Frankenstein in the Courts – The Perils of Bolt-On Document Management

At a recent conference about court technology, many of the users were considering adding document management functionality to their court case management databases. 

They reasoned, correctly, that a connection between the high volume of paper documents and the case database record would be helpful to their staff. In fact, courts are facing budget pressures like every other governmental organization and these folks were concerned about how they could keep up with the workload, even though they have not experienced the same level of staff cutbacks as other departments.

This was an illuminating discussion because it showed several things. First, courts are embracing document management. This is critical. Courts depend on documents to operate, and they run better on electronic documents whose security and access can be controlled, and whose sensitive data can be redacted automatically if the documents need to be shared.

Moreover, like any other organization, paper-based systems are too hard to manage, things are lost, and, in the case of courts, serious consequences can occur if documents can’t be found or if they are not readily available for court deliberations.

But the danger of purchasing bolted-on document management is in the name itself – it’s a bolt-on, an afterthought to the system’s real function of court case management.

 Here’s why it’s a problem.

To manage a document, you need to capture it in a variety of ways to respond to the daily pace of a courthouse. This means having 1) a high-speed option that can automate indexing, 2) a smaller option that may even sit on the bench to scan documents after they have been signed by the parties and the judge and 3) a way to leverage the data in your court case management system and apply it to an image you have just scanned at your desk.

Bottom line: These options are best done by solutions that have spent years perfecting capture. Why? Because if you can’t capture it, you can’t find it in your document management system – a disaster for a courtroom! Most bolt-on document management options simply can’t keep up with the volume of court documents that must be captured on a daily basis and offer few options to respond to the different settings that capture might take place.

The variety of the documents is also important to consider. The documents to be managed go way beyond just those for cases. But, if your document management functionality is tied to a court case management system, only people with a license to use the CCM can use the functionality. That is not cost effective as it absorbs some IT dollars that could be put into a true ECM product that could span all departments of the court – areas like HR, purchasing, and it could integrate to an ERP solution.

Moreover, by purchasing bolt-on document management, you can’t create a true value center across the whole state, county or city, something you can do by sharing an ECM solution. Since documents are at the core of what government does –  constituent service, being transparency, stewardship of records – it makes sense to make this investment in a way that allows other departments to leverage the investment. This saves money, allows the organization to share knowledge about the solution and matches the trends towards consolidation that are pushing at many government agencies.

As government looks at the cloud or hosted solutions, doing more with less or shared services and consolidation, a bolt-on document management solution doesn’t measure up. So, as courts move forward with an eye to going paperless, they need to go enterprise and create a firm foundation for managing their documents by viewing document management as a separate application that can integrate to their court case management databases. The integration ensures the efficiency they are looking for without limiting their future options.

Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Wondering what goes into a document management, ECM or content services deployment in government? Terri Jones, Hyland's government marketing portfolio manager, has your answer. In her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she's managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. If that isn't enough to prove her IT expertise in government, she has also designed and implemented data systems and websites to manage compliance and funding in excess of $90 million annually. Have a question for her? Contact her at [email protected]

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