Collaborative Justice Technology: a compounding investment in the pandemic era (and beyond)
By Ketan Kulkarni – Linkedin
In 2021, technology is not only fundamentally changing how industries function, but also the ecosystems they are a part of, in no small part due to the global pandemic. An organization can choose the degree to which they will embrace the purposeful evolution of their ecosystem in uncertain times. The organizations with the strongest embrace will see the other side while also leading the innovation of their industry. Such innovation is the domain of teams of highly collaborative teams versus the great insight of an individual innovator.
Transforming a Traditional Ecosystem
The Justice system is a traditional ecosystem with hardened processes (laws are about as hardened a process as you can get) and well-established training initiatives. Is it possible to apply new technology tools to realize drastic benefits?
The opportunity to improve communication lies in the application of technology, precisely because the processes are hardened and the training is well-ingrained into the traditional culture of Justice systems, wherever you look.
With this backdrop let’s see how the four categories below can be applied to the Justice ecosystem, transform it with collaborative technology and compound the ROI of the initial business case.
- Operational Savings
- Productivity Improvements
- Strategic Transformation
The lowest hanging fruits in any ecosystem are operational savings. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently in a way that allows you get the same result but with less cost. Let’s take the remand process as an example.
Remanded inmates are individuals who do not qualify for bail and who instead are being held in pre-detention facilities, waiting to have their trial. When they are required to appear in front of a judge it is referred to as a remand appearance. Remand appearances require a lot of people and activity to conduct. Accused individuals typically need to spend an entire day being moved from the detention facility to the courtroom and then back. This requires accompanying guards (at least 2, sometimes up to 4), specialized vehicles for transport, all the costs of being away from the facility for the day – food, gas, etc., facilities at the courthouse to hold the prisoners until it is time for their hearing, and the risk of moving prisoners around is inherent in the undertaking.
Applying video conferencing technology to facilitate remand appearances is a perfect example of how substantial cost can be taken out of the ecosystem, maintaining the same end result.
The Operational Savings = Cost avoided / Cost of video conferencing technology
While it is difficult to obtain costs for all the components involved, here is a high level estimate of the costs that could be avoided:
|1) Guards (avg. of 3) for a day = 3 x 8 hours x burdened hourly rate of Guards = 3 x 8 x $50 = $1,200 day
|2) Cost of transportation: specialized vehicle + expenses = $750/day
|3) Facilities requirements to handle prisoners in courthouse = $300/day
So, one remand appearance is probably costing taxpayers at best about $2,000. Multiplied by the number of appearances in a year that could be delivered via technology ~ 14,000 x $2,000 = $28,000,000 / year. Over a 10-year period, that is $280,000,000. Even if the estimate for the cost of one remand appearance is 50% above actual costs, there is still significant opportunity to realize operational savings.
Investing in the infrastructure required to facilitate these hearings would be significantly less than the 10-year cost of doing it without technology. One of the key investments in this process is the technology in the courtroom that allows the remand appearances to be conducted remotely.
In any organizational ecosystem there are always rooms where people from different parts of the ecosystem come together to meet. In the judicial system, these are the courtrooms in the various courthouses across the country.
A courtroom is where the 4 different constituents (Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement and Corrections) come together to conduct their trials and is the focal point for moving the judicial process forward. To enable new communications tools to change the processes, the courtrooms must be equipped with the technology required to conduct electronic communication, which are rich experiences – just like being there.
Courtrooms that have been enabled in this way can now be much more productive in processing the courtroom workflow (the proceedings) – a must given the backlog created by the shutdown of physical locations as a result of the pandemic. A judge in court can hold remand appearances sequentially, connecting with prisoners who appear, via video, from various correctional facilities – one after another. The physical scheduling and logistics that used to be a key component of the “old method” suddenly becomes vastly simpler and less costly. The simplified scheduling and logistics of remand appearances through the use of video conferencing technology also increases the number of appearances processed. The beneficial results of doing this:
- Less facilities required for remand prisoners = less time required in remand facilities
- Greater use of the judge’s time, as well as other court personnel, and their ability to handle cases (therefore less judges and court personnel required)
- Less backlog of cases to be heard
The opportunity for greater productivity in the Justice ecosystem can be found in many other processes. Many jurisdictions have learned that leveraging video can reduce — or eliminate — many of the hidden delays and costs of the Justice system associated with logistics such as travel time for a variety of participants including witnesses, interpreters, attorneys and inmates. In an ecosystem where everyone wants to talk to the inmate (prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, judges, etc.) easier access via video can accelerate workflow.
