Feel like you need more FTEs? Maybe you need PPS!

This blog post was written by a previous PA office manager, who chooses to remain anonymous.

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As an office manager for a county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s (PA) Office, I was thrilled to have made the switch from paper files to using The Paperless Prosecutor Solution (PPS).

As law offices, law enforcement agencies, and courts increasingly make the switch to paperless processes, I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it may help you as you begin to think of making the switch to electronic files.  Changing software and well-established processes can be a headache if you aren’t prepared, but staying with your current, paper-heavy processes is much, much worse.  If you are thinking of switching to a new software for your PA office, but are too afraid to commit, please read on! My goal is to share a bit about the impact the Paperless Prosecutor Solution made to my office, and my confidence in knowing it will do the same for yours.

More Cases, Less Staff?  Could it Be True?

The first step in trying to figure out what kind of software you may need is making a strong effort to honestly identify the problems your office faces.  I can guarantee almost every county employee in every country would say “we don’t have enough people!” And I believe you.  When you’re preparing for a new software, it’s important to think about how a lack of staff could affect that, and where you could legitimately find some savings.  Software won’t replace the people you do have, but it will help all of them become much more efficient at the tasks they are performing.  After our own implementation, we were able to identify some key areas where the new software was making an immediate impact, which included: immediate availability of files, faster/simpler creation of charging documents and automatic docket preparation.

While these were all apparent right off the bat, the most obvious perk was cutting down the time we were spending searching for files.  We were a paper office, and everywhere I looked there used to be stacks of files.  Attorneys had their own individual filing systems in each of their offices, the secretaries had files on their desks and our victim rights advocates even had their own paper build-up. On top of that, we had in-office file storage for cases within the last three years, long-term file storage upstairs and downstairs, and no good way to track what was where. We used a cart to bring files to and from the courtroom, and the afternoon before a large docket always looked like that old gameshow where the contestants ran around the grocery store frantically looking for specific items.

When we stepped back and looked at how long the office spent on average just looking for files, we estimated it at two to three hours PER DAY, plus another four to six hours per week ordering and prepping the files for the docket. We began to imagine how much more we could do with that time.  It was clear to us that ImageSoft’s Paperless Prosecutor Solution would be able to solve all these problems and turn that wasted time into meaningful working time.

Implementation and Chocolate: Both Worth-While Investments

So away we went into implementation.  I was all in.  My PA was all in. We saw the long-term value and knew what a difference this would make. My chief? The attorneys?  The secretaries?  Well, they weren’t there quite yet. I’ll be honest, learning a new software and training all of your staff on it is not a cake walk.  Many of the staff in my office had been doing things “the way we’ve always done it” for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years.  They were less than enthused about learning a new software, and truly convinced they just needed more people to help them.

If I can give you one piece of advice as you start your software journey, it is this: as soon as you can, try to get away from the “I can’t learn a new software, I have to do my ‘real job’” mentality.  Having well-trained staff who had a voice in the process and could help their co-workers during the rollout was invaluable.  Yes, there were many long days.  Yes, it took patience and lots of chocolate. And yes, it was worth it.

Then and Now: Who Would’ve Guessed?

We implemented the solution together and, looking back, the results have been more impactful than I ever really expected in the beginning.  Everyone in our office can access files at the same time and with only a few mouse clicks, which is so much better than the hours of stress and drama we used to endure every week.  Charges are filed on time every day and, best yet, the secretaries don’t have to read the attorney’s awful scribbles and try to figure out what counts, charges and enhancements they are looking for.  And get this: attorneys enter their court notes while they are in court! If you work in a legal office, you know this saves the secretaries literal hours every day from re-typing handwritten attorney notes into the case management system. Today, the secretaries use their new-found time to get ahead on their other work, which makes them, the attorneys, and clients much happier!

Discovery is now sent electronically, so no more wasted time frantically fighting the copy machine and then running over to the post-office to postmark discovery when the county mail had already been picked up for the day (yes, we did this, at least once per week).

Looking back at the years before we had the Paperless Prosecutor Solution, and looking at the office today, many things have changed. The staff count is not one them. It turns out, adding more people wasn’t the solution after all. It was always about creating efficiencies and leveraging smart technology to help us best serve our community. And, having worked in a paper-reliant office before, I wouldn’t do it any other way now.

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?

How Paper–On-Demand Provides Judges with Documents That Work “Better Than Paper” (Part Two – Readability)

In our last post we considered two of the key requirements to make a paper-on- demand court workable and usable for judges: Accessibility and Navigability. In this post we turn to Readability.

