in Less Time

In government, budgets are tighter, technology is aging and constituents are demanding more and are upset when things seem slow or when they can’t get timely updates or resolution.

One of the top strategies that agencies use to address this is to go paperless. Paper-driven processes are inherently inefficient because only one person can work on a document at a time. To overcome this, staff will adjust processes around the limitations of paper such as making multiple copies of a document which makes it a nightmare for maintaining official records.

The great irony is that many government agencies with slick public-facing sites are converting digital submissions into paper to get the work done. And to provide your constituents with online updates or access, someone has to turn the data or documents back into an electronic format again.

So how does going paperless with an enterprise content management platform (ECM) make government do more with less?

There are three key factors that have the potential to dramatically improve services to the public that you serve:

Reduce the Time Spent Organizing and Sorting Your Inbox

In a production environment, a significant portion of time is spent by employees organizing their day and figuring out what they have to do next for each file in their inbox. It’s not unusual to see paper files being carted around and handed out to employees to work or workers using bins under their desks. And if someone is out of the office, transitioning the work to someone else is complicated if not all the notes are in the file.

An ECM platform manages the incoming work by sorting them into buckets using pre-configured rules, balances out the load to prevent cherry picking and presents the various workers with the tasks they need to accomplish specific to the file. Whatever time was spent organizing and rifling through files, whether it’s 10-30% of their day, can now be focused on work. And when an employee needs a file to respond to an inquiry, files can be retrieved in seconds on the same call rather than taking minutes or hours and playing phone tag. And if someone is out for the day, all notes and files can be distributed to other staff with the click of a button or dragging a file to a user’s icon.

Now there’s no excuse for not having a clean desk.

Reduce Time Finding Supporting Documents

When looking at an application, you may need to view supporting information submitted by the application or accessing past case history. By having all the information there, automatically organized and sorted by the document type, you can make decisions quicker instead of digging through an old file box or suffering another paper cut by flipping through a file.

A big part of this is linking the ECM platform to your core business solution. This allows you, with a button click, to retrieve the documents related to the case you’re viewing in your core application. It also allows decisions recorded in the ECM system to update your core applications so you’re not duplicating your efforts and risking keying errors.

Let the Computer Do the Work

An ECM system without the ability to automate tasks is like a car without an engine—you end up having to do all the work. The real value in an ECM platform occurs when you can configure the system to do some of the mundane, repetitive tasks that rob you of the time needed to do the work that only people can do.

For instance, what would life be like if with the click of a button, an application is approved, automatically generates and prints an acceptance letter, updates a core system’s records or portal and notifies other individuals within an office or another agency for follow up? What took an hour before could be reduced to a few minutes or seconds. Boom! And now you leave the office at the end of the day having processed more cases but with a smile instead of a frown. And people are happy to see you on the street because you helped them and exceeded their expectations.

So how much can an ECM system improve your processes? It depends on the process and how many steps are involved. In a typical project, we see efficiencies go up anywhere from 25-75% (and sometimes a lot more).

For example, we reduced the time to locate employee files for National Heritage Academy from half a day to immediate access and reduced audit times by 54%. When faced with budget cuts forcing staff reductions, we saved the Prosecutor’s office in Ingham County, MI, $450,000 annually in labor savings while they were able to maintain the same workload. And we reduced the time for judges to sign child support cases from five days to one in a county court.

So, while there is some benefit to a basic ECM scan, store or retrieve, the real power comes when your department or office transitions to a digital workflow to manage the work.

How has an ECM platform made your life easier?

Coming in Part 2: Reducing Paper

The Content Below – Connecting with the Buried Business Information

By Jeffrey N. Barlow

126_content below“The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above…”

A Horse With No Name
America, 1971

The classic line from America’s forty-five year old classic would be just as true (though nowhere near as hauntingly beautiful and descriptive) if you substituted “file system” or “document repository” for “desert” in the above lyric lines. A pre-ECM/DMS (paper) document management system bore about as much relation to the information within the documents as a table of contents or index bears to the contents of a book. They were “pointers”; like a marine chart telling you where the deep water is. There was little to no information about the water itself, much less what’s in it, and what the things in it are doing. To get to the fish, or the information, you’re on your own.

