Paperless Office Progress Actually Observed

As a kid at the beach, I became aware, at some point, that although the rising tide can and will come in and soak previously dry ground, it’s usually pretty hard to tell exactly when the tide changes and starts receding. In fact, it seemed to me that the tide level just sort of stayed at the same place for quite a while, before there was any discernable retreat.

115_paperless-officeA recent article by Christopher Mims with the catchy title  Why the Paperless Office Is Finally On Its Way caught my eye. Turns out that, no; it hasn’t been just your imagination: The advent of nearly universal “Paperless Offices” (or, as we like to call it, “Paper On Demand”) has been, shall we say, a bit slower in coming than had been predicted forty years ago, when an article in Business Week predicted that “…paper would be on its way out by 1980, and nearly dead by 1990.” In fact, Mims cites reports that indicate the number of pages printed in offices was increasing until 2007.  Now, we have analysis that 2007 was the high water mark.

Now, what’s interesting to me is not that the Paperless Office didn’t arrive on schedule – we all know that. What’s interesting is that it now looks like the tide has actually turned.

According to Mims’ sources, since 2007, office use of paper has declined a steady rate of 1% to 2% a year.  The article goes on point out a number of reasons for the hitherto slow progress away from paper.  Still, it concludes by predicting that the trend away from paper is gaining momentum; although full transition will clearly take some time.

Here are a few of my observations on these findings.

First and foremost, keep in mind that the “1% to 2%” figure is an aggregate. It could mean that every office has reduced its printing that much. Or, it could mean that 1% or 2% of all offices have reduced their printing to zero; and all the rest still print just as much as they always have.

The reality is somewhere in the middle. I think what you’ve got is a relative handful of offices reducing their printing by far more; and most offices, even when they are utilizing electronic documents, still printing as much as or more than they always did.

One excellent illustration of how this situation occurs involves our old “friend”, the process of printing out a paper for a judge to physically sign. Attorneys filing physical documents (which they had to print), which the court then scans into an electronic document management system, again keeps the “print count” elevated. The answer here, of course, is implementation of E-Signature.

Another all too common example is printing out e-filed documents, then scanning them into an existing, non-integrated DMS. Courts have discovered that, among its many other benefits, implementation of a strategic enterprise content management system will eliminate this huge demand for printing to paper.

When we see progress, such as the announcement that, having launched an e-filing pilot initiative in 2011, the Macomb County, Michigan Courts in July, 2016 report processing more pleading filings via their e-filing system than through the U.S. Postal Service, we are seeing how the tide really is starting to turn.

The statistics and trends noted in Mims’ article indicate that the balance has shifted. Furthermore, for lots of reasons (and we have discussed them here – generational, technological, financial), paper usage is not only dropping, but the rate is accelerating. Those who over the past several years have committed to and invested in moving toward “Paper on Demand” are and will continue to realize greater and greater benefits. Those who have yet to embark on the journey will soon find the pressures to do so building to an irresistible level as the receding tide leaves them alone on the beach.

Thinking Digitally

It takes all types to make a world, so perhaps there are people who actually appreciate and/or read the popups that read something like

“By checking this box I acknowledge I have read and agree to the User Agreement…” [consisting of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of virtual pages of indecipherable gobbeldy-gook].

114_thinking-digitallyOf course, in order to consummate the transaction, you have no choice – you HAVE to check the box. Nevertheless, courts routinely hold that users who check the box have thereby bound themselves to the substance of the said gobbeldy-gook.

I bring up this example to pose a question: Is that which binds the user a document; or is it a data point, meta or otherwise?

I don’t raise this question to be churlish or legalistic; but rather to point out an increasing and accelerating trend towards the evolution, if you will, of what were formerly regarded as “documents” into pure “data”. The transition seems to be a continuum. First, paper documents were converted to electronic form and stored, with added meta-data. Rapidly, the meta-data itself became first useful, then essential, and (in some cases) of greater significance and greater accessibility than the content of the document.

The move to “born electronic” documents moves everything further along the continuum. The distinction between “content” and “meta-data” has gotten real blurry, in case you haven’t noticed.

In fact, more and more, “forms” are replacing “documents”. The form’s actual IDENTITY – what it IS-  (A Motion for a Continuance? A Change of Attorney?) has become meta-data. There is no verbiage; only identification of the transaction type and the relationships.

Among the many implications of this evolution – which is either approaching or has hit the elbow of the asymptotic curve – is that “Records Management” in the historical sense no longer has much relevance. Concepts related to paper and physical files provide little guidance and much confusion when applied to data. Just one example: In the world of paper and physical files, no one asks how many places or in how many documents the name of the defendant’s attorney is stored. In the digital world, the name of the defendant’s attorney may not actually appear in any record or data on any of her cases. Instead, there will be pointers to a central file with all the attorneys’ names. What happens to the old case records when the attorney gets married?

