Monday, July 30, 2012

State Court Case Management System Acquisition Strategies

By Tom C. Clarke, National Center for State Courts

It is a truism of American courts that no state is exactly like another.  This is one of many reasons why state court systems have a difficult time comparing themselves to ostensible peer states.  Publications like NCSC’s State Court Organization try to compare apples to apples along multiple dimensions, but it remains a mostly intractable problem.


So it is a bit surprising to learn that NCSC does have relatively good data on the state court case management system acquisition strategies.  While still not perfect, this data does allow us to broadly characterize what states have done.  Of course, the data can be analyzed from many perspectives, so the summary below is primarily indicative.

Build vs. Buy

Just over half, or twenty six, of the states now use commercial off-the shelf (COTS) systems products.  The distribution by company is shown below:

Tyler 8
Courtview 3
AmCad 2
New Dawn 1
Jano 1

Not all of the remaining twenty four states have built their own systems.  Some of those states have no statewide system, so they cannot be characterized.  Also, the tally is always in flux.  JSI will soon be in only three states and Tyler will be in nine or ten states.  Overall, the trend is toward more COTS acquisition strategies as the commercial products become both more mature and more flexible.  Fewer states have the expertise or resources to build their own systems.  It is certainly more risky now to build.

The situation is still reversed at the appellate level.  Surprisingly many states still lack a modern CMS for their appellate courts.  Of those that do, over half are built rather than bought.  The distribution is shown below:

In-house 7
LT CourtTech 7
In-house/vendor 5
Evans Caseload 1

One might think that more large states would build their own systems because of greater resources, but the data does not bear that out.  In fact, the data does support that finding.  Of the ten largest states by population, six of them built their own systems, and four of them have no statewide systems because of the decentralized structure of their court systems.  None of them uses a COTS product.  In contract, nine of the ten smallest states use COTS products.  As the COTS products get better, more of the larger states are considering their use.

Customer Patterns by Vendor

If states of all sizes were equally likely to use a specific vendor product, then the mean rank of their customers would be 25 or 26.  That is, the largest state would be ranked first and the smallest state fiftieth.  In fact, six of the eight COTS vendors with statewide implementations have mean customer size ranks higher than 25 (32, 42, 36, 32, 31, and 49).  Only two have lower mean ranks (21, 24) and they represent only three states.  That means there is a tendency for the customers of almost all COTS vendors to be small than average in size.  The largest states that use COTS products are ranked 14th, 15th, 16th, and 18th.  There is no vendor pattern to those four states, since they use four different COTS products.

Peer States

Are there peer states that are meaningful comparisons and benchmarks when it comes to CMS acquisition strategies?  The answer is a qualified yes.  It often makes sense to compare with other states using the same vendor.  It makes sense to compare with other states of similar size.  It sometimes makes sense to compare with states having a similar court structure (centralized/unified vs. decentralized or locally funded).  Finally, may make sense to compare with states having technology divisions of a similar size at their administrative office of the courts.  In a way, the latter benchmark is a proxy for the build or buy decision, since it is mostly states with large technology divisions that attempt to build their own systems.

The Bottom Line

To nobody’s surprise, this is a situation where one size does not fit all.  While the trend is definitely toward more use of COTS products, there is a significant variability in CMS acquisition strategies and that will probably persist into the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know the state of affairs in Canada?