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?

 

Silver Tsunamis are Coming, and the Times? They’re a Changin’!

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

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Have you heard of the “silver tsunami”?

No, you didn’t miss a weather alert – we’re not talking about a physically destructive storm. But, just as threatening, there is a metaphorical mess that’s brewing across the nation as a flood of state and local government personnel begin to retire. While these natural transitions are inevitable, expected, and even a growth opportunity for those looking to climb their career ladders, they do pose a potentially self-destructive threat to government establishments and, ultimately, the communities they serve: how will decades of organizational knowledge and fluency be preserved?

Brick by Brick

We often look at government leaders and organizations as stable and strong. So, what happens when the same faces that have been leading us through institutional shifts and progress are suddenly celebrating their golden years and not leading organizations?

Losing founding members or significant figures in an organization’s history is like taking structural bricks out of the actual building – everyone feels uneasy and fearful for the stability and maintenance of their organization. Many of these retiring leaders have rooted and nurtured most of the organization’s structural ups and downs for years, even decades. When they leave, they’re not only taking their staplers, but much of the institutional know-how that has upheld so many people and procedures along the way. And when that organization is at a government level and/or responsible for the wellbeing and progression of thousands of people and communities, these entity-shaking effects can be felt throughout cities and states.

But the Times, They’re a Changin’

Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher whispered something to one student, who whispered it to another, and so on until the whisper reached the last person? And, of course, the last person blurted out something completely different from the teacher’s original message. Similarly, when we’re relying on these word-of-mouth processes and head-stored knowledge that has been whispered down for decades, we’re jeopardizing more than just procedure. The entire organization’s vision, values, and goals are at risk of being watered down, misunderstood, or completely lost.

Unfortunately, much of “what works” for an organization is still operating on this officially-unofficial process. Everyone in the entity knows the procedure, but that secret code is only passed down and sustained through training, verbal instruction, and the occasional, stern reminder from an annoyed co-worker who received a task that is “not their job!”

But changing “the process” isn’t as easy as telling people to work differently. When your tools only allow you to do so much, it’s easy to stay in an archaic tradition of inefficiency. And just as Bob Dylan cassette tapes are to the 60s, file cabinets, paper documents, and floppy disks are to an outdated, early 2000s system that would be too incompetent even for the Bedrock institutions, home of the Flintstones.

Beyond Bedrock: Preservation and Progression

While we’re not impressing the Jetsons just yet, we are getting closer with the dawn of digital government technology. Thanks to contemporary enterprise content management systems (ECMS), paperless processes can be automated throughout an entire organization using the rules that adhere to your required procedures, and simultaneously preserve the foundationally-rooted know-how that your retiring executive is taking with her.

I Can Do What?

As you can see from the tablet, Mac, or cell phone you’re reading this on, technology has marched on in the past five or ten years. With an ECMS like OnBase, sometimes referred to as an electronic document management system (EDMS), you can now do more than the basics of scan, store, and retrieve, which are the primary functions of older systems that we fondly refer to as “legacy archives.”

Electronic workflow solutions are designed with a contemporary business model at the forefront of its mission. Papers become electronic files (eFiles), and they preserve all the institution’s historical knowledge in a back-up system or within a secure, cloud-based system. Why is that so cool? Because in the event of a real tsunami, fire, or vandalism, sensitive documents and audit trails are safe, and you can continue to access and work on them from any computer.

Once you’re set up with an ECMS, documents are automated to be en-route to where they’re supposed to be. This is true for internal emails, document storage and access, and communications with other government agencies, law enforcement, clients, and even the public. This unparalleled transparency with every audience is empowering government entities, courts, insurance companies, and others to do more in less time and, as a result, earn complete trust with their constituents and co-workers.

And with electronically indexed documents and cases, rest assured that every document can be searched for and seen by any and only the people who might need it. That’s right, gone are the days of panicking over a misdirected email containing sensitive information. But if you are curious as to who has opened, viewed, or edited one of your documents, simply pull up the audit trail that tracks where and with whom it’s been.

You’re Invited!

ECMS are point-and-click solutions that have already revolutionized more than 20,000 organizations across the globe. With very minimal training, even the most non-technical people have configured workflows to make their services more efficient and their impact more widespread and purposeful.

So, if your office operates like it’s still the founding year, your co-workers and constituents are frustrated, and your sensitive paperwork is still as vulnerable as actual paper, we invite you to learn more about workflow solutions. You may even want to start by catching up on our six-part blog series discussing how ECM can help the government overcome age-old challenges.

