The other day in the store while going through the checkout, I was reminded of something I had recently seen regarding court e-filing and the business (and political) case for doing it separate from workflow. The comment I observed made the point that the impetus for e-filing often comes from the bar. Indeed, the bar has much to gain from e-filing, which is not to ignore that e-filing can and should provide substantial benefit to the court as well. And yet, there remain numerous cases where e-filing is more or less “tacked on” to the front end of case and transaction processing and little more.
The thought occurred to me that the first and most obvious proponents of bar code scanning, like the one I had used in the grocery store, may well have been people tired of standing in checkout lines. Certainly it did improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency of grocery checkout. Those old enough to remember when cashiers had to manually key product and price information into a cash register will understand.
Not so obvious, but arguably more important, bar coding rapidly revolutionized inventory control, cash management, customer behavior tracking and prediction, purchasing, and shipping… just to name a few. Each had more business and financial impact than the improvements in checkout. Had bar coding in the store ended with expediting checkout, a huge amount of infrastructure already in place to implement it would have been wasted. The marginal additional costs of leveraging the infrastructure, not to mention changed business partner (supplier, stocker, customer, auditor) behavior, are actually relatively minor in comparison. In fact, if it had not been leveraged, I wonder if bar coding really would have paid for itself.
The same question arises regarding e-filing. While e-filing alone may well meet the requirements and expectations of the filer community, a LOT of unrealized benefit remains on the table. The really big organizational improvements – financial, quality, efficiency, accountability, flexibility, security – require plugging the e-filing system into a robust, well-designed configurable workflow system. Configurable workflow will leverage the investment in obtaining clean, reliable, easily processed documents and metadata at the front end.
As I have mentioned before, virtually every court that has implemented workflow as part of its ECM has learned that the benefits from workflow end up exceeding just about every other benefit. One of the hardest parts of implementing ECM and workflow is getting documents and metadata into the system. E-filing, by its nature, goes a long way towards solving that challenge. While workflow implementation has its own challenges, e-filing can solve that one.
For courts (in fact, for just about any organization; but ESPECIALLY for courts), to be effective the workflow system must be easily configurable. At the top level, courts have many different case and matter types, each with its own workflow, some of which may be standard and some of which will certainly be unique. Beyond diversity, changes occur over time. New facilities, new laws, new labor agreements, new ideas for better ways to do things, new technology, all will precipitate the need to change, update, add and improve workflows. A workflow system easily configurable by trained court personnel is essential to avoid the unpleasant choice of high-cost programming updates versus increasing obsolescence (or, more likely, both).
I doubt too many grocery stores can stay in business today without robust inventory and process control systems (of which bar coding is the “front end”). I doubt many grocery suppliers ship product that is not prepared (coded) for use in the systems. And I doubt that the checkout stand is where the biggest change to the grocery system is being reflected – except in the price.