- Judges can hold sessions across a wide variety of locations one after the other all from the courtroom or chambers
- Cases get processed faster – no delay waiting for critical mass of cases in remote locations
- Bail hearings can be enabled by video
- Plea bargains can be implemented much faster (don’t need a 2 hour process to get into the jail to see prisoner), which means less time in jail for visitors and less requirements for facilities
- Access to justice – inmates can access attorneys and other legal aid remotely, which includes the benefit of upholding social distancing guidelines
- Video testimony – expert witness (can greatly reduce cost),
- Vulnerable witness – appearing in court is dangerous, disruptive and disturbing but their testimony can be critical; video makes it easier
- Interpreters – can handle multiple sessions just minutes apart in different locations. Therefore overall need goes down because of the tremendous compression of time.
- Telemedicine and educational programs in prisons
Clearly these productivity improvements, which were not planned for as part of the initial business case, would likely add even more financial benefits. Often, the productivity benefits that are realized in an ecosystem will quickly outweigh the operational savings provided.
As new communications infrastructure and endpoints have been put in place over recent years – a process accelerated by the pandemic – the Justice ecosystem is being unintentionally transformed with far greater capability than was initially envisioned. The people who are using the new communications tools will start to apply the same tools to situations that were never envisioned at the start of the ecosystem’s transformation.
Let’s look at three real life examples of strategic transformation in the Justice ecosystem:
1) International Trials
With the globalization of business, there are now occasions where the globalization of court communications could greatly help the operation and productivity of trials that happen where multiple countries are involved. Our company, ET Group, facilitated a trial like this where two courtrooms in two different countries were in a single combined session at exactly the same time. The benefits were substantial:
- Air travel was substantially reduced
- Lawyer’s monetary and timespend costs for that travel were eliminated
- The proceedings were able to progress faster because both courtrooms in both countries were connected to each other in real time.
One court session brought together two different jurisdictions simultaneously.
2) Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)
The use of VMRs in a collaborative ecosystem typically happens at a later stage in the development of the ecosystem. VMRs are very powerful because they can:
- Drastically reduce costs
- Drastically accelerate the workflow (the velocity of collaboration) of both existing processes and re-engineered processes
In the Justice ecosystem a perfect example of using VMRs would be to allow the general public to pay their traffic tickets with a hearing in a VMR. When you use a VMR you don’t need a courtroom (massive cost savings), and you allow a person who received the traffic ticket to call into the VMR for their trial. The judge, the officer, the lawyer (if required) and the defendant would all be participants in the VMR. The result is significant savings in travel costs for all involved.
Using VMRs as described in the traffic ticket scenario above would also require software which would would mimic the workflow of the traffic court. People would need to check in online, be held in a queue waiting to see the judge in the VMR with the other participants. But over time this additional expense stands to be minimal compared to what could be saved through the strategic use of VMRs within the Justice collaborative ecosystem.
3) Collaborative Portals
With technology infrastructure in place, new functionalities can be implemented that were not possible before. With software, recordings of the courtroom proceedings can now be captured in a way that was not previously possible. Video and audio streams can be recorded simultaneously from the different cameras and microphones in the courtroom and can be captured as the record of the court. These court records can be:
- Instantly archived in the courtroom, with two layers of back-up (courthouse and datacenter)
- Instantly retrieved whenever required by authorized personnel
- Transcripted instantly
- Distributed with different pieces redacted in the recording, depending on who needs to review the record
- Used as evidence in a court of law and have the veracity to stand up to any challenges
- Be used in an online secure portal for authorized personnel to collaborate by reviewing and commenting on the record
Extending capabilities leverages the initial investment in technology already in place and further accelerates the velocity of collaboration in the Justice ecosystem, thus compounding the initial investment.
There are more than just these three strategic transformation examples which stand to further influence the business case for investment in a new collaborative technology platform. Being able to continue to conduct business and enable access to justice for citizens using VMRs in the face of a global pandemic – in some cases more than ever before – is a prime example.
The natural evolution of a collaborative ecosystem is to capture operational savings first, then to realize productivity gains as a by-product through the extension of the technology to new processes, and finally, hit the home runs through the strategic transformation of the ecosystem.
It takes considerable fortitude by those steering the ecosystem to make the investment without truly understanding how the ecosystem will function when the collaborative technology is fully implemented and enabled. They must resist the temptation to cut corners and compromise on the building of the platform that will become the foundation for transformation for years (if not decades) to come.
All its woes aside, COVID-19 helped accelerate a fundamental systemic change that was already occurring – one that has now proven itself here to stay. The technology stakeholders in Justice systems around the globe would do well to take notice.
Transforming the healthcare collaborative ecosystem
The “Catch 22” of focusing on cost reduction
We see thousands of ads everyday, the sheer number can be overwhelming. But this ad immediately grabbed my attention because it was so different.
At first I had to stop and take in what was happening.