What challenges are you and/or your organization facing as experienced staff retire?

In Praise of Tortoises

Jeff is currently on vacation and the eFiling series will resume upon his return with part 2 – Electronic Court Filing Standards.

98_tortoiseReading U.S. supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2014 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary I am reminded of an episode from my parenting years involving my youngest daughter. Trying to get her to do something she didn’t want to do was like trying to get a tree to dance. (On the other hand, standing in her way once she decided to go after something has always been a good way to get run over.)

One year we signed her up for the city’s spring youth run. Great fun, good exercise, flashy medal…. The only problem was, she didn’t feel like running that day.

Now, most kids, surrounded by several hundred OTHER kids, not to mention countless adult supervisors, would have at least tried to keep up with the pack to avoid being identified as the one slow-poke. Not my daughter. In an impressive display of disregard for peer pressure and fear of public humiliation, she strolled. By the end, the adults around her were imploring her to pick up the pace; all to no avail.

Meanwhile, the audience, the other runners, and the subsequent heats all waited. And waited.

My daughter has since grown up to be a formidable, high-performance, successful professional. Interestingly, she uses BOTH traits to her advantage. So maybe she knew what she was doing.

But the wait was STILL frustrating.

With these fond memories in mind, I consider Chief Justice John Roberts’s Report, wherein he discusses the nature and change of technology, particularly Electronic Case Management, Electronic Document Management, and Electronic Filing, in the Supreme Court and in the courts in general. He unabashedly acknowledges not only the usually slow pace of court adoption of new technology, but that the slowness of the pace and resistance to change is in many ways intentional.

“[T]he courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity. Courts are simply different in important respects when it comes to adopting technology, including information technology. While courts routinely consider evidence and issue decisions concerning the latest technological advances, they have proceeded cautiously when it comes to adopting new technologies in certain aspects of their own operations….

“…Federal judges are stewards of a judicial system that has served the Nation effectively for more than two centuries. Like other centuries-old institutions, courts may have practices that seem archaic and inefficient — and some are. But others rest on traditions that embody intangible wisdom. Judges and court executives are understandably circumspect in introducing change to a court system that works well until they are satisfied that they are introducing change for the good….

“…The sculptures that adorn the Supreme Court provide a reminder of that resolve… The often overlooked east pediment, installed on the rear portion of the building, features images of historic lawgivers and other symbolic figures. It is flanked by imagery drawn from a well-known fable: A hare on one side sprints in full extension for the finish line, while a tortoise on the other slowly plods along. Perhaps to remind us of which animal won that famous race, Cass Gilbert placed at the bases of the Court’s exterior lampposts sturdy bronze tortoises, symbolizing the judiciary’s commitment to constant but deliberate progress in the cause of justice.”

Notwithstanding that the Chief Justice articulates that the courts may not move as fast as other institutions and society in general, he clearly declares that change will eventually come, saying

“As technology proceeds apace, we cannot be sure what changes are in store, for the courts or society generally. Innovations will come and go, but the judiciary will continue to make steady progress in employing new technology to provide litigants with fair and efficient access to the courts.”

OK. Some are waiting. But more and more courts are past waiting. ECM and eFiling have in fact become mainstream and of proven reliability. Most courts and their constituents simply cannot afford to eschew their clear advantages. With all due respect to SCOTUS, the courts serve the people; and next race to meet the increasingly complex and pressing societal need for judicial services is well under way. The tortoise never wins the race without pressing deliberately forward.

The Fact Is, It’s a Better Record

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You know the monkeys are winning when even the dinosaurs start betting on and rooting for them.

An interesting debate between those involved in the medical field and those involved in the legal field is over who is more technologically change-averse — doctors or judges? It’s one of those neck-and-neck races in which it’s difficult to tell who’s “winning”. Fact is, both professions — particularly with those in the gray-of-hair demographic — are, as a group, pretty tough to sell on the desirability of moving away from paper-based records. Both have been clinging to paper a lot longer than much of their surrounding worlds.

As part of my ongoing crusade to support the medical services community, I recently visited a doctor — a specialist with whom I have had a long and heavily documented history. The doc is about my age, which is to say, certified dinosaur.

Now, my history with this physician goes back over 20 years. The last time I saw my “hard file”, it was in fact two files, each of which was about four inches thick. Since, if the doctor and I get our way, we’re less than halfway through dealing with my condition, I figure I’ll eventually have my own shelf in the file room.

