Monday, November 5, 2012

Court Case Management Systems 2012 Part 5: System Configurability and Adaptability

This installment in the court case management series discusses different overall approaches to system design.


Court Case Management Systems 2012 Part 5: System Configurability and Adaptability
By James McMillan and John T. Matthias, November 2012

Judges and court staff need to automate and manage their processes and that has led to a series of developmental steps since the 1970s.  The current state of the art is CCMSs that are configurable at the process level, and raises the question of what it means for a case management system to be adaptable.

1. Purposes and Roles of Court Case Management Automation.

Our good friend, Judge Dory Reiling in her article in the June 2012 edition of the International Journal for Court Administration noted that the Consultative Council of European Judges  (CCJE) identified that the most pressing concern about court automation “…is the risk [that] IT implementation poses to judicial freedom to determine procedures and to dispose cases.” (page 9)

This concern regarding the role of court automation in court administration and judicial process is certainly shared by state courts in the USA.  This has in turn has manifested itself in several different approaches to court case management automation.

The first approach was to use the CCMS as only a data repository.  We often call these “passive” systems.  But the problem is that the passive approach does not result in much benefit to the court’s judges and staff except for the ability to track current inventory and generate case statistical reports of cases filed and cases disposed.  We then in turn hear the complaint, “We spent all this time and money on automation and it has not resulted in any operational improvements.”

A second approach was to try to develop “uniformity” in organization and court processes.  This is the classic engineering method of standardizing operations.  The problem is that different courts are different sizes, handle many different types of cases, and have different organizational structures or judicial management styles.  There is an assumption that uniformity can be imposed (or at least mandated) from the top down.  And this in turn leads to systemic paralysis as changes are often required to be approved by a committee, given that “reasonable minds can differ,” or failure to achieve uniformity in most areas of operation.

And third, at a state level court systems will often implement different versions of the CCMS in different courts.  Most often we see large metropolitan jurisdictions have their own separate CCMS or version of the system.  But operational variations even among courts or counties with similar demographics can result in significant system workarounds to suit local preferences.  Naming and counting things differently results in difficulties in searching and coordinating data and statistical reports with the remainder of the state.

This is another aspect of the theme started in Part 1 of this series (Court Case Management Systems 2012 Part 1: It’s About Change)

2. Highly Configurable Systems.

The current state of the art in CCMSs is being highly configurable.  Some useful concepts to address these problems of court automation are found in articles on configurability of CCMSs written by the co-author of this article, John Matthias:
Configurability provides greater ability to adapt a system to fit court business processes and business rules, rather than force judges and court staff to change the way they conduct business to the way a CCMS works.  The “User Requirements” article states on page 1:
“Software technology since its invention has been searching for the “holy grail”: methods to develop systems for judicial and support staff that 1) fulfill the mission of judges and support staff for the courts and 2) evolve using the skills of business analysts (rather than IT professionals) to adapt to continuous changes in the business environment. The new generation of CMSs brings courts a step closer to the promise of court automation, but it requires an investment in thinking about systems differently and willingness to implement changes, tasks that are never easy.”
3. Adaptive Case Management.  

Giving judges, clerks and court staff the ability to perform and manage their work effectively and efficiently is the purpose of court automation.  Related to the concept of configurability is adaptability of a CCMS to accommodate a process change “on the fly.”  In recent years the concept of Adaptive Case Management Systems (ACMS) has emerged that recognizes that knowledge workers are best served by technology when they have case management tools that adapt to business needs which may be non-routine or unpredictable.  A concise description of ACM found on slide 4 of this presentation is:

  • A productive system to support the organization and process structure
  • It becomes the system of record for the business data entities and content involved. 
  • All processes are completely transparent, as per access authorization, and fully auditable. 
  • It enables non-technical business users in virtual organizations to seamlessly create/consolidate structured and unstructured processes from basic predefined business entities, content, social interactions, and business rules. 
  • It moves the process knowledge gathering from the template analysis/modeling/ simulation phase into the process execution phase in the lifecycle. 
  • It collects actionable knowledge—without an intermediate analysis phase—based on process patterns created by business users.

One might also look at Slide 9 of the presentation that identifies 9 Major ACM Challenges.

Co-author of this article, John Matthias has also published articles in two books, Mastering the Unpredictable and Taming the Unpredictable on the Adaptive Case Management subject area that we have noted in the CTB here and here before.

Very generally, the point of ACM is that the systems should provide tools for differentiation and individualization to help their users to accomplish their work.  This is in addition to Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) and the traditional CCMS that seeks to narrow the design functionality and create a control system and user behavior.

The contrast is succinctly described in the summary to Chapter 2 of Mastering the Unpredictable: What to Do When Modeling Doesn’t Work:
“Business process management teaches that you should start with a model of the process, but it is difficult to model a process for work that does not have a predictable process in the first place… The answer is not to attempt to make all the decisions ahead of time, but rather to put the right resources in the hands of the workers, so they can make the right decisions at the right time.  The result is an approach that can still achieve the goals of understanding, visibility, and control of these emergent processes.”
But please note, we do not argue that all court processes need to be adaptive.  There are many simple functions that can be routinized.  Adding adaptive system concepts to our traditional business process tools provides the best of both worlds and, will result in systems that can deal with all level of courts and their differing processes in one overall system.

Last, a third book on ACM How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done was recently launched at a Forrester event on October 18-19, 2012 .  And an article in the book addressing ACM in courts, “Case Management Forecast Mostly PCM with a Chance of ACM,” can accessed online by clicking here.

This is a very large subject and therefore we recommend that you check out the Adaptive Case Management books linked above for much more.

Next time: Events, tasks and workflow

Links to previous articles in the CCMS 2012 Series:



  2. Ana, thank you for your comment. CMS if not implemented with proper auditing safeguards does not help to eliminate corruption. However I think that the new digital society can create both performance metrics (did they do the task? when?), comparison of case process and complexity to indicate which cases might be examined for problems, and "out of band" checks for citizens and oversight groups to do research on the courts performance. I did a paper on the potential use of CMS to battle corruption a few years ago. The next installment in the series will include some of this material.

    Thank you again for writing as it is a serious concern of mine.

  3. Your blog is really excellent.It inspires the readers.Thanks for sharing information. Best of luck for the next article.

  4. The audits may difficult and slow the process. These audit needs the human interactions without the interaction of human/domain experts the work cannot be put on right track.

  5. Exactly LalShad. While there is a considerable amount of auditing we can do especially with database change logs, it still means physically cross checking with the court configuration (unauthorized computers), personnel (false users), and procedures.

  6. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!.
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