3.6 Million Records Flooded: The Houghton County Courthouse Hurt by Washed-Out Paper Storage Methods

159_houghtoncountyHoughton County, a common summer hiatus for many Michiganders, has suffered a not-so-hot summer.

Just as the county was closing several of its beaches due to high bacteria levels, the Houghton County Courthouse fell victim to a flood that drenched its more than 3.6 million paper documents. The water infiltrated the storage vault in the courthouse’s basement and was absorbed by almost all the county’s circuit, family and probate records. Without these records, the Houghton county residents will be delayed from doing things like changing a name on their driver’s license or even obtaining proof of property deeds.

Livonia’s Document Restoration Services is on the case and working with the Houghton County Courthouse to recover its records. A preliminary estimate gauged the recovery project at $443,714 (yes, you read those six figures correctly!), and includes vacuum freezing the records, water/sewage cleaning and drying the microfilm. From there, a machine will separate any pages that are stuck together.

Preventing Natural Disasters From Becoming PR Disasters

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for natural disasters like flooding to turn into PR disasters for government agencies and counties. By no means is it ever anyone’s fault that a flood, fire, or any destructive force of nature occurs, but organizations should make it an utmost priority to protect the records and sensitive information stored within their care. This is especially true for government agencies like secretary of state offices or county courthouses, which warehouse millions of records for thousands of people.

So, if you were listening to Diana Ross cassette tapes or streaming 21 Pilots while watching filing cabinets rise up in your office space, it might be time to digitize. After all, our music, precious family photos and video, school projects, and so much more are now stored within a cloud. What’s the hurdle to doing the same with sensitive data?

No, there’s not an app for this (yet), but there is a highly configurable solution that’s modernizing counties, government agencies, courts, and many other document-dependent organizations across the nation.

It’s a Repository! It’s a Workflow! It’s Both – It’s An ECM!

ImageSoft has partnered with OnBase® by Hyland to bring nation-wide organizations a 360° view of (and easy access to!) their records, documents, and information. With an enterprise content management system (ECM), also called an enterprise document management system (EDMS), an organization’s records and history are not only protected by digital storage, they also give an efficiency boost to their productivity, significantly reduce (if not eliminate) physical storage costs and space, and ease standard procedures with automation.

Aside from natural disaster protection, social trends are also starting to threaten the progression of many organizations. As identified by a blog from earlier this year, retiring baby boomers are unknowingly taking their organization’s history and ideas with them. The growth of many reputable organizations has long depended on the head knowledge of those who have worked with the organization for decades, but the executives didn’t realize this until those key operators retired and their information source was gone.

With an ECM/EDMS, you never have to fret about retiring valuable knowledge of processes or rules along with a few retiring employees or unfortunate times of higher turnover. With an ECM, every documented procedure, project, note, document, and other critical information is secured and stored just a few clicks away.

Clerks Know Best

Since the expensive flood last month, Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Lorenz told The Daily Mining Gazette that she plans to suggest digitally backing up the county’s records. “To me, that’ll be almost at no cost, so why would we not start going ahead, for the future?” said Lorenz.

As the ones responsible for managing hundreds of thousands of documents and the frontline for communicating with a foot-tapping public, clerks know better than anyone that counties need to move past the paper and dive into digital storage. With tracked progress, point-and-click redactions, full audit trails, multiple-user visibility and access, and electronic notifications (eNotifications), clerks are able to stay on top of timelines and carry their county’s customer service to record heights (pun intended) without needing additional employees or regular over-time hours.

Ready to Rise Above the Paper (literally and figuratively)?

To continuously move your county forward and keep up with the demanding pace of society, you need to be equipped with the tools specifically designed to overcome the hurdles of your era. In the case of counties, government agencies, and many document-dependent organizations, this means saying “G2G*” to paper and “hello!” to the paper powerhouse that is ECM/EDMS. Contact us today to learn more about customizing an implementation plan that caters to your organization’s needs.

With the uncontrollable risks of natural disasters, retiring executives, and revolving staff, what’s holding your county back from moving forward with digital records?