Over the past several years, he and I have discussed the paper versus electronic record question. He’s an outstanding physician, tops in his specialty, and works very hard to stay current on the explosion of progress in his field. But, when it comes to dealing with records, he admits to being a true dinosaur — the paper is just easier for him to use, he claims.

Thus, when I had my most recent appointment, it did not escape my notice that when he entered the room, he did NOT have my file with him. Instead, he accessed my record on the computer, and as the exam progressed, he entered information into it.

I, being not exactly the shy, quiet type, said to him, “I have to tell you that I’m impressed with the fact that you’re accessing and entering my information on the computer.”

He stopped, looked at me over his reading glasses and said in a somewhat sheepish tone, “Well, the fact is, it’s a better record.” [emphasis added]

Kaboom. There you have it. This from a guy for whom the quality of the record is, quite literally, life and death. I didn’t even have to say, “Told you so.” He got there on his own.

I asked how the Electronic Content Management system worked for him. He said it had taken him awhile to get used to; but now that he’s been using it, he actually can’t imagine going back to paper files. He also said that, while doctors in “our” age group are still somewhat resistant and slow to get on board, younger physicians universally want nothing to do with hard files and paper. He added that, in fairly short order, they (the younger, more tech-savvy doctors) are going to succeed in moving everyone away from the paper files. And, he said, that was a GOOD thing.

So we two dinosaurs agreed that the smart money is on the monkeys. And that we’re rooting for them.

 

 

Who’s Got the Kurzweil?

63_kurzweilFor those who do not know of Ray Kurzweil, I can only encourage you in the strongest possible terms to look up information about him.  A good starting point is his (extremely understated) career summary.   Far more extensive and interesting is the entry in Wikipedia.[ii]

 With no room in this blog to go into any detail about Ray, I will only say that to me, in addition to his achievements as an inventor, entrepreneur, writer, and scientist, he ranks as one of, if not the most exciting, far-seeing, and effective futurists of our age, measured from the last quarter of the 20th Century until now.  Since, among other things, he both intends to and has a very detailed and practical plan to live forever, his influence may well continue for some time.

In July, the Wall Street Journal posted a video, described as follows:

 “In this live chat from Tuesday, June 23, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and a WSJ Startup of the Year mentor, answers entrepreneurs’ questions on the future of artificial intelligence, the importance of patents and what’s next for Google.”.[iii]

 The video is almost an hour long, and worth every minute of your time. Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Kurzweil has been one of the most successful creators of disruptive technologies of the past forty-five years, successfully identifying, inventing and marketing technologies and products that have changed the world.  So when he makes a prediction, it pays to listen.

I want to point out and comment on one specific observation that has particular relevance to courts’ imperative to aggressively implement electronic document management.   In response to one question, Mr. Kurzweil gives a very succinct description of the development and evolution of image scanning, optical character recognition (OCR), and search technology involving documents.  His position is that each of these technologies emerged when (and only when) computer processing power achieved price/performance levels sufficient to make them practical.  OK; nothing too startling there.

But then, he explains that what he and Google are working on now (perhaps “perfecting” is a better term”) is the next level in the evolution: Software that reads and analyzes the document content — what was called “the Blob” in the early days of digital document storage.   This incredibly disruptive technology is now possible because of the exponential growth in computing power; and Google and others are racing to bring it to market.

In the video, Mr. Kurzweil is necessarily giving brief answers and only points out that this technology will completely replace what we know as “search engines.”   That, in itself, is pretty disruptive.  However, it will do a lot more than that.  For courts, this will be an advance that may fundamentally change the nature of both court operations and judging itself.  At the very least, it begins to enter the realm of law clerking.  Moreover, the already high value to outside users of court information can also be expected to skyrocket.  We can expect even greater demands for court documents to be available for analysis as the entire field of data analytics, which is daily being discussed in the news and in every corporate board room, comes to the courts.

Of course, there is still one little caveat (ok; maybe more than one; but this one is significant).  Analytical software, no matter how sophisticated or fast, won’t work on paper or microfilmed documents.  As with all things evolutionary, the next step will be achievable only after the previous steps have been taken.  Thus, the motivation and urgency for courts to adopt, and adapt to, Electronic Content Management continues to accelerate and increase.  Worst case, courts that are too far behind the curve will find themselves first marginalized, then at risk of becoming completely irrelevant as the rest of the world passes them by.


[i] For readers who are not members of a band, ask a friend; or check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurzweil_Music_Systems

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil

[iii] http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2013/07/22/live-chat-technology-entrepreneurship-with-google-exec-ray-kurzweil-tuesday-12-p-m-edt/?KEYWORDS=ray+kurzweil+entrepreneurs