4-page Case Study
Posted: 2/13/2012
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San Diego County San Diego County Expects Annual ROI from E-Case File System to Exceed 100 Percent

Like most administrative offices in most county governments throughout the United States, the Juvenile Justice agencies in San Diego County all run on paper—a million pieces of paper, all of which have to be created, copied, distributed, filed, and retrieved by hand. To help their employees work more efficiently and effectively, these agencies are replacing that paper with a digital library and workflow management solution based on Microsoft technologies. The result: attorneys glean better insights from their cases while spending less time reviewing them. Within the District Attorney’s Office, greater flexibility to assign cases boosts attorney productivity by 14 percent. Support staff productivity is up 50 percent. And the tangible return on investment, across the Juvenile Justice agencies, is expected to be more than 100 percent.

Executives of San Diego County’s Juvenile Justice agencies couldn’t find county agencies anywhere else doing what they wanted to do—which might have given pause to others in their position. But then there’d be no story.

What these executives wanted to do was bring their attorneys, probation officers, and respective support staffs into the twenty-first century. All that stood between them and this goal were 1 million pieces of paper.

Figure 1
Figure 1. The labyrinth-like paths that paper files took through the Juvenile
Justice agencies and Court of San Diego County were neither efficient nor
environmentally friendly.
For example, the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s office—like the rest of the District Attorney’s office and its counterparts throughout California—ran on paper. The Juvenile Court’s four courtrooms each hear 25 to 30 calendar matters (short hearings on detentions, dispositions, arraignments, and similar matters) in rapid succession each morning. That’s 25,000 hearings a year. Most of those hearings require a report from the Probation office. The typical 10-page report was printed four times by Probation, once each for the judge, district attorney, defense attorney, and court officer. At 40 printed pages per report, that was 1 million pages per year.

It wasn’t just the expense and environmental waste associated with all this paper that concerned Jack Bucci, Deputy District Attorney and Chief of the Juvenile Division of the Office of the District Attorney in San Diego County. So did the inefficiencies it imposed on the attorneys, support staff, and their processes of preparing for, and going to, hearings (Figure 1).

“Each of our calendar units received or printed its own paper, loaded it into baskets, brought it into our office, and dumped it into another set of overloaded boxes,” says Bucci. “Our people would take up the files, distribute them, and organize them into folders for hearings. The process was physically taxing for our staff—a stack of those reports can weigh a lot. And it was unreliable. If a file were missing when an attorney went to grab it on the way to court, or if cases were added at the last minute, or reassigned to other attorneys—as often happened—it would cause a flurry of email messages and searching to try to find the documentation.”

* We’re using SharePoint Server to avoid about $400,000 in costs, which results in a significant ROI. There are a lot of businesses out there that would be happy to see that kind of return. *
Harold Tuck
Chief Information Officer, San Diego County
The paper-based processes were less than optimal in other ways, too. Attorneys were reluctant to take files home for evening or weekend work, so when they wanted to spend extra time reviewing files, they either had to stay late or return to the office after hours. Attorneys needed their files with them in the courtroom—where they were clumsy aids at best. A stack of files was tough to keep straight, literally, and the sticky notes that marked the locations of important content could easily detach from their pages, raising a sudden roadblock to attorney effectiveness in court.

Meanwhile, state and local governments everywhere, and especially in California, were under increasing budget restrictions, forced to find ways to do more with less. The number and complexity of cases facing the District Attorney Juvenile Division weren’t decreasing—but the resources available to manage that workload were under unprecedented pressure. The processes of acquiring and working with case files had to become more efficient.

Bucci thought about how other industries handled similar challenges. From healthcare to manufacturing, the answer seemed to be that paperless processes were replacing inaccessible and difficult-to-use paper files with unobtrusive digital files that offered anytime, anywhere accessibility. Bucci discussed the possibility of this approach with Mark Whitmore, another Deputy District Attorney. The pair, working with the other County Juvenile Justice stakeholders, decided to find a solution that would handle at least the first part of their predicament: getting the probation reports into the division office in electronic form.

Not Just for Document Management
Could the county’s central Technology Office provide a solution? Whitmore sought out Susan Green, Assistant Chief Information Officer for San Diego County. Green’s department had recently adopted a strategic direction to promote workforce effectiveness. To implement that strategy, the department had signed its first Microsoft Volume Licensing Enterprise Agreement, giving it broad and highly cost-effective access to Microsoft technologies, including Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (and, now, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010), the popular content management, workflow, and business intelligence solution. Green gave Whitmore a SharePoint site to explore as a possible solution.

