The First Law (and How To Overcome It)

52_the first law

With the advent of summer, I look at my garage and contemplate the inexorable truth of Newton’s First Law of Motion, holding that An Object At Rest Tends to Remain At Rest (until and unless acted upon by an external force).  Ah, yes… that certainly explains the clutter.  Why won’t someone just put all that stuff where it belongs?

It probably ALSO goes a long way toward explaining one of the key reasons that Electronic Content Management (ECM)with workflow has such a large impact on court operations.  In my experience, documents are even more resistant to moving on their own than most objects.   Overflowing In- and Out boxes, cluttered desk and counter tops, files on chairs – you name it; we all know it.

Interestingly, it turns out that the attribute of being physical is NOT the only cause of the clutter.  Consider: when I don’t want to deal with an object in the house, I stick it in the garage (just till I figure it out what to do with it), where more often than not it finds a semi-permanent home.  Likewise, moving to electronic documents, in itself, can turn the system into one big garage.  MAYBE things get put where they should be.  MAYBE someone retrieves them and processes them in a timely manner.  MAYBE someone notices if they don’t get processed.  And MAYBE my garage will clean itself up.

More likely, of course, they simply languish in the system.  Indeed, that has too often been the experience of courts that initially move to imaging primarily to free up physical space.  And the resultant problems tend to sour staff, judges, attorneys, and partner agencies on electronic documents.

For these reasons, if for no other (and of course there are MANY other), any justice system planning to implement ECM must include a robust workflow component.  Workflow will make sure that documents get routed to where they need to be.  Moreover, workflow and the attendant reporting, will:

  • flag and report to the proper person (and escalate if necessary) instances where a document has NOT moved as it should;
  • or where, even though it was routed correctly, it has not been processed in a timely manner;
  • or when a process is awaiting a document that never arrived.

Early court and related justice system pioneers of workflow learned that the effort to design and implement workflow as part of their ECM system paid enormous dividends.  In those days, the workflow tools were pretty generic, and the early adopters each had to essentially start with the raw tools and “roll their own”.   The advent of configurable workflow has increased ease and economy considerably, well beyond anything the early adopters had available.  Workflow can be configured and reconfigured as needed to accommodate changes, without the need for expensive programming.

In addition, implementations for courts and related justice agencies can take advantage of “pre-configured” workflows for all courts, case types, and case-specific processes that can be quickly tailored to the unique needs of the court to automate repetitive tasks and standardize processes across multiple departments. In other words, the great bulk of initial development of court and justice system workflow is already done; all that is left is site-specific customization.

To paraphrase Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz after the Scarecrow’s dance routine,  “If my junk back home could do THAT, my garage would be clean as a whistle!”

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