I was initially reeled in by the play on words, “Lose Wait” – very clever. Was this a new way to lose weight? It wasn’t – but it was!!! Just a different kind.
Then the statistic hit me … 82% is pretty compelling, and what was even more compelling was what people were saving – time. Time spent waiting in a line, one of the most universally disliked time wasters.
But what really struck me was what LiveHealth Online had done. They had transformed a key part of the healthcare system as we know it. They did not just tweak it by automating a few things or adding new functionality, they changed the entire game.
Roy Schoenberg, President and CEO of American Well Systems stated, “In-home telehealth services and urgent care consultations are growing at a rapid pace and American Well is prepared to meet rising provider and patient needs for live, on-demand care.”
When I put what American Well did through my test of “The Five Guiding Principles for Accelerated Collaboration”, they hit a home run:
- Real time communication tools – ✔
- Built rich communication between people – ✔
- Targeted high ROI collaboration benefits – ✔
- Compressed timeframes – ✔
- Enabled small teams (of Healthcare workers) – ✔
The requirement for high quality, cost effective healthcare for all has been driving health care organizations to explore how technology can enable telehealth possibilities for many years.
Video conferencing has always been a key technology enabler for telehealth, which is currently undergoing a shift to software based video/collaboration solutions that run on people’s personal technology – PCs, Macs, tablets and mobile devices. This shift is enabling new possibilities and changing the landscape of how things are done with video.
American Well is not alone; I see the healthcare industry collaborative ecosystem being transformed in groundbreaking ways by many integrated healthcare delivery networks.
Other industries should take note of what can be done.
Cost cutting approach
The type of transformation that is happening in the healthcare industry cannot be achieved with a “cost saving” approach. The biggest mistake organizations make while enabling their ecosystem with better collaboration tools is to focus on cost avoidance.
Making changes with cost avoidance as the primary focus, e.g. the costs of the technology, is like focusing on the trees (costs) and not realizing that you are in the middle of a forest (the long term benefits). The trees (costs) are in the way and are preventing you from seeing the bigger picture.
It’s not that the wise use of dollars isn’t important. It is, but if the five guiding principles mentioned above are used to affect transformational change, you will save a lot more money than can be realized by focusing largely on change driven by cost savings.
A cost savings approach often starts with a mandate from higher up in the organization for immediate cost reductions to improve the bottom line. This is an operational ROI approach – the low hanging fruit. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently, in a way that allows you to get a similar result with less cost.
Sometimes achieving an operational savings, can actually have compounded benefits with productivity gains, e.g. using video conferencing to avoid travel costs has an added and significant benefit in that it provides productivity benefits and can speed execution of business. But these are usually what I call “side effect” benefits or unplanned benefits.
Is cost cutting going to have a negative impact on the collaborative ecosystem?
Saving money in implementation often simply transfers the costs to the ongoing operation of the ecosystem. The dollars spent on the operation of the ecosystem which is sub-optimized, will far outweigh any saved implementation dollars. I don’t have an exact formula but it would be something like $1 cut in implementation will cost you $3-$6 in ongoing operation. And an ongoing operation like a collaborative ecosystem is meant to be in place for a very long time.
There are savings to be had with an operational approach, but by focusing on productivity and strategic ROI, an organization can perform 3-6 times better than it would otherwise.
If I look at what American Well is doing the operational, productivity and strategic benefits all compound to give you 3-6 times the performance compared to the old way of doing things. Here are some of the benefits:
- Saving people’s time – on average 2 hours according to the survey. This is massive.
- Saving the patients the cost of traveling back and forth for an appointment – gas, vehicle wear and tear …
- The doctors and specialists can actually make the calls from their homes or offices. No need to come into a clinic or hospital.
- The requirement for medical buildings is reduced – huge infrastructure savings over time.
- Patients can be processed quicker and the output of the entire system has been increased – huge benefits.
- If there is a need to cancel, the patient and doctor can easily do so without a major impact to either.
- Reducing greenhouse emissions.
- And there are many more implications …
Trying to save money by cutting costs when there is an opportunity to transform an ecosystem through greater collaboration is going to work against what is possible in transforming a business or industry. That is the “Catch 22″ of focusing on cost reduction. Using the 5 guiding principles of greater collaboration will help increase the velocity of collaboration and supercharge the performance of the ecosystem.
Transform the ecosystem in a way that works well and will get adopted; hearing better, seeing clearly, usability of the system, recording interactions, managing the real time interactions and recordings, enabling new ways of working.
Use the five principles to transform your collaborative ecosystem.
Invest in transforming your Collaborative ecosystem = Technology + Process enhancements + Training
The benefits of a truly transformative collaborative change will continue to ripple through your ecosystem in ways you cannot even imagine. Contact us at ET Group if you like to learn more about our strategies to implement technology to increase collaboration.