*G2G is the text acronym for got-to-go, or “see you later”

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?

Wine, Cloth, Carpentry and Court Automation

By Jeff Barlow, Justice Consultant, ImageSoft

It’s pretty intuitive that when it costs less to acquire and run an automated system than to pay people to do the same work it makes financial sense to implement the technology. However, what is a lot less intuitive, but, paradoxically, a lot more true, is that it can make more financial sense to implement technology even if people could do the tasks for less.

140_competitve theoryWhile reading William Berstein’s A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (a fascinating and incredibly timely read), I had one of those “Aha” moments (either an epiphany or an unscheduled, age-related loss of brain cells, I’m never sure which). This one related to the international trade economic Theory of Comparative Advantage, first promulgated in the early 1800s, and how it might apply to the business case for implementation of automated systems in the courts.

In terms of international trade, the intuitively obvious conclusion is that if one nation (Country A) can produce something for less than another nation (Country B) can produce it, Country A should never buy that product from Country B. That’s what’s called The Principle of Absolute Advantage. Very obvious. Very simple. And, often, very wrong.

The key factor is Opportunity Cost. In the classic example, assume Country A can produce wine for half as much as Country B and cloth for one third as much as Country B. Further assume, in the perfect world of the theoretical economist, that any resources (labor, equipment, land) devoted to production of wine will reduce the amount of cloth that can be produced. In that case, Country A makes out a lot better buying wine from Country B in order to maximize production of the higher-margin cloth.

The part that got me thinking about the technology business case was a non-international (and for me much more understandable) illustration. Assume a highly specialized, very skilled and experienced attorney in high demand can bill $1,000 an hour. Assume also that the attorney is a very skilled carpenter; so much so that the attorney can do in half the time the same quality work as a master carpenter, who charges $100 an hour. As a strictly financial or business proposition (leaving aside personal satisfaction), should the attorney do or not do a DIY remodel job? Clearly, to the extent the time remodeling reduces legal practice billable hours, the attorney is losing (by not earning) money. That’s Opportunity Cost.

Now look at the business case for court technology. Suppose the acquisition and ongoing operational costs, for whatever reason, appear to be greater than or not significantly less than using staff to perform the same functions. While the Principle of Absolute Advantage (the obvious answer) would suggest that it would be more cost effective to forego the technology, such a conclusion may well overlook substantial Opportunity Costs. Simply put, what AREN’T those staff doing when they are manually dealing with those physical documents? What ISN’T the file storage area being used for while it houses all those files? What could those resources be better spent on? And so on.

While not the only question in the business case, how much is “being left on the table” should absolutely go into the calculation. If every staff person were capable of transporting, filing, or tracking documents and nothing else, perhaps the Opportunity Cost would be low. But that’s rarely the case. Those folks could be, and should be, and would be happier doing so much more.

 

The Coming Wave – Preparing for Big Data

For those who aren’t sitting around contemplating the nature, trajectory, and implications of Big Data and Deep Learning, know that you are not alone. I’m pretty sure they haven’t yet hit the top of the cocktail circuit or social media current topics listings.

Which in some respects is interesting; because we are currently becoming immersed in them at about the same rate as if we were sitting in a hot tub being filled by a fire hose. You probably have heard of  Artificial Intelligence, driverless vehicles, Siri/Cortana/Alexa, Amazon Echo, IBM’s Watson, and so forth. The list, believe me, is way longer than almost anyone can imagine; and it’s growing exponentially.

Leave aside for now the technology that makes these applications possible. Their raw fuel is data, and lots of it. REALLY lots of it; hence the term “Big Data”.

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Courts receive, process, generate, communicate, and store data; and for decades automated data systems have helped courts to manage their data. Now, both the volume and the diversity of court data is exploding. Enough to be of great interest those seeking to utilize systems reliant on Big Data and Deep Learning technologies. Body camera imagery, virtual reality presentations, social media – these are just a few of the data sources TODAY. And as Pink Floyd pointed out, every day the paperboy brings more.