Readability is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, concerns of judges; and rightfully so. Judges have to read an enormous volume of documents. Years of court rules are built around assuring that documents are readable, from margin and font requirements to specifications as to the grade of paper or whiteness.

Today’s technology can provide displays that are as or more readable than paper. Brightness, color, background, and size are all adjustable for personal needs. And, let’s face it, even with all the rules, how often do judges have to decipher something that is too small to read? You could get a magnifying glass. Or, you could expand the image.

As I pointed out in “Want Judges to Use ECM?”, how a judge needs documents displayed is largely a function of what the judge is doing, and where. In chambers, the judge probably needs a lot of screen space (analogous to being able to have multiple documents open on the desk). Ever been in a motel room with a table the size of a TV tray and tried to work on several files or documents at once? Well, I have; and I don’t recommend it. But that’s what it could be like to try to deal with multiple documents on a single, standard-size computer monitor. So here’s my advice – Don’t Do It.

On the bench judges may still want a readable display with plenty of room; but they ALSO don’t want it to interfere with their interactions with their courtroom – parties, attorneys, jurors, bailiffs, court staff, and so on. A number of styles and types of monitors have been used on the bench. Some have monitors actually built into the judge’s work surface. Where that is either not possible or not desired, tilted “low-profile” screens work well.

And then there is mobile capability, for when the judge is away from chambers and the bench. Documents can be accessed and read from laptops of course; but increasingly, tablets are also an option. Tablets work well for judges for things like reading, simple annotation, quick approval and signing. Of course there are tradeoffs – just like paper. It is hard to lug around a large monitor. Generally, a Windows interface will be necessary for more complex processing. At home, it may be required that judges have the same kind of “real estate” that they need in their chambers if they do significant multi-document work at home.

There is no escaping the fact that the experience of reading documents on an electronic display differs from that of reading paper. For that reason, a fair comparison will require a period of getting used to visual display. However, after a while (usually less than judges expect), usage becomes second nature; and the judge will be unwilling to give up all of the advantages of paper-on-demand that he or she will have come to expect and rely upon.

Current display technology enables display capabilities for electronic documents that, at a minimum, will provide readability at least as good as paper. With some forethought, the technology can (and should be used to) provide a standard of readability that paper documents cannot match.

Requirements closely related to Readability include Manipulability and Signature Capability, which future posts will discuss.

How Paper-On-Demand Provides Judges with Documents that Work “Better than Paper”

One of the biggest limitations of physical documents and files is that they are, well, physical.   They exist in a particular place.  They are subject to Newton’s Laws – mainly that they stay where they are put until they are moved  (except, of course, those that I am working on and just had on my desk and now can’t, for the life of me, find).  And moving them requires energy.   Also, if more than one person wants to use one of them at the same time, the two people have to get very close together.  Or one of them waits.  And they don’t put themselves away when you’re done with them.

Electronic Content Management (ECM) system makes files and documents

  • Instantly Accessible
  • From Anywhere
  • At Any Time
  • By Multiple People At the Same Time

And, as an added bonus, with workflow, it takes them to where they should be (in a virtual sense) when you are done with them.

Fast, Accurate, and Intuitive Navigation to the Needed File, Document, and Page

Judges need to be able to identify the documents and files they want, get them when they want them, and once they’ve got them, be able to find the information within them that they want. 

Now, everyone has systems and processes in place to do this with paper.  The bottom line is that with paper files and documents, the only way for the judge to see them is either go to where they all are and look through them; have some subset (like all of Joe Blow’s DUII files) fetched; or have someone else look at them and hopefully find the right one. 

Of course, if the judge is on the bench or away, none of those things are choices anyway; so he or she proceeds as best as possible; usually without the needed file or documents.

In a paper-on-demand court, the correct file or document can be quickly located in a number ways. 

  • Files. One of the really powerful things about files in an ECM system is that, unlike physical files, they can be ordered and accessed in many different ways.  Major “index” types include
    • Individual name
    • Family group
    • Common incident/subject
    • Significant dates (Filing, Hearing, Disposition)
    • Related files – This is a very powerful one, because a file can, of course, be related in many different ways.  Joe Blow may have his own group of cases, but he may also be part of the Blow family.  And he may also be part of the “Occupy Blowville” movement.  And so on.  With ECM, these relationships can be either dynamically created, or created through workflow business rules or, as is most common, a combination of workflow and staff review and verification.

