BPM case study: Courts of Puerto Rico

RESEARCH REPORT // FREE
 
The Office of Courts Administration of Puerto Rico – the organisation responsible for operating Puerto Rico’s network of courts – has implemented a core case management system and approach (called SUMAC) that manages the flow of work in processing criminal cases. Along the way, the organisation has changed the way it conducts change projects, developing more of an internal business and IT change capability, and moving towards relying less on external consultants.

Case study key facts

Organisation The Office of Courts Administration of Puerto Rico – the organisation responsible for operating Puerto Rico’s network of courts. The organisation co-ordinates the work of 338 judges and around 14,000 lawyers and deals with around 350,000 cases per year.
Industry Public sector
Current BPM goals Implement a common case management system and approach to manage criminal cases across all 13 regions of Puerto Rico – with the aim of standardising systems and processes, reducing costs and inefficiencies and revitalising the ability of the organisation to improve itself through the intelligent application of IT.
Process scenarios
  • Sequential workflow
  • Straight-through processing
  • Case management
  • Content lifecycle management
  • Collaborative process work
  • Value chain participation
Current approach The Office of Courts Administration of Puerto Rico has implemented a core case management system and approach (called SUMAC) that manages the flow of work in processing criminal cases in one region of Puerto Rico. It’s now focused on expanding the scope of the system to also manage civil cases, at the same time as rolling the current release of SUMAC out across the other 12 regions of Puerto Rico. Along the way, the organisation is changing the way it conducts change projects, developing more of an internal business and IT change capability, and moving towards relying less on external consultants.
Outcome The Office of Courts Administration is projecting significant cost, quality and efficiency benefits from the implementation of SUMAC once it’s rolled out to all 12 regions. Along the way, the organisation has also experienced some more intangible benefits,  including much improved engagement of ‘business’ people in IT projects, due to the iterative, collaborative approach taken to exploring requirements and designing the SUMAC system.
BPM tools and suppliers used OpenText’s BPM and case management tools and professional services.

Company background

The Office of Courts Administration of Puerto Rico is the organisation responsible for operating Puerto Rico’s network of criminal, civil and specialised courts. The organisation co-ordinates the work of 338 judges and around 14,000 lawyers across 13 regions of Puerto Rico and deals with around 350,000 cases per year.

Project background

In 2003, the Office of Courts Administration conducted a review of the IT systems supporting the courts network. One area highlighted as a particular priority was the management of cases across the 13 regions of Puerto Rico. Across these regions there were 11 separate systems in place, and these systems were primarily focused on recording, managing and archiving historical case information rather than assisting staff in working through current cases. The infrastructure supporting these and other systems was also highlighted as weak.

From this review, one of the independent consultants involved – Félix Bajandas Lamela – was appointed CIO and his priorities were clear: create a new IT infrastructure underpinning for the courts and remove redundant systems. No explicit recommendations or priorities were set about BPM or case management technologies or approaches. However, it quickly became apparent that the historical approach to delivering systems – contracting a supplier to build the system and handing it back to the Courts – was unsustainable. Instead, an approach that made it possible to use internal subject matter experts directly in the creation of systems – and then retaining the knowledge of how that expertise was encoded in those systems – would be crucial if the IT transformation was going to deliver sustainable value over time.

It was this realisation that led the CIO to look at model-driven approaches to system development and delivery. Contacts in the UK suggested using Universal Modeling Language (UML) models as the foundation for this work, but the CIO realised that many such models fail to remain ‘living’ documents – they’re created, and then sit on a shelf. In addition, the CIO saw that any model-driven system would have to have flexibility built in; judicial cases can’t be forced into following completely prescriptive procedures. The search widened for tools that could deliver operational systems based directly around models that could be understood by both subject-matter experts and IT staff.

From this search, the CIO came across technology from Metastorm (now OpenText) that fitted his key criteria, namely that it had a Microsoft technology foundation and had the ability to have operational cases be changed from their process templates at runtime.