Click here to find out how you can effectively manage the data that is coming rapidly into your court.


Consider two ways of “communicating” what’s happening in a baseball game: A telegraph system using Morse Code, on the one hand; and TV with video, audio, imbedded windows, streaming information banners, one-click access to ancillary documents, videos, data bases, etc. Both pass along information. But the volume, speed, level, and depth are literally a universe apart.

Now, one could say, and it would be true, that even getting the Morse Code feed on a baseball game can be interesting, exciting, and informative. However, consider the same question regarding operation of a motor vehicle. Absent access to the massive amount of data, deep learning, and real-time data capture capabilities, operating a vehicle without active human direction isn’t just a different type of experience; it isn’t possible.

And that’s the level of the volume of data and information headed at the courts right now.

While most courts have taken, or at least are considering, ways to automate or improve their automation of their information processing and management, current and future scalability may not be receiving the attention needed. Speeding up both the coding and transmission of a Morse Code signal may increase how detailed a description  of the ball game can provided; but at its absolute best it will transmit only a small fraction of the “data” – and hence the information – surrounding the game.

More and more, courts are running up against similar IT limits. Legacy (and legacy-style) Case Management, Document Management, and E-Filing systems struggle just to capture all the data being thrown at them. Integrating it all, except in the most rudimentary fashion, much less providing the level of information to users, such as judges, police officers, and the public, that they have come to expect in today’s world, is too often well beyond their capabilities.

Systems that cannot smoothly capture, integrate, deliver, and manage late 20th Century and early 21st Century volumes and types of data and information have no prayer of scaling to the levels we are facing now and in the very short term future. In five to ten years, they may border on being entirely useless.

Thus, notwithstanding the indisputable immediate benefits technology currently offers courts,  the real argument for courts to implement the most robust, well-architected, scalable, integrated, configurable systems possible is that they have to have it already in place in order to have any chance of fulfilling their mission as the coming tidal wave of data and information hits the shore.

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.

Still Want Those Printers? Ask Benjamin the Donkey

“Benjamin the donkey… would say … that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would rather have no tail and no flies.”

From Animal Farm, by George Orwell

A friend complained to me about the succession of problems with her printer. It was when she started telling me how important her printer was to her that I began to reflect on the insightful, if cynical, observation by Orwell’s donkey. Who knew he was a systems analyst?

When dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a young systems analyst, courts were just learning that unless printers were made readily available, users simply would not use them as intended. Eventually, courts figured out that if people had the choice of electronically creating their output, followed by having to leave their desks to go to a printer down the hall to retrieve it, they’d simply write it out or type it instead. Thus court management (reluctantly, in view of the price) purchased and installed a lot more printers because of the strategic importance of getting everyone to maximize use of the systems.

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Now, every tech support person knows that printers, however necessary, are the Devil’s work. Trouble tickets regarding printers are probably more frequent and more frustrating than just about any other kind. But, thank heavens everyone has those printers.

Because they need those printers for… for… Well, yes, there are some things they need the printers for; but they sure aren’t the same things they needed them for 20, ten, or even five years ago. The fact is that managing content electronically changes both the tactical and strategic importance of printers. Courts should give some attention to both.

Tactically, it’s almost like Benjamin gets his wish for no more flies. Or at least a lot fewer of them. Thus, every printer acquisition and placement should be made in view of the need to print in a court with fully implemented Electronic Content Management (ECM). Analysis will probably show need for fewer, less powerful (at least locally), and less expensive printers. Acquisition and maintenance cost of printers should be expected to drop.

Strategically, the objective should be to have the minimum possible distribution of printers. Simply stated, minimizing the amount of paper documents goes a long way toward maximizing the effectiveness of ECM. In instances where printing a document may appear to be a better, faster, easier or more efficient, the court should stop and more carefully analyze the situation.