I bring this up not because I believe problems to be pervasive or difficult to surmount; but because it sure seems to me that the entire subject requires a way of thinking completely different from the old ways. Someone probably has a better term, for now, I’ll call it “Thinking Digitally”.

Courts that are thinking digitally will be wanting to “data-tize” what used to be files and documents as quickly and deeply as possible. Essential tools include robust ECM including E-Filing and Workflow, integrated at the data level with Case Management Systems, with data-level intersystem communications among business partners. Without these tools, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can manage “records” at the data level. Because, let’s face it, at the atomic level, the data is a bunch of ones and zeros. Without knowing where it came from, how it was created, how it was processed, when it was “approved” (“By checking this box’ I agree…”), and so on, you CAN’T know what to do with it or how to manage it. Think of the marrying attorney. Multiply that situation by a zillion.

You can bet that Microsoft keeps track of when you checked the box; and you can also bet that they don’t keep a copy of their “Agreement” for everyone who checks the box. Developing the rules, processes, and procedures for today and tomorrow’s records requires thinking digitally about ALL information, whether it is or previously has been contained in a document.


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.

Information Management, Prepare to Meet Augmented Reality

I assure you that there is a relationship between the subject of this piece and Justice Information Management. Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure yet just what that relationship IS; but I’m positive it exists and that one day, I (and maybe you) will recognize it.

The subject: Pokémon GO. 111_pokemon

Last weekend, while strolling through Riverfront Park, I watched with great interest as dozens of people, alone, in pairs, or in groups walked by, intent on their smartphones, playing Pokémon GO. If you are even less familiar with the game than I am (and that’s pretty darn unfamiliar), the game involves looking at the world around you through the camera on your smartphone. Into this rendering of your current reality, images of Pokémon are superimposed. My understanding is that in some way players attempt to “capture” the Pokémons (Pokémen? Pokémae?); but that’s largely irrelevant to my point, except to note the interaction with something that isn’t really there.

Welcome to the world of Augmented Reality. From the Star Trek Holodeck to The Terminator, Augmented Reality has received a lot of Sci-Fi exposure for a long time. Within the past several years, actual implementations of Augmented Reality have become available. Remember Google Glass? Last year, at CTC, I was blown aware by the Courtroom of the Future Augmented Reality exhibit, which put the viewer into the middle of the courtroom. Go on down to Best Buy and you can try on Augmented Reality viewers.

What’s different about Pokémon GO is that PEOPLE ARE USING IT – lots and lots of people.

Up until now, Augmented Reality has largely been a technology in search of a reason to exist. Google Glass failed to catch on largely because nobody could come up with any really good reason why anyone needed it.

Well, Pokémon GO players can give you a reason – AR glasses would be a lot more convenient than having to stare at your phone.

I think Pokémon GO is to what we’ll see in a few years as the original PacMan was to Black Ops III. I think that the significance of Pokémon GO is that it gets Augmented Reality into general circulation.

The significance of this development to Justice Information Management, then, is — what?


As I admitted at the top, darned if I know.  But I’m pretty sure it is significant and that soon enough we’ll all understand why, and say to ourselves, “Well, of course.”


I have a couple pretty far out thoughts. Some things generally regarding courts could include applications like remote (or dead) witnesses seemingly sitting in the witness chair. But the nexus with Justice Information Management is harder for me to make out.


The reason I’m so sure that there will be a nexus is that, in many ways, this technology represents a new frontier in user-to-information system interface. And the history in my lifetime has been that the easier and more transparent that interface becomes, the greater and more rapid the penetration of technological implementation into real world processes.


Some things are as easy to predict as shooting fish in a barrel – like courts having to deal with people trying to play Augmented Reality games while in the courthouse; and Augmented Reality being used for in-court demonstrations. Can it be applied to communication? To information and metadata retrieval? To workflow management?


My instincts say, all of the above, and more. But then again, there remains the serious question whether or not I’m playing with a full deck. I would love to know what others think.


Meanwhile, here’s a scary potential technology confluence to keep you awake at night: Pokémon GO and driverless cars.


Stay tuned.


About Those Grandkids

When Willamette University College of Law opened it’s newly constructed wing, Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (at that time, an active Justice) gave the dedication speech. Given the critical issues then before the Court, everyone listened with rapt attention as Justice Conner began her remarks with the following line:

“I want to speak to you today about the subject of the most profound importance to me… ” She let the crowd hang a pregnant moment, before continuing, “My granddaughter.”

I am again reminded of that fabulous line, because of the way in which I have become aware that a major generational break through has occurred regarding electronic Justice Information Technology.  Finally, a method has been discovered to bring youth-challenged boomers, including judges and senior managers, into the twenty-first century. Yes, finally, senior professionals with mid-twentieth century birthdays are embracing, adopting, and willingly relying on cutting-edge information technology.

This development should be extremely gratifying after so many years of such ardent, energetic, often expensive, and usually frustrating attempts by those of us in the profession of moving enterprises like courts and related justice system agencies to adopt and leverage new electronic information management tools. Yes; it’s taken awhile; but we did it.