Implementation characteristics and status

Office of Courts Administration has a ‘client base’ of around 14,000 lawyers, 500 judges and 5,000 employees needing to be able to track and monitor cases with around 100 internal staff who need to work directly with cases. The initial phase of development has created a system, focused on the operational management of criminal cases, called SUMAC. SUMAC is designed to underpin a uniform approach to case management across Puerto Rico’s regions. So far, the first rollout of SUMAC to one jurisdictional region has been completed, and the delivery team is now working on rolling the system out to other regions. At the same time, the team is also looking to apply what it has learned from building SUMAC for criminal cases to address the needs of the Civil and family courts network in Puerto Rico.

It’s important to note that the CIO and his team have emphasised to all stakeholders that SUMAC is not principally a software system; it’s a holistic business system focused on collaborative working practices that has a software platform enabling it.

In order to proceed with the development, the CIO had to convince both Puerto Rico’s Chief Justice and the Courts Administrator. They were convinced principally through understanding the value of the iterative approach to development and ongoing change management that would be possible, facilitating ‘implementation by approximation’, rather than monolithic delivery cycles and abrupt handovers. The key convincing point was how the toolset would enable a common language to be shared between the IT development contractors and internal subject-matter experts.

The approach

In line with the view of SUMAC as a ‘holistic system’ (not just a software application), the Courts CIO and his team have approached this project very much as a cultural and organisational change project, aiming at fostering collaborative working, rather than a software development project. As part of this the team has demonstrated a new way to drive IT-enabled change within the wider organisation.

The team has made extensive use of partners for technology implementation (around the .NET infrastructure and integration services, as well as the implementation of the SUMAC application elements on Metastorm’s platform) and also to assist with modeling processes and cases. However, it has mandated use of OpenText’s Provision process modeling tool to create the internal process and business knowledge base that forms the context for implementation phases, and this work has been done collaboratively with internal subject-matter experts.

The team started by exploring the current state of business process in criminal cases, and once a solid representation of the current state was understood and agreed, the team then started to look at how it could improve and automate aspects of process operation. This work was principally performed through cross-discipline focus groups; the scope of the analysis wasn’t purely focused on automation, but instead on the entire work environment.

Strategy

The focus on process improvement is currently very much a strategic focus for the Office of Courts Administration; the current Chief Justice has made the improvement program a top priority. From a strategic perspective, the value of the program is seen partly as a way to improve quality and efficiency; but it’s also seen as a way to foster collaborative thinking and working across the organisation and Puerto Rico’s regions. The program is seen as addressing processes and people and technology, against a five-year plan.

The strategy here is clearly linked to the organisation’s overall IT strategy: by clearly advocating a co-operative and collaborative approach to delivery that seeks to develop and retain knowledge inside the organisation, rather than letting IT development partners retain that knowledge, it’s shifting the way in which IT is used to deliver business value for the organisation to a much more sustainable foundation than existed prior to the strategic review of 2003.

The focus on continuous improvement has changed parts of the organisation’s culture, and the CIO is clear that this has supported all the goals in the organisation’s public strategic plan. Other teams focused on other elements of the plan have seen how the process improvement team has taken an iterative approach to delivery, and seen how avoiding ‘big bang’ delivery helps minimise risks and maximise buy-in.

Architecture

By working against an agreed high-level map of business processes (managed within Provision) that shows how they deliver value to the organisation and other stakeholders, and that is also strongly tied to a strategic plan and mandate owned by the Chief Justice, there’s a strong ‘top down’ architectural foundation for the work that the Office of Courts Administration is doing as it seeks to drive continuous process improvement through SUMAC, other systems and other work improvement projects.

At a more technical level, the CIO is mandating the use of SOA principles to develop and manage the infrastructure platform required for process automation applications and other reference systems. Service-oriented design and reuse of infrastructure components (such as those relating to calendaring and scheduling, e-filing of documents) and process models are high priorities, and are being applied consistently – both as SUMAC is being rolled out across regions, and as its scope is being expanded to cover more processes (from the management of criminal to civil cases, and beyond).