Pete Kiefer, of Maricopa County Superior Court and leader of NACM’s Court Futures project, reminds me that that in cases such as this, application of The Five Why’s would be in order: Asking iterative questions to get to the root reason(s) for the perceived situation. For a first iteration I suggest, “What causes printing a document to seem a better solution in this case?” Almost always, upon consideration of all factors, printing paper documents turns out more expensive, less efficient and disruptive to the overall process.

Whether, in the face of a 95% plus drop in the fly population, Benjamin (curmudgeonly cuss that he was) would actually have had his tail bobbed, one will never know. If he resisted for fashion reasons, absent other consequences he could be given a pass. But if it markedly impacted his personal hygiene, bring on the clippers. Likewise, if the only consideration with where and how to use printers were people’s comfort with paper, so be it. But, really, the stakes are much more strategic.

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Tide Goes Out

As the Great Recession finally starts to recede, one interesting and potentially important dynamic is taking shape in the form of generational shift. During the recession, two things happened to court staffing. On the one hand, many Boomers delayed retirement in the face of substantial losses in their stock-market heavy portfolios, drop in 81_before-tidetheir home values and financial uncertainly. On the other hand, plummeting court budgets prevented not only expanded hiring, but much of the regular attrition replacement.

The result in many courts five years down the road will be a demographic “doughnut hole” in the workforce: Way more than the normal population of senior staff and finally some new hiring of entry level staff. What’s missing is the cadre of staff in the two to six year experience range.

This demographic represents some interesting challenges and some opportunities. One of the challenges – particularly when coupled with the increasing rate of technological and institutional change – is that the missing “middle” cohort is that which would, under normal circumstances, have been absorbing the court’s institutional history as it is passed to them from the senior staffers. But those middlers simply aren’t there. Thus, as the senior staff leave, their institutional knowledge will be lost to the court. With the recovery, the senior staff are starting to leave in droves.

How to capture and retain this institutional knowledge before it washes out to sea on a tide of well-deserved retirements? There are a lot of ways, almost all of which are time-consuming and labor-intensive; although I personally believe the effort and cost are well worth it. But there is one opportunity that not only doesn’t add cost (in the sense that it needs to be done anyway), but also has the salutary effect of capturing, organizing and maintaining that institutional knowledge.

The answer is configurable workflow. In a very real sense, configurable workflow’s primary purpose is to act as a repository of institutional knowledge. As things change, so too will the workflows; but they will always tie back to the original, fundamental court processes.

Don’t confuse this with institutionalizing “The way we’ve always done it.” The fact is, the pre-Electronic Content Management (ECM) ways of doing things were there for reasons, and Configurable Workflow captures and assures satisfactory management of those reasons. To get the best possible workflows, you want to involve the staff most familiar with the current processes and the institutional knowledge that provides the context for why those processes are important.

The REALLY good news for courts is that these forces – influx of new, more tech-savvy, young staff; funding and urgency to undertake long-delayed technical infrastructure upgrades; and the availability of technology that, as an integral part of its design, captures, organizes and manages institutional knowledge – combine to make this the perfect time to implement ECM with Configurable Workflow.

Because of the distortions in staff demographics resulting from the Great Recession, it is imperative for courts to take advantage of the soon-to-depart repositories of this knowledge before they are gone. Their ability to hand it down in the traditional fashion to those coming behind them has been diminished, which makes the urgency of moving forward considerably more time sensitive. “Time and tide wait for no man.” Time to shove off.

Ditch the Training Wheels with Electronic Content Management

75_training wheelsOn hearing of a particular court’s experiences with implementing a new information system recently, I was reminded of a scene from Carl Sagan’s science fiction classic, Contact. In the story, an advanced civilization has sent specifications for construction of a craft to permit communications. The specifications call for a sphere, the interior of which is to be empty of everything except the human operator.

The humans figure out how to read the plans, and they understand them well enough to build the craft. The one thing they think they have to add is a safety seat for the human operator. Against the strong objections of some of the team, a sturdy, padded seat, complete with seat belt, is bolted to the center of the floor.

The operator (in the movie, Jodie Foster), is strapped in. As the final countdown proceeds toward its climax, the craft begins to shake violently. It shakes so hard that it seems the craft will be destroyed. The mission controllers are on the verge of aborting the mission.