 

  • Documents.  Once you have located the files that contain what you want, how do you get to the particular information you want?  Again, in the paper world, we all have developed ways to find information in files.  And worst case, you thumb through the documents one by one.

With ECM, there are a number of additional tools available to make it much easier and faster to locate documents and the information within them.  Those most used by judges include:

–     Intuitive and custom tabbing – Again, with paper documents, it’s hard to arrange them in more than one way.  You can have them chronologically or by document type; but it’s difficult to do both.  ECM solves that problem.  You can have tabs by date, by document type – for example, a Motions tab, a Judgments tab, a Financial tab, and so on.  And, judges can define their own tabs, depending on how they prefer to have things arranged.

–     Word search – The ability to locate not just documents, but information within documents – either within a file or across all files – is a game-changer.  To the extent Google has changed research forever, Word Search has forever changed how judges will access information in court documents and files. 

–     Work flow  Think “Staging”.  When files are brought to the judge, staff often “set them up” by marking or bringing to the front the documents the judge will need to review and deal with.   Automated workflow can provide total staging support.  And it does not require lead time.   Late-breaking matters can be staged instantly for judicial action.

In the next post we’ll look at document Readability, Manipulation, and Signature requirements and how a Paper-On-Demand court can provide them for judges.

 

The Costco Conundrum – Supply Inventory

Note:  This blog is the second in a series on the “Seven Wastes of Muda”.

 As most families with fewer kids than Mother Hubbard know, the problem with Costco is that the 64-ounce jug of ketchup is awkward to handle, takes up a lot of room in the refrigerator and may spoil before you finish it. But the intuitive appeal and the long legacy of Henry Ford’s production system, with its emphasis on reducing unit costs, are hard to suppress.

When, in the 1990s, a delegation of executives from Detroit visited Toyota to find out how it was making cars for so much less than Detroit, one of the major surprises was that Toyota had completely abandoned the Henry Ford mass production philosophy.  The Toyota Production System (TPS) was (and is) in large part built on the principle of never having anything on hand that is not immediately used, processed, or consumed.   And so we come to the Waste of Inventory – the “I” in Tim Wood (the acronym for the Seven Wastes identified in the Toyota Production System). 

A core tenant of the Toyota Production System (TPS), as well as its Western successors (Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma) is that “Inventory is the root of all evil”.   Waste due to inventory impacts courts with particular force in the document management arena at both the front and back ends of processes.   Let us first consider the front end impact.

 In the Detroit factories, all of the parts needed for an entire run would be brought to and stored at each assembly line station.  That way, a crate of screws, a truckload of doors, and so forth, could be on hand (“Supply” Inventory).  The assembly line worker would grab the needed part from the stack and perform the assembly function as quickly as possible.  The fewer trips needed to resupply the stations, the better (lower per-unit costs).

 At the Toyota plants, the assembly stations were essentially the same:  Axles got attached to frames; doors to bodies, and so on.  But there were NO EXTRA PARTS at any of the stations.  The parts did not arrive until they were needed – hence the term “Just-In-Time”.   By developing and implementing technology and workflow (technologies never available to Henry Ford), Toyota automated the movement of the parts to their destinations when needed.   Thus, the space required for each station was substantially less.  There were never any leftover (wasted) parts that had to be moved again (and possibly never used – pure waste).

 In courts, stacks of papers and files waiting to be processed constitute “Supply” inventory.  It may seem simpler and more efficient to pile them up, process each, and move them from the “In” box to the “Out” box; and, let’s face it, that’s what people are used to doing.  However, just as Toyota realized with its assembly line, the results are counter-intuitive.  The stacks take up valuable work area space.  While items are in the stacks, they are unavailable for any other use.   Processing them “out of order” requires shuffling through the stacks.

 Using Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with configurable workflow on the incoming end, the electronic document is available “Just In Time”, whenever the user is ready to process.  So, for example, a judge can sign one or several documents whenever he or she is ready.  Files in court are available as cases are called.  Court staff reviewing and processing documents pull them from their work queues. 

 (It is important to note that electronic documents or files listed in a work queue are not “inventory”, in the sense that they occupy no space, require no movement, and remain available to everyone else even while “queued” for processing.)

 ECM, then, is the technology that enables elimination of front-end, supply inventory.  Space is saved, document and file availability are not compromised, organization is easier, and there is no “waste” – unnecessary pulling, transport and refiling of unused and unneeded documents and files. 

 Note: In the next post, we will consider inventory on the back end of processes, i.e.,  Finished Inventory.