The more Whitmore learned about SharePoint technology, the more he realized it could handle not just electronic document management between the Probation Department and Juvenile Division, but also the complicated workflows that routed documents throughout the Juvenile Division and to and from other stakeholders such as judges and public defenders. The county stakeholders met and endorsed the proposed solution. Chief Information Officer Harold Tuck signed on as executive sponsor and provided the funding. Green and Whitmore began creating the solution and were eventually joined by Yong Kim from Hewlett-Packard, the county’s outsourced IT partner.

“This was a textbook case of a business unit articulating its needs to IT and the two working together to devise an elegant technology solution that clearly meets those needs,” says Tuck.

How it Works
That solution, an enormous SharePoint Server 2010 site for the 14,500 cases in the juvenile justice system, is called the Justice Electronic Library System (JELS). It is organized into three highly secure business centers, one each for district attorneys, probation officers, and public defenders. (A fourth center, for the court, is planned.) Each business center holds its own set of 14,500 electronic case files—each an automatically created SharePoint subsite—for its stakeholders, making 43,500 electronic case (e-case) files in all.

Figure 2
Figure 2. District attorneys, probation officers,
public defenders, and, eventually,  the court all
have direct access to e-case files with JELS,
replacing the million sheets of paper and
convoluted distribution paths of the previous system.
The JELS process starts with the electronic documents that are sent to it from the Probation office, mental health professionals, schools, public safety departments, and elsewhere. JELS also receives information from the court’s case management system and applies SharePoint workflow rules to these documents and information to determine which of the three stakeholder groups is entitled to see each document, and when. The workflow then sends each document to the appropriate e-case file in one, two, or all three of the separate stakeholder business centers.

When a document is added to an e-case file, the attorneys and others assigned to the case can receive an automated email notification based on the alerts they’ve set up in JELS. Lists in JELS also provide at-a-glance information on new and updated documents.

When an attorney is ready to go to court or to work offsite, he or she uses another JELS feature, called an electronic briefcase (e-briefcase), which has a list of all the cases assigned to that attorney for that day. The e-briefcase functions much like its counterpart in the physical world, holding all of the e-case files that the attorney needs. JELS converts the documents in those files from their native formats to .pdf files, and the e-briefcase is transferred, with the day’s e-case files, to the hard drive in the attorney’s laptop.

In court, the attorney works exclusively with the documents in the e-case file for each hearing; paper files are neither used nor even brought into court. The attorney can move quickly from one document to another, and from one case to another, without having to sort through papers. The attorney can mark documents electronically and search an entire e-case file for keywords or other search items. JELS also includes Wi-Fi connectivity in the courtrooms so that attorneys can access documents that were updated or added after they left their offices. The process that replaces the mass replication and distribution of paper files is shown in Figure 2.

Both attorneys and support staff work more efficiently and successfully by using JELS, with which the three county stakeholder departments expect to avoid about US$400,000 in costs a year. That figure is at least twice as much as their initial investment in the system.

Attorneys Save 25 Percent of Case Review Time
With JELS, the county is achieving its primary goals to eliminate the blizzard of paperwork and the often unproductive distribution processes associated with physical files.

“We’ve eliminated our share of the 1 million pieces of paper a year with e-files and SharePoint Server 2010,” says Bucci. “That delivers a powerful green message to our own employees and to everyone who does business with our office. It also eliminates the time and cost involved in moving all of that paper through the office. It’s a very elegant result of using SharePoint.”

Figure 3
Figure 4

Figure 3. For attorneys, clutter, and the
disorganization that accompanies it
(top photo), is gone, thanks to their use
of JELS (bottom photo).
For attorneys, the differences could hardly be starker. Clutter, and the disorganization that accompanies it, is gone—and attorneys no longer need to search through that clutter to find the files they need. (See Figure 3.) Those files are now just a few mouse clicks away, even when attorneys are in court. Reviewing files is also faster, due to digital keyword searches, bookmarks, and tools for non-sequential navigation. Additional benefits have come from the increased ability of attorneys, investigators, and support staff to share case information and communicate electronically, anywhere, anytime, using SharePoint Server.

Whitmore estimates that he and his colleagues save about 25 percent of the time they used to spend on case files—and that the number will likely rise to 40 percent, as more attorneys and other Juvenile Division staff become more proficient with JELS.