Finally, the shaking becomes so severe that the bolts attaching the seat to the floor break loose. Instantly, once the seat dislodges, the shaking stops. The craft proceeds to function smoothly as it had been designed to do. Turns out that the designers knew what they were doing: Not only didn’t the craft need the “safety seat”, but its presence introduced critical disequilibrium into the system.

Many (if not most) courts, when it comes time to implement Electronic Content Management (ECM), have a hard time resisting the temptation to install “safety seats” on top of the new paradigm. Sure, the documents are electronic, but we’ll just require paper copies as a backup to be on the safe side. Sure, we’re keeping the documents electronically, but we’ll insist on printing documents to be signed, having them signed manually, then re-scanning them into the electronic system. Oh, let’s leave electronic filing to be discretionary so that those who are still uncomfortable with e-Fling can continue to file in the traditional manner.

While these “safety” measures are usually intended to be (or are at least alleged to be intended to be) “temporary”, the problem is that they can create critical disequilibrium. If the court is not careful, it may conclude that the new system itself is unstable and not workable, when in fact the problem lies with attempting to build in remnants of the older systems for the perceived comfort of familiarity. The real danger is that, instead of jettisoning the “safety seat”, they will curtail their migration to the new systems.

There is no question that some interim dual systems and temporary processes are helpful and necessary to facilitate smooth implementation. Indeed, the very term “Paper On Demand” is an acknowledgement of this important reality. In many ways it’s like kids using training wheels to learn to ride their bikes: it helps at the very outset. However, once the kids want to get out of their own driveways and start actually using the bikes, those training wheels are in the way, limit what can be done, and can be dangerous. They should come off at the earliest possible moment.

Likewise, a court ECM implementation plan that envisions putting interim, dual-system, backup processes in place during the implementation should include a tight schedule for phasing them out or cutting them off altogether. Furthermore, counterintuitive though it may seem, if things seem not to be working as smoothly as hoped during or immediately following implementation, attention should focus on accelerating the abandonment of such processes, rather than attempting to enhance or expand them (tightening the bolts, as it were) and pull back from the new system. Chances are excellent that they are what is causing or exacerbating the disequilibrium and that, once they are removed and the system can function as designed, the ride will quickly become a lot smoother.

In Praise of Signatures

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To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I have been a vocal advocate of electronic signatures for a long time; and I will not now unsay a word of my advocacy.  Most statutes, rules and orders are silent or very broad as to HOW an electronic signature must be appended and represented on court documents; and many, if not all, enabling statutes, rules and orders authorizing the use of electronic signatures for courts allow for use of ” /s/ ” followed by the typed name of the signatory.  For some very good reasons, many of which I have previously noted, this approach offers flexibility while still providing the requisite level of authentication.

 That said, I think it’s important to note two aspects of signatures that are definite plusses when they can be provided with no loss of efficiency.

First, while legally a ” /s/ ” and typed name may suffice, there is something more emotionally compelling about a signature that looks like a signature. Of course, “looks like a signature” is somewhat subjective.  My signature, for example, is notoriously illegible. But it IS distinctive. There’s a reason that all U.S. paper currency bears the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury instead of just the printed name. Some documents, particularly court documents, have solemn effects.  Signatures that are clearly hand-drawn contribute to the solemnity of the document.

(At a court conference, a probate judge told me that many of the people who appear before her actually frame their judgments in cases like adoption, change of name, and sometimes estates. She expressed her belief that the hand-drawn signature constituted an important element of the emotional power of the document.)

Second, and related to the first, is the question of permanent inextricability.  If a mason leaves a plaque beside his work, the work will be identified as his as long as the plaque remains in place.  But if he writes his signature into the cement, as long as the cement is there, so is the attribution.  A lad can post a note on a tree declaring his affections, but carving a pair of initials inside a heart into the tree will be seen as a much more enduring statement.

