I have previously mentioned here that my brother is an engineer. In a recent conversation I was once again struck with some of the similarities of the challenges of managing manufacturing operations to those of managing court operations when my brother commented that he must repeatedly remind the facilities designers that “‘Retrieval’ is the second half of ‘Storage and Retrieval'”. To which, he wryly observed, the usual reaction is something like, “Yeah; so what’s your point?”.

The point for my brother is that, since his facilities have to actually build vehicles, it does him little good and much harm for the designers to design clever, efficient storage from which it is difficult to impossible to retrieve things at need.

My thoughts flashed back to my first court imaging project decades ago. Almost all of the emphasis was on getting the paper documents “imaged” into the new system. Because of the perceived added workload of having staff input the images and meta-data, a great amount of work went into streamlining the input process as much as possible. Thus, “Storage” was certainly considered at great length.

Far less obvious to those pioneers was the impact of “Retrieval”. The original system (mainframe based), was slow, awkward, obviously “different”, and difficult to use even for the willing, well-trained. For most people, it was about as pleasant to experience as a toothache. Most people who could, and all judges, still used the paper files and documents whenever they could.

Clearly, courts and court Electronic Content Management (ECM) systems have come a long, long way since then. Ease of use for end users has become a major objective in systems development and implementation. Even judges, once willing to participate in the process and unshackle themselves from physical files and documents, can now gain even easier and faster access to necessary information than was ever possible in the paper world. . (See How Paper-On-Demand Provides Judges with Documents that Work “Better than Paper”, posted December 3, 2012, http://courtblog.nathana12.sg-host.com/2012/12/03/how-paper-on-demand-provides-judges-with-documents-that-work-better-than-paper/.)

My brother’s remark caused me to consider that it may be that the “business case” for ECM in the courts is, in some instances, being made “backwards”. That is, usually the business case (correctly) identifies the increased efficiencies and cost savings that ECM can provide. But the (often unconscious, or at least assumed) view is from the “front”, or “Storage”, end: “Well, we have all these documents and files that we’ve got to put somewhere. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just digitize them?” Then (not quite as an afterthought; but really as a follow up), comes the question “What has to happen to make those digital documents usable?”

What if courts were to start looking at the question the other way around? What if the first question were, “What is the fastest, easiest, cheapest, most efficient, and most secure way to ACCESS AND USE the documents we need?” In other words, start with the second half – Retrieval – and work back from there. It quickly becomes obvious that courts need to move to ECM to maximize document usability.

In a sense, one might say we end up in the same place – effective implementation of ECM. True. Nevertheless, I think my brother is correct when he points out the importance and value of looking at the subject from both angles – Storage AND Retrieval. Let’s face it – the court’s interest in documents and files isn’t about storing them. No, what courts are interested in is using the documents and files, which means being able to access (retrieve) them as easily and effectively as possible. As has been pointed out before, it turns out that the greatest impact on courts that implement ECM with workflow comes, not in the intake and storage efficiencies, significant though they may be, but in the radically improved ease of access to and use of electronic documents and files.

From this view, the document storage savings are not the primary motivator; but simply a welcome side effect, of improving document access and usage through ECM.

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