Implementing configurable workflow as part of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) obviously systematizes, streamlines, and expedites information and process flow in a multitude of ways, big and small.   One major benefit, often acknowledged but too rarely quantified or considered in sufficient detail, is something that DOESN’T happen: Documents don’t get lost.  While everyone knows that is a good thing, rarely do they reflect (in a business sense) just how good it is.

49_Wandering Sheep

In one of the memorable Biblical parables, Jesus observes that when one lamb out of a hundred goes missing, once it is found, there will be more rejoicing for the lost lamb than for the 99 that were where they were supposed to be all the time.  There are some good reasons for that rejoicing, as everyone who has participated in an intensive search for a missing, critical document knows all too well.

In the traditional, paper document and hard file-centric justice system world, lost (mislaid, misfiled, misdelivered, you name it) documents and files are part of everyday life.  While everyone knows how disruptive, not to mention annoying, this situation is, it is really hard to quantify the true cost.

Here’s a hint: It’s a LOT more than people usually give it credit for.  In fact, considering document flow among and within jails, prosecutors, law enforcement, courts, etc., if the true cost in both dollars and in negative impact on the core mission of delivery of justice were calculated, it would often be enough, in and of itself, to justify implementation of ECM with workflow across and throughout the justice system.  Consider the impacts of a lost document or file:

  • You have to spend time looking for it. (This is the one cost people usually try to quantify.  Usually they underestimate it; but in any event, it is but the tip of the iceberg.)
  • You don’t have it, so you can’t use it. (Picture people standing around in court; or a file sitting on a desk waiting to be processed while waiting for a document that can’t be found, often while a deadline runs.)
  • You aren’t sure what it says, so you either wait or risk error.
  • You may have to take it away from someone else who is using it when you find it.
  • You may not even know it exists (and the cost of this one alone can be astronomical).
  • Someone who shouldn’t be handling and/or seeing it may be the one to find it.

Small wonder that all of the above give rise to perhaps the greatest expense of all: Processes and procedures designed to guard against losing documents and files.  (Ah, if only they worked!)  Of these, the most pervasive, insidious, expensive, and difficult to dislodge, is the making and keeping of duplicate copies.

Implementation of ECM with configurable workflow can virtually eliminate the costs associated with missing documents and files, particularly when handled in conjunction with e-filing.  In the paper-centric system, every instance a document or file is handled, moved, viewed, created, received, filed, or even kept on a desk constitutes a potential “point of failure” at which it can go missing.  By contrast, in a court with a properly implemented ECM system, any document or file can be accessed at any time from anywhere once it is in the system.  Thus, to the extent there is any potential “point of failure”, it is at the front end at the time of creation or receipt, where safeguards can be much more effectively and efficiently designed, implemented, and administered.

In developing business justification for implementation of ECM with workflow in the justice system, the virtual elimination of losing files should be more than just a “nice to have” side benefit.  It should be evaluated as a major potential financial driver.  So, make the celebrations at the return of the lost sheep a thing of the past – and stop worrying about the fence while you’re at it.



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