I recently read Ken Follett’s historical novel A Dangerous Fortune, about English bankers in the late 1900’s.  Follett’s novels are always well researched and full of really cool contemporary technology. 

A few days ago, while discussing judicial use of digital documents with a judge, I observed that many judges are deeply concerned that they cannot easily navigate and use digital documents and files.  Interestingly, their areas of concern — finding the correct document(s), grouping needed documents together, finding information within documents, opening and reading multiple documents simultaneously and switching between them, making notes, etc., — can  be handled better using digital documents within an effective ECM system than by using hard copy files and documents.  The judge laughed, and commented that she drives a car with so many technological features that she doesn’t even know what half of them are, much less how to use them.  Her analogy hit the nail on the head:  A lot of judges simply do not know what today’s ECM systems can let them do.

As we continued talking, I recalled something from the Follett novel.  The difference between the technology being available and people being able to use it has always and probably will always exist.  In A Dangerous Fortune, a young banker, in the aftermath of an embarrassing error by his boss involving a mislaid letter, conceives of and implements a radical new solution:  He takes two boxes, marks one “IN” and the other “OUT”, and places them side by side on his boss’s desk.  The point being, up until then, the technology to order things existed; but no one had figured it out.

The technology of paper documents — arranging them in files; left-side/right-side documents, file tabs, case numbers, color coding, sticky notes, tickler systems — these uses of the “paper” technology were not developed over night; they evolved over a long period.  Eventually, what we use becomes not only familiar, but necessary.  You can bet that at the bank, within a year, no one could operate without IN/OUT boxes.

In the early days of electronic documents, navigation and manipulation presented formidable challenges.  But electronic documents have been around for over fifty years –TWO GENERATIONS.  In the beginning, things as “obvious” as IN/OUT boxes were unknown.  But today, those decades of experience, together with more powerful technology, as well as dedicated design involving judges as core participants, have enabled implementation of electronic document interfaces for judges that are better than paper.  What remains is to show it to them.

Judges and Doctors share a somewhat unique and sometimes counter-productive trait. They are expected by society to know everything, and therefore they find it difficult to be put in situations where they are not the experts.  This keeps them from using technology, and it sometimes keeps them from getting trained.  Zen Buddhism has a term called Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind”.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.

Courts moving to ECM are well advised to find out, from the most techno-adverse judges, what capabilities and features are most important to what they do with files and documents.  And here’s a hint (as if you didn’t already know it):  They don’t really know how to tell you.  Do yourself a favor and utilize qualified Business Analysts who are experienced in helping judges articulate what they don’t know they know.

Another hint:  Arrange for the judges to SEE how a well-designed and implemented ECM system will be easier and more powerful for them to use, because as much as you talk about it, they will not believe it until they see it. Then provide top-notch training, because they won’t REALLY believe it until they DO it.

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