Administrative Office of the Courts’ Electronic Records and Imaging Policy: Part 2

This is part 2 of our look at the Administrative Office of the Courts’ new Electronic Records and Imaging Policy for the Records in the Custody of the Clerks of Superior Court (see part 1 here). In this installment, we’ll discuss who was tasked with creating the policy; some things to consider when choosing a document management system; and what AOC is doing now to ensure a seamless roll-out.

AOC convened a group with wide-ranging backgrounds to create an electronic records policy for the clerks of Superior Court. According to Elizabeth Croom, assistant legal counsel at AOC, “It was really important that it be a multidisciplinary team,” including staff from court services, both on the programs side and the training side; research and planning; the general counsel’s office; and information technology. AOC also consulted with the clerks who would be using the system.

To complete the policy, the group had to consider practical details like file-naming conventions, metadata structures, procedures for scanning and ingest of documents, schedules and procedures for fixity checks and data migration, and so on, as well as address issues of technological infrastructure at the local level, such as server space, bandwidth, and power usage. To help make decisions, AOC developed use cases—that is, real-world scenarios—that drew on the expertise of the clerks at the district level to determine what metadata fields will be necessary to identify each type of document ingested, how the documents should be indexed for retrieval, what the security/access matrixes will need look like for different case types, and where reviews will need to be built into the workflows. Working with business analysts, the group continues to document paper processes and translate them to the digital world, identifying roles and responsibilities along the way.

Despite this focus on minute practicalities, however, the final policy document itself is actually a high-level overview of the more detailed procedures AOC has been working to develop, and that’s by design. Croom noted that the final approval process at the department’s leadership level went smoothly because the final electronic records policy document presents a thoughtful, sturdy framework with flexibility baked in. Going forward, the broad strokes of the approved policy will give AOC “enough room to be able to work on how we’re going to achieve the goal” as preliminary decisions solidify into a working program.

Now, AOC is working on choosing software solutions that will jell with the results of their analyses. The court system in North Carolina is diffuse, with District and Superior Court seats in each county. To effectively meet the General Assembly’s directive that the District and Superior Courts move to electronic filing, AOC will need e-filing software for born-digital documents, redaction capabilities for protecting confidential personal identifying information, and a document management system to serve as the backbone of the e-filing program. To that end, AOC plans to implement an enterprise information management system (EIMS) that

  • will seamlessly handle the diverse and voluminous records the court system creates, whether short-term, long-term, or permanent;
  • can be implemented statewide among clerks, law enforcement, and other key parties at the county level with enough user licenses to ensure efficient workflows;
  • meets AOC’s current business requirements; and
  • meets stringent requirements for security, authenticity, and preservation.

AOC is seeking some practical functionalities, too, including

  • a public-facing access interface;
  • access controls based on roles and document types (e.g., differentiating the levels of access for clerks’ staff, law enforcement, and the public, among other users);
  • robust metadata and indexing;
  • retention period notifications; and
  • tools for creating in-system workflows (e.g., for proposed orders, scanning, microfilming).

Although requirements will differ from agency to agency, AOC’s needs and wants point to some key questions any agency should ask while developing a long-term plan for how to handle their electronic records: What does the agency need their system to do for internal users? Will there be external users? What types of documents will the agency be managing through the system? What functionalities are necessary? What functionalities would be useful but not critical? What are the agency’s practical limitations for implementing new software and/or systems?

Document management systems or EIMSs can be especially helpful tools in moving from paper to digital recordkeeping, because most have features that support the management of trustworthy digital public records, such as

  • access controls and audit logging to ensure security;
  • fixity checks to ensure authenticity;
  • automated metadata capture to ensure consistency;
  • automated indexing at ingest to enable retrieval; and
  • built in workflows to maximize efficiency.

Many also comply with the latest standards for managing electronic records, such the US Department of Defense standard 5015.02 and the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 16175, to name just two. But there are a lot of software solutions out there, so it’s important to consider your agency’s IT capabilities and business requirements before jumping in. The State Archives’ Sample Electronic Records and Imaging Policy can get you started.

Ultimately, the roll-out of AOC’s system will be incremental. The agency plans to start small to find the “pain points,” consider how users feel about the system and its various components, and implement changes and tweaks to make it more efficient. Despite months of analysis and planning on the front end, how the final system works in the real world will be determined through an iterative process of experimentation and review. By testing system viability at the user level—through pilot projects in county-level offices that will vet new procedures and help develop training protocols—AOC hopes to avoid major implementation issues later down the line.

In part 3 of this series, we will discuss how the policy, and its related procedures, will change the way the clerks of Superior Court approach their born digital, scanned, and paper records; the challenges of producing such a policy; and the lessons learned. We’ll also provide a recap of the resources available to state agencies in the beginning stages of creating an electronic records policy.

References

Croom, Elizabeth. 2018. Personal communication.

Naleimaile, Morgan. 2018. Personal communication.

NCAOC (North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts). 2017. Electronic Records and Imaging Policy for Records in the Custody of Clerks of Superior Court. Raleigh: North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

Advertisements