The thing is, there’s a lot more room below the surface; so you can fit a lot more stuff. Plus, it’s three-dimensional (richer). Historically, though, getting to it has been a real challenge.

Today, the very nature of information is changing. We used to talk about “structured data” and “blobs”.  Structured data could be used, manipulated, measured, monitored, and so on. Information in the “blob” – that is, things like freeform text, audio, or video – had to be read, heard, or viewed to get any information from within.

Modern analytics engines feast on unstructured information.  For example, companies, law enforcement, governments, and who knows who else, monitor the twittersphere to keep track of what is currently of interest to people, what people are doing or planning to do, what people think about products or shows or political candidates or the weather, and on and on. Courts and those interested in courts are starting to realize that plugging more deeply into their “underwater” information can provide both real-time intelligence (for example, to assist judges on the bench) as well as a plethora of management information.

Across the business and government landscape, enterprises have been (proactively or under duress) reexamining the role that information management plays in their pursuit of their core missions. In many cases, and certainly in the case of the Justice System, the answer is that information management is what they do.

All of which calls into question the historic separation of the constituent “systems”: “Case Management Systems “, “Content Management Systems”, “Business Practices”, “Workflow”, “Jury Systems”, “Inmate Tracking Systems”, “Court Reporting”, “Accounting”, etc. While at the physical level there may be many systems, some of which are “electronically” integrated and some which are integrated through paper or people (affectionately known as “fleshware”), in the primary business sense, they are all components of one Information Management System.

Today, the “desert” (surface) is one or more interfaces with the “ocean” below. The conceptual distinction between a Case Management System and the other systems has meaning only when the technical separation imposes constraints. As a result, look for more and more transparent integration, at the user interface level, of the component systems; because the distinctions are just getting in the way.

For all these reasons, modern Case Management Systems can’t just sit on top of the desert. They have to have rich, fast, and flexible access to the ocean of vibrant informational life below the surface. For while the operations and activities of the courts have long sat firmly on top of that informational foundation, the courts’ relationship with it has fundamentally changed.

 

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.

Black Belt: Learning to Learn

113_black-beltThe term “Martial Arts” may seem strange to those who have never pursued them. To those who have, however, the term makes perfect sense. Karate, judo, tai-chi, kung-fu, and myriad others, are indeed arts, requiring years of dedicated study and practice to master.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit at the front end. Beginners can pick up the rudiments of self-defense in a relatively short order. Indeed, a lot of folks look no further, in the same way that tourists can pick up enough of a foreign language to get by on a vacation, although they cannot be said to “speak the language”. And, there are a lot of benefits that accrue at the outset: improved fitness, enhanced self-awareness, increased self-confidence, and so on.

Most of those reasons are why people take up a martial art in the first place. When they start, even achieving Green Belt status seems almost impossibly remote. Mastery requires internalizing a complex and non-intuitive set of reflexes that permeate every action and every thought. And there’s just no way to do that without investing a lot of time and effort. Thus, to novices (White Belts), the Green Belts appear to be outstanding, the Brown Belts appear to be perfect practitioners; and the Black Belts are practically gods.

So, here’s a bit of a surprise: A First Degree Black Belt, achieved after years of effort, does not mean that the person has learned all are there is to know. Yes, he or she has become highly proficient, both in the Martial Art and in life in most aspects of life in general. But achievement of First Degree Black Belt status means, within the Martial Arts community, that the recipient is finally qualified and ready to begin learning.

In that regard, the recent announcement that Macomb County, Michigan Circuit Court now processes more documents through its E-Filing System than are received in paper format caused me to reflect that Macomb County and others who have been diligently working on ECM for years are approaching new thresholds. Yes, the ECM systems long ago began providing significant savings, efficiencies, and improved customer service, much as a White Belt realizes great benefits from the first several years of training. But as the courts leave the old paradigm behind – shedding its old skin, as it were – after significant time, effort, and learning, they are positioned to begin leveraging ECM by fully shifting to information management paradigms unencumbered by the limitations of the old world. Things like automatic redaction, fully automated document lifecycle control, rich and detailed metrics of all kinds, real-time data aggregation, and much, much more will be just the beginning.

