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.
The rise of the virtual meeting room
I was struck by just how powerful a virtual meeting room (VMR) had become for me when I was in the office with two co-workers and we wanted to connect with someone in our Montreal office for a discussion.
Instead of looking for an open meeting room and using technology to connect our colleague in Montreal into the room, we all went back to our desks and called into a video VMR. Not because there wasn’t a room available, but because it would be a better experience for everyone. We could:
- See each other better
- Hear each other better and;
- Each share the content on our computers with each other easily
I have heard similar stories from other companies as well. Sitting at their desks people can join virtual meeting rooms instead of going into real meeting rooms – even when they are on the same office floor.
On the surface this may not seem very significant, but the impact of the increased use of VMRs in your company can be dramatic.
Lets take a step back first and review the four types of meetings that can be enabled using real-time collaborative communications tools:
- A Meeting Room connected to another Meeting Room(s)
- A Meeting Room with Remote Participants connected into it
- Person to Person connections
- Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)
While the first three types of meetings are probably familiar to everyone, VMRs might not be, so let me explain.
A VMR is a room in the cloud. It replaces the requirement for a physical meeting room and it only exists temporarily when technology creates a connection between people. Participants call into a technical address with a simple name like “Paul’s Room”. When they call into Paul’s Room, the images from the cameras on their PC are combined into a single image shared by all the participants. So if there are 4 participants in the VMR the image will look like this.
In a VMR everyone can see each other clearly. There is no “Boardroom Bowling Alley” view of the people in the room where participants are so far away from the camera that you can’t really see their faces. You can hear each other well, assuming your PC audio is set up properly, and it is easy for people to share content with each other right from the computer they are using to make the call.
Everything you need for a VMR call is right there on your PC or Mac. And you can make the call from anywhere as long as you have your PC and it is connected to the Internet. A broadband, quality Internet connection is pretty standard and a lack of this type of connection is really the only thing that can prevent people from participating fully in a rich collaborative VMR experience. A virtual meeting that has video as part of it eliminates a lot of the shortcomings a virtual “audio only” call has, as explained here in this blog.
VMRs – better than being in a real meeting?
I often prefer to have a virtual meeting instead of an in person meeting.
This may seem odd, but there are some real advantages to virtual meetings that just make it easier to collaborate and it delivers a better experience for everyone. Here are some of the advantages for the meeting participants of using a VMR to conduct a meeting:
- You can hold the meeting anytime, as long as everyone is available for the meeting. There is no need to look for an available meeting room. Everyone can connect from their desks, their homes, on the road, wherever they are.
- Everyone can share the content on his or her PC or Mac computer.* The meeting is not limited to the content of whoever is connected to the room system. These problems with content sharing in a room are being eliminated with some of the new in-room content sharing technologies which I covered in this blog.
- Each participant can manipulate their own view of the content being shared, e.g. they can make it bigger and more legible to suit their needs
- Each person can focus on the people in the room or the content being shared as it suits them. Just like in a live meeting.
- There tends to be less distraction in the meeting because everyone is using their technology to participate in the meeting, versus doing other things on their technology in a live meeting.
*Some collaborative communications tools allow multiple participant sharing, others do not.
VMRs can drive a very good business case
Not only can VMRs become a preferred way to conduct some meetings, but there are also some very good economic reasons for using them.
- Savings on real estate: The more your organization uses VMRs the less the requirement for physical meeting rooms. Real Estate costs are still one of the most expensive costs for organizations. See this blog for more on how People-Place-Technology are coming together. And meeting rooms are still scarce in most organizations. Enabling everyone in the organization with his or her own virtual room will drastically cut down on the demand for physical meeting space in the office.
- Enable more meetings: Because people can enable a meeting on demand from wherever they are, you can make your workers more productive. The VMR eliminates the constraint of requiring a meeting room to be available in order to conduct a meeting. In addition, the time it takes to find and book a meeting room is eliminated.
- Speeds up execution: Saving cost on meeting rooms is an operational savings, but even more dramatic returns are realized as an organization moves to greater collaborative optimization. Eliminating constraints to workflow will speed up the execution within your organization. The organization will be collaborating better, which means the organization will perform better than its peers. And organizations that collaborate better outperform their peers by 2 to 6 times.
Personal technology required
To be able to use a VMR your personal technology accessories needs to be easy to use and provide a quality, consistent experience. You need:
- A good unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tool set, like Jabber or Skype for business; or good Meeting facilitation software like WebEx
- Good audio quality
- A second screen display screen for content viewing
- A camera on your PC that provides a good image of you and proper lighting
I talk about these in a bit more detail in the second part of this blog but I will write a separate blog on personal technology accessories for better communication in the future.
You should get started using VMRs for more of your meetings. They can be a very powerful collaborative enabler for your organization. The easiest way to get started is to buy the capability through a cloud service provider (click here for a blog about Video in the Cloud), or by signing up for your own WebEx account.
If you have a story about using VMRs, we would love to hear it. Please share it in the comment section below. If you want to learn more about creative technology solutions contact us to learn more about our HybridX solutions.