In the same vein, there is a definite benefit to not only electronically signing a document, but permanently and inextricably binding the hand-drawn signature to the document itself. That is, rather than simply overlaying an image of a signature, which could later be removed or substituted, “burning” the hand-drawn signature into the document itself. That way, as your mother used to tell you about tattoos, it will be there forever.

It’s an easy trap to fall into to focus strictly on the mechanistic and legalistic requirements for documents when implementing paper on demand.  Indeed, in the efforts to craft the most efficient technical solutions, many implementers — with the best of intent — overlook the emotional and psychological factors that have been implicitly and explicitly utilized to assure and reinforce the impact of court documents.  The very foundation of the legal system rests on the beliefs of the public over which it asserts authority.  For that reason, it is both legitimate and valuable to continue to utilize hand-drawn signatures, permanently attached to court documents, even as the court moves to a paper on demand module.[1]

[1] TrueSign®, from ImageSoft, provides the capability to burn hand-drawn signature images into documents.

 

They Are Coming – You Better Build It (A slight variation of the theme from Field of Dreams)

futuristic-buildingPeter Kiefer, Civil Court Administrator for the Maricopa Superior Court, and Phil Knox, the General Jurisdiction Courts Administrator, are engaged in a Court Futures study for the National Association of Court Managers (NACM) and last summer they addressed the American Institute of Architects.  The architects know they will have to design the courthouses and related infrastructure that the justice system will use for the next hundred years or so.  And, Pete and Phil went to great effort to get a lot of input from knowledgeable people within the justice and related communities to make reasoned predictions of what forces will be acting on the courts and what that will portend for the administration of justice.  For that reason, the architects were extremely interested in what Pete and Phil are finding.

Without giving away too much about the NACM study findings[1], I will (with Pete’s permission) reveal that, unsurprisingly, one of the scenarios deemed extremely likely to occur by the year 2025 is that most courts will have gone “paperless.”   The fulfillment of that scenario alone will necessarily carry large architectural implications.

For starters, when I began researching the AIA, I found that Pete and Phil had been attending and addressing the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice Fall Conference.  Their website states that

“The AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) promotes and fosters the exchange of information and knowledge between members, professional organizations, and the public for high-quality planning, design, and delivery of justice architecture.”

Thus, not only is the AIA looking at the courthouses of the future, there is an entire academy that focuses on the subject.

Consider first the term “justice architecture.”  One inescapable consequence of “paperless” courts is significantly increased emphasis on Integrated Justice.  Courthouses (or whatever they are called in the future) are already, and will be designed in the future, as a component of this integrated justice system.   The infrastructure will both support and leverage internal (within courts and other justice agencies) and external (cross-agency and public-facing) workflow and content flow.  Physical proximity will not be the key element for effective interaction; systems integration will be.

Second, much baggage from current designs will not make the trip into the future.  Imagine a funding body — legislature, county supervisors, city council — approving a design that calls for extensive square footage for document and file storage. “Mail room” will take on a completely different meaning as content is received, categorized and routed in ways designed to maximize security, efficiency and effectiveness using state of the art paper on demand processes with workflow.

Third, structures can be designed based on ergonomics, rather than to accommodate movement of paper and files to people or vice-versa.  Public spaces can be located where it is more convenient (and/or more secure) for the public to visit.  High-cost, high-risk transport of prisoners can be minimized or eliminated through effective leveraging of an infrastructure that supports remote audio/video conferencing and hearings, together with paper on demand that enables timely and appropriate document distribution, delivery and signature within a fully integrated environment.

These are just a few “armchair” ruminations on the implications of paper on demand for courthouse design.  Doubtless many, many other interesting, exciting, and important consequences will suggest themselves to those who actually know something about architecture (of whom I am not one).  For me, it is exciting to know that those who will be tasked with designing courthouses for the next century are even now engaging in this type of outreach to those attempting to understand and prepare for the future of the courts.


 

[1] To learn more about or to participate in the NACM Future of Courts study, contact Peter Keifer at pkiefer@superiorcourt.maricopa.gov