In fact, no one knows the nature and extent of the capabilities that will be emerging, because unlike martial arts, there are not generations of high-level Black Belts who have been here before. The currently emerging ECM-cognizant courts are the first generation.

The next several years will be interesting and fraught with possibility. Organization, including courts, have to “learn to learn”, just as people do. Many of those who embarked on the ECM journey years ago are, after years of effort and experience, becoming comfortable with Change Management at levels never before possible or even contemplated. For adults set in their ways (and courts, as we know, have been very set in their ways), learning a second language is usually pretty challenging. But learning a new language makes learning yet another language much, much easier. Likewise, fully internalizing a new technology paradigm such as ECM makes identification of and transition to even better operations significantly smoother and less traumatic.

Macomb County Circuit Court and its peers have come a long ways. More exciting, they are in much better position to move forward with each passing step. Tipping to a majority of e-filed documents is a big one. Moving up to the darker-colored belt. Congratulations; I look forward to watching as the journey continues.

 

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.

Justice Summit Reflection: From Case Management to Information Management

Experiencing June’s Justice Summit in Grand Rapids as usual felt like drinking from a fire hose.  Sadly, I have yet to master the trick of sitting in on three sessions at once, so will have to content myself with reviewing the materials and watching the videos of the sessions I missed when they are posted to the conference website.

IMG_1273I chose to follow the Case Management track, which Jim McMillan set up with his keynote on current developments in utilizing the plethora of data flowing from all forms of Electronic Content Management systems to enhance Case Management and Decision Support. From the fire hose I came away with, among other things, the following observation.

The justice system, often led by the courts, is approaching or at a “tipping point” in the management of information.  As I listened to how modern systems incorporate, integrate, and internally leverage the three traditional informational pillars – Case Metadata (Case Tracking Systems), Content (Document and Content Management Systems), and Process (workflow) – I realized that the improvements have gone beyond evolutionary to revolutionary.

Here’s what I mean.

The original electronic Case Management Systems (CMS) automated the systems previously kept in large files or books, typically called The Register of Actions, The Judgment Docket, and The Court Docket, or some similar terms.  Thus the DNA, or “lizard brain” of even the most sophisticated of early CMS were electronic “direct descendants” of the old, physical record. As such, they are of course “case-based”.

Likewise, Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) automated what had previously been physical case files. Again, they were direct descendants. So, for example, the electronic documents “of course” had “page numbers”, for instance.  And perhaps “Title Pages”. And, also of course, they tend to be very “document” and “file based”.

Workflow systems were a little different.  While their antecedent was written or institutional process information, generally they came into being either with or following implementation of EDMS and began with “smart” routing of documents through the process cycle. As such, they really were not different just in form (electronic versus paper based), but also in function, from their great, great grandparent, the Routing Slip. From the start they were able to take advantage of the electronic information contained in or accompanying the very documents they were tasked to route.

As time has gone by, Electronic Case Management, Electronic Content Management, and Electronic Workflow have become more tightly integrated and cross-leveraged. This trend has led to much of the almost incredible new capabilities of modern systems to impact

What I began to notice, from Jim’s Keynote through the various sessions on Case Management, is that the newest systems are starting to leave some of the old DNA behind. Instead, they start from ground zero and are designed to capture, store, utilize, disseminate, exchange, secure, manipulate, manage, and control information electronically from end to end, without resort to “lizard brain” limitations imposed by the physical limitations of previous ages. Concepts such as “case”, “file”, “person”, and so forth can be dynamically formed and utilized as needed, without imposing design or performance trade-offs necessary in bygone days. Furthermore, they are not so much “integrated” as they are reformed into a new, more complete, flexible, and robust whole.

What is emerging is a new type of system that is designed, from the ground up, to holistically handle all types of information – meta data, content, institutional knowledge and rules, security – without regard for system boundaries imposed by either information type or historical format limitations.

For those aficionados of Arthur C. Clark, what I think we are seeing is a Childhood’s End moment. The first wave of automated systems got us to where we are today. Now courts and the wider justice system are poised to move to a new level of Information Management, the successor to Case Management.