Ah, well; not exactly…. Turns out we really didn’t do it at all.

The credit goes to the grandkids. They’re the ones who the grey-of-hair set are chasing into the technological promised land. Grandma and Grandpa now practically live and breathe social media and instant communication. I just took part in a teleconference through Skyping. Our Board chair, a couple years my senior, was fully conversant with Skyping – he does it all the time with the grandkids.


Five years ago, I was still hearing senior judges proudly assert that they had no “Smart Phone”. Now, the thought of being off the text-message or Twitter grid for longer than five minutes seems to them unimaginable.

Well, ok. So all we really had to do was wait around for the next generation to spawn instead of bashing our collective heads against brick walls so much of the time. However, the moment having finally arrived, it’s worthwhile to consider how changing habits open opportunities for changing the landscape.

A judge who Skypes and texts with a grandchild is unlikely to be emotionally unable to consider eSigning. There may be questions – there SHOULD be questions – but the underlying, never-spoken but always present visceral resistance – has largely receded. It may be time for a new round of educational and informational outreach to the hitherto more resistant demographic in the justice system community.

Frankly, some results are already starting to show. Judicial “workbench” tools are becoming much more user friendly, intuitive, and powerful. Granted, technological power and sophistication, per Moore’s Law, plays a big role. Likewise, changing demographics as generations that grew up with computers and the internet begin to fill the judicial ranks has  marked effect. Indeed, while many technology strategies have long been to (secretly) plan to “outwait” the oldsters, the newest and most powerful judicial support tools are based on direct input from the most senior judges with the most institutional knowledge to pass along.

In some ways, The Great Recession accelerated development and adoption of Judicial Information Systems, because of the imperative to do more with less in an environment of falling budgets and increased demands for services. On the other hand, the same financial pressures, often coupled with generational reluctance to change, acted as a brake on progress.

When budgets began to recover, the combination of pent-up demand and improved technology kicked off what has been a historically unprecedented period of transition to electronic Justice Information Systems.

Now I think we can add that, against many expectations (mine, anyway), even the pre-computer generation is coming around. This factor adds one more not insignificant push on the rapidly accelerating adoption and penetration rate of ever more sophisticated electronic Justice Information Systems. Perhaps even better, the wisdom and institutional memory of some of our very talented and experienced senior judicial minds is being preserved and embedded into the systems of the future.

Justice O’Connor was right.


Cloud Gazing

A couple years ago I wrote about how I thought attitudes concerning storing critical enterprise data in “The Cloud” would have evolved five years hence. Bottom line: The prediction was that by 2019, best practices will require that information of any criticality, confidentiality, or sensitivity be stored in The Cloud, because that will be far and away the most safe and manageable place for it.

Thus at the Justice Summit in Grand Rapids this June it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear Scott Bade, President of ImageSoft, who noted that the new generation of Justice System Information Management Systems are being designed for Cloud storage, for exactly those reasons. To a room of generally skeptical judges, court managers, and court technologists, Scott acknowledged the current general negative impressions regarding the security of data in The Cloud. Confronting their skepticism head-on, he then predicted that they would soon come to understand that the very reason for moving their most sensitive data to The Cloud is that it is no longer safe anywhere else.

As Scott pointed out, courts and other justice agencies can and will continue to store data “on-site” (wherever THAT is) for as long as they wish. The larger point is that, because Cloud storage will almost certainly become the rule rather than the exception, the new Justice System Information Systems are being designed to take advantage of the opportunities such architectures provide. And those opportunities are exciting indeed, offering greater functionality and flexibility, lower total cost of ownership, and far greater management control to far finer levels of granularity (like individual litigants on their own cases).

The Justice Community doesn’t need to lead the way.  Granted, justice system information includes highly sensitive and confidential material. But so, then, do National Security information systems. And here, the Defense Department has been moving aggressively to transition to storing information in The Cloud.

For those who are interested (ATTENTION, GEEKS!), Department of Defense Cloud Computing Security Requirements Guide, Version 1, Release 2, 18 March, 2016 makes fascinatingly turgid reading. For the rest of us, the mere existence of such a document should send a powerful message. Meet some folks who are seriously interested in security, who are spelling out in excruciating detail how to store and access its most sensitive information (designated “Level 6”, for anyone who wants to know).

Just for fun, here is a chart from the Guide. Imagine how easily it could be applied to Justice System Information.

From Section 3.2, Information Impact Levels

Figure 1 provides a summary of the current information impact levels coupled with some of the distinguishing requirements and characteristics. 


Note that per Section 5.2.1, the information must be physically located in the US or an area under US jurisdiction (like, say , Guantanamo). Not unreasonable; and courts may very well apply in-state restrictions if they please.

All of this is to say to the justice community that 1) Cloud-based information storage is in your future, probably sooner than you expect; 2) Properly implemented, it will be far more secure than any other form of storage; and 3) The tools that bring it to you bring also some very, very exciting capabilities to improve justice community delivery of services.