50_stuck in traffic

According to a recently released annual survey , in 2011 traffic congestion caused urban Americans to spend an additional 5.5 billion hours more and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel. That apparently adds up to $121 billion spent sitting around in cars making no progress.

Kudos to Texas A&M Transportation [1] for not only measuring the time and fuel, but in converting the result to dollars. Bill Gates, who knows a thing or two about billions of dollars, recently authored an article with the modest title “My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems.” [2] The subtitle summarizes the answer: “…[W]hat’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data.”

Reading Bill’s article and seeing the traffic congestion report caused me to reflect particularly on first part of the National Center for State Courts’ CourTools Trial Court Performance Measure Six: Reliability and Integrity of Case Files, which sets forth the standard for and measurement of “How Long It Takes To Locate A File.”[3]

For my money, the time it takes to locate a file is analogous to the time spent sitting in a traffic jam or in a taxi with the meter running. It’s wasteful; it’s expensive, it’s aggravating; and it multiplies the probability of something bad happening.

CourTools recommended File Retrieval standard is stated as follows:
“Courts should establish a high standard for being able to locate their case files, e.g., 98 percent or more. A similar high standard should be defined for locating the files within the 15-minute time frame, e.g., 90 percent or more of pending and closed on-site files. The court should define a standard for locating off-site files as well, e.g., 90 percent of the off-site files within one working day.”

A court that meets the recommended high standard may still take fifteen minutes per file to locate and retrieve current files. Multiply that by the number of times files are sought each day/week/month/year. Even a scratch calculation is going to show BIG time. Multiply that by the cost of the person(s) doing the locating; then add in the cost for any people waiting. Pretty quick, the dollars add up to impressive figures.

This is in a court that meets the “high” standard. And that still doesn’t count the time for the up to two percent of the files that are never found; or the time to access closed/off-site files.

One of the powerful economic incentives for ECM with workflow is that file retrieval time is measured in seconds; not minutes, hours, and days. Successful retrieval rates approach one hundred percent. Moreover, workflow drastically cuts even the preliminary time spent figuring out which files are needed where and by whom, and delivers them in NEGATIVE time – that is, BEFORE they are even requested.

Future posts will examine some of the other CourTools metrics substantially impacted by ECM with workflow. Meanwhile, courts looking to implement or expand ECM should take the time, or engage help, to apply the NCSC or some other measurement methodology to their operations for three reasons:

• First, such analysis will help the overall planning for ECM and will identify where major “low-hanging fruit” can be quickly harvested.
• Second, it will provide a major argument in the business case for implementing ECM with workflow.
• Third, when followed by a post-implementation analysis, it will provide quantitative, not just anecdotal, evidence of the value of the implementation.

Because Bill Gates is right about following the data.


[1] TTI’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report, Texas  A&M Transportation Institute, December, 2012, http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/report/.

[2] Bill Gates: My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems, Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2013.

[3] CourtTools, Trial Court Performance Measures, National Center for State Courts, http://www.courtools.org/~/media/Microsites/Files/CourTools/courtools_Trial_measure6_Reliability_And_Integrity_Of_Case_Files.ashx.

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