I admit it: I regard Steve Jobs as having had probably the greatest impact on the world, for our time and into the future, of anyone of my generation. I was awed by the man’s ability to see the shape of the future. I believe he did it by first:

  • consistently distinguishing among WHAT is done, WHY it is done, and HOW it is done;
  •  second, totally disregarding the current WHAT and HOW;
  •  third, focusing exclusively on the WHY and coming up with (and/or driving others to come up with) an elegant solution unencumbered by the old WHAT and HOW past practices.  He discerned very little fundamental need for humans to push buttons.  Consequently, his devices have few or no buttons – notwithstanding that virtually all previous technology relied on button-based input.  It sounds so simple.  So does the wheel, now that someone has invented it.

Many people are surprised at the unexpected complexity of transitioning courts from paper and wet signature-based court documents to ECM.  It seems so simple.  Why can’t electronic documents simply replace paper documents in the workflow and processes of the court?  After all, they are the same thing, just in different format, aren’t they? 

At its core, the primary function (the “WHY”) of a written document is to be the vehicle for transmitting information. 

With just a little effort, we can see that paper-based, wet signature court “documents” have a number of physical characteristics, like size, shape, and pages.   These are the “WHAT” and the “HOW” – the buttons.  Hundreds of years of rules, laws, and document management procedures have blended, intertwined and assumed the eternal interrelationship of ALL of the characteristics of paper documents. 

Perhaps someone knows where the change in the court records management paradigm will end up; I confess I do not; but I believe it will be significant.  How significant?  Well, consider for a moment an example from another business domain; one with Steve Jobs’ fingerprints all over it.

Remember phonograph records?  These were followed by eight track tapes, tape cassettes, and CDs.   The “WHAT” is that they are vehicles for delivery of audio content.  The “WHY” is to allow users to listen to music of their choice when and where they want to hear it.  The “HOW” differs somewhat.  CDs could hold pictures, video, and bonus material.  In addition to sound quality, CDs operated differently – you could switch to specific tracks, for instance. 

But in many ways, LPs and CDs had more in common than they had differences.  The retail market operated in virtually identical fashion: stores, mail order, record clubs, and for free-radio.  The technology platform was different, but the music industry remained the same.

The harbinger of the real change was Napster.  Not because it allowed stealing (people had been copying records, tapes, and CDs forever).  Not because delivery was over the internet.  No, it was that for the first time, people could effectively download ONLY THE SONGS THEY WANTED, instead of having to get the whole album.

Steve Jobs recognized this as The Big Change.  Resistance from recording artists and music distributors came NOT because they were concerned with theft.  Indeed, the Apple iTunes model offered MORE content protection.  No, the resistance was because so much of what the industry was charging for – from media to up to 80% unwanted tracks – comprised a huge proportion of their revenues.

And every aspect of the industry is now changed.  Artists by and large have to hold more live performances to generate revenue equivalent to record sales in the old days.  Record stores are gone.  Record companies are faced with dramatically reduced revenues and competition from the artists themselves, who can much more easily directly market their works. 

And record/tape/cd players – what technology delivery platform has replaced them?  Don’t say the iPod – that is legacy technology.  There is no stand alone technology required – you use your SmartPhone.  Talk about change.

In many ways, I see the transition from paper to document imaging as similar to the change from LPs to CDs.  The move to ECM, with associated workflow is, I believe, of the order of the transition to iTunes.  No, I don’t know where the change engendered through ECM in the courts will end up; but I do not expect the change to be less than the change Steve Jobs wrought in the music industry – to name just one.

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