Greater Flexibility Boosts Attorney Productivity 14 Percent
Along with greater productivity, attorneys also gain greater effectiveness and flexibility.

“Working with e-files rather than paper files makes us better at what we do,” says Whitmore. “We have more time to review the cases that require it, so we have greater insight into the offenders’ situations. That means that we can work more successfully with the other parties on the best outcomes for the offenders and for society. The move to e-files makes a difference in other ways, too. For example, instead of looking at fourth-generation, fuzzy, photocopied, black-and-white crime scene photographs, we look at crisp, full-color photographs that convey far more information than we could see before.”

The flexibility that attorneys gain from JELS comes from its remote access capabilities. Case review can now take place whenever attorneys wish, from wherever they happen to be—whether it’s an hour of catch-up work from home, an out-of-office meeting with colleagues or others, or a quick break during court sessions.

That flexibility extends to Bucci’s own responsibility to manage his division and its attorneys. “I can change case assignments more readily to meet the needs of the office because my attorneys have faster, easier access to case files. When cases move up or down on the calendar, the attorneys can be more nimble in their responses. With JELS, I can also make assignments throughout the week as needed, rather than having to make assignments up to a week ahead so that attorneys can get up to speed.”

Bucci estimates that this added flexibility that he and his attorneys get from JELS makes the professional staff 14 percent more productive.

Support Staff Productivity Climbs 50 Percent
The attorneys in the District Attorney’s Juvenile Division aren’t the only ones who are more efficient with JELS. So is the division’s support staff. E-case files and direct access to them through SharePoint Server save support staff the trouble of wheeling carts of paper files from the Probation office to the attorneys, and then continually retrieving and re-filing those files as needed. That benefits both the support staff and the county government.

* This was a textbook case of a business unit articulating its needs to IT and the two working together to devise an elegant technology solution that clearly meets those needs. *
Harold Tuck
Chief Information Officer, San Diego County
“Support staff endorse the move to JELS because they see the benefits to themselves as well as to the DA’s Juvenile Division,” says Whitmore. “Their work is less physically taxing, but what they gain is much more important than that. Instead of working with staplers and hole punches, they’re working with scanners and computers. They have learned new skills of which they’re proud and that increase their marketability throughout county government.”

Meanwhile, the government benefits from a 50 percent increase in the productivity of support staff. It is re-deploying members of that staff to other functions or allowing the number of support staff across the three stakeholder departments to drift downward through attrition. It estimates that during the county’s first full year of using JELS, it could decrease the staff that it needs to handle physical case files and other paper by the equivalent of roughly six full-time positions, avoiding about $400,000 in costs annually. Whitmore emphasizes that this is being accomplished without any layoffs.

Beyond their share of that savings, the District Attorney’s Juvenile Division saves both the cost of putting new files into paper-file storage and the cost of retrieving archived files when young offenders offend again. It is estimated that those savings could grow to about $20,000 annually.

ROI Expected to Top 100 Percent for First Full-Year of Implementation
Happily, San Diego County didn’t have to invest major funds to achieve these reductions and savings.

“Because of our Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft, we have software licenses, deeply discounted, at our disposal—and we didn’t have to buy a license for SharePoint Server; we already had it,” says Tuck. “The Microsoft licenses are the most efficient way to implement our strategic initiatives—they show that we’re giving taxpayers maximum value for the dollars they give us.”

In the case of JELS, that value can be easily calculated. The county incurred about $170,000 in initial system development and implementation costs. Given its expected $400,000 in cost avoidance for the first full year of implementation, the county anticipates an initial ROI of more than 100 percent.

“Some people think government can’t be as effective as business,” says Tuck. “But we’re using SharePoint Server to avoid about $400,000 in costs, which results in a significant ROI. There are a lot of businesses out there that would be happy to see that kind of return.”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 10000 employees

Organization Profile
California’s San Diego County provides justice, health, social services, and more to its 3 million residents, and municipal services to its unincorporated areas.

Business Situation
The county’s Juvenile Justice stakeholders (Probation Department, District Attorney, and Public Defender) generate and handle 1 million pieces of paper a year, limiting attorney and staff efficiency.

The county adopted a custom content management and workflow solution using Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

Attorneys save 25 percent of case review time Attorney productivity up 14 percent Support staff productivity up 50 percent ROI expected to top 100 percent for first full-year of implementation

Software and Services
Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010

Vertical Industries
  • Government
  • Public Safety & Justice

United States