By Jeffrey N. Barlow
“The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above…”
A Horse With No Name
The classic line from America’s forty-five year old classic would be just as true (though nowhere near as hauntingly beautiful and descriptive) if you substituted “file system” or “document repository” for “desert” in the above lyric lines. A pre-ECM/DMS (paper) document management system bore about as much relation to the information within the documents as a table of contents or index bears to the contents of a book. They were “pointers”; like a marine chart telling you where the deep water is. There was little to no information about the water itself, much less what’s in it, and what the things in it are doing. To get to the fish, or the information, you’re on your own.
The thing is, there’s a lot more room below the surface; so you can fit a lot more stuff. Plus, it’s three-dimensional (richer). Historically, though, getting to it has been a real challenge.
Today, the very nature of information is changing. We used to talk about “structured data” and “blobs”. Structured data could be used, manipulated, measured, monitored, and so on. Information in the “blob” – that is, things like freeform text, audio, or video – had to be read, heard, or viewed to get any information from within.
Modern analytics engines feast on unstructured information. For example, companies, law enforcement, governments, and who knows who else, monitor the twittersphere to keep track of what is currently of interest to people, what people are doing or planning to do, what people think about products or shows or political candidates or the weather, and on and on. Courts and those interested in courts are starting to realize that plugging more deeply into their “underwater” information can provide both real-time intelligence (for example, to assist judges on the bench) as well as a plethora of management information.
Across the business and government landscape, enterprises have been (proactively or under duress) reexamining the role that information management plays in their pursuit of their core missions. In many cases, and certainly in the case of the Justice System, the answer is that information management is what they do.
All of which calls into question the historic separation of the constituent “systems”: “Case Management Systems “, “Content Management Systems”, “Business Practices”, “Workflow”, “Jury Systems”, “Inmate Tracking Systems”, “Court Reporting”, “Accounting”, etc. While at the physical level there may be many systems, some of which are “electronically” integrated and some which are integrated through paper or people (affectionately known as “fleshware”), in the primary business sense, they are all components of one Information Management System.
Today, the “desert” (surface) is one or more interfaces with the “ocean” below. The conceptual distinction between a Case Management System and the other systems has meaning only when the technical separation imposes constraints. As a result, look for more and more transparent integration, at the user interface level, of the component systems; because the distinctions are just getting in the way.
For all these reasons, modern Case Management Systems can’t just sit on top of the desert. They have to have rich, fast, and flexible access to the ocean of vibrant informational life below the surface. For while the operations and activities of the courts have long sat firmly on top of that informational foundation, the courts’ relationship with it has fundamentally changed.