Regional rollout of SUMAC can take into account some regional variations to processes and their configuration, although a degree of uniformity is constitutionally mandated. However, the architectural approach that the project team has taken means that the impact of local customisation has the potential to be minimised (as long as a robust change management framework is applied).

Organisation and people

As mentioned above, from the very start (and the very top) the Office of Courts Administration CIO and his team pursued its process improvement project, and the implementation of SUMAC, as a collaborative effort.

Collaboration was both internal to the organisation (between analysts and subject-matter experts, like judges) and external (with the US National Center for State Courts, as well as lawyers, the jury system, the drug courts, the prosecutors’ office, and so on). Throughout the pursuit of its discovery and design focus group work and beyond, the team has worked hard to pull internal and external resources into a co-operative working environment. It has built multidisciplinary teams where individuals are forced to play multiple roles – and not just the roles they’re naturally comfortable with. The core of the requirements gathering team comprised a blend of subject-matter experts, including senior secretaries and judges from multiple regions and specialised BPM analysts that were sourced from OpenText. Importantly, the staff from the initial focus group sessions remain available for consultation as new releases are brought to production – the organisation secured this unusual level of ongoing commitment because the Courts’ upper management tier was clear in assigning the ongoing change management responsibility to them and securing their commitment.

Initially, discovery work was carried out without using any graphical process notation – instead, a notation based on simple tables of text was initially used because it was a metaphor that judges were particularly comfortable with. Once an initial level of understanding was reached and agreed, the outputs were translated into process maps within Provision – and interestingly, once they became familiar with these maps, judges started to work directly with them rather than with more textual documents.

In these first phases of the program, the Office of Courts Administration organisation hasn’t yet set up its own internal BPM centre of excellence (CoE), instead drawing on OpenText staff. There’s an OpenText team comprising a BPM program manager, a small team of architects and senior process analysts who remain involved in the program. This team provides ongoing advice to implementation teams using the OpenText BPM technology. At the time of writing, the organisation is beginning the process of transferring knowledge from the BPM CoE internally so it can take this role forward in future.

When it comes to skills acquisition, the Office of Courts Administration has acknowledged the importance of this from the start. Its process improvement team has worked extensively with external parties to bring the right skills and resources into the program, but each relationship has also had a knowledge transfer element. In particular the team has had to learn process discovery and design skills and organisational change management skills, as well as improve its project communication skills.

Governance

As the organisation rolls out SUMAC across Puerto Rico’s regions, each region is set to receive training on the improvement approach taken by the core implementation team (encompassing processes, technology and people) so that all regions share a common approach and develop a consistent culture of continuous improvement.

Once SUMAC functionality is deployed in production within a region, regional groups can submit requests for changes to core business rules, process models and so on. These requests are dealt with by the organisation’s core group of subject matter experts (secretaries and judges), and IT staff are responsible for analysing the technical viability, time and cost associated with each change.

Technology and infrastructure

The Office of Courts Administration’s development, application and middleware investments revolve around Microsoft’s .NET platform, which fits with the organisation’s use of BPM technologies. .NET services developed using SOA design techniques form the basis for integration of SUMAC with other systems and applications. This includes a lawyer contact management system called RUA, currently based on Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM.

SUMAC also integrates with a SharePoint intranet, and the team is currently working on integrating SharePoint’s content and document management features directly into the SUMAC participant UI so that judges and other authorised personnel can directly access case documents from within SUMAC.

In mapping and designing processes and in the implementation of SUMAC, the team has been keen to work in line with standards bodies’ recommendations and notations wherever possible (with particular notice being paid to the Open Group’s TOGAF and the work of the OMG and the WfMC). The service desk used to manage deployment, administration and change requests is implemented based on ITIL concepts and practices.

When it comes to analysing the performance of processes and work flowing through SUMAC, the team uses a separate BI platform (based on Microsoft SQL Server) from which to run queries and reports. It’s currently in the process of designing and refining the operational performance metrics that management staff will use.

The team has not employed simulation technology when first modeling processes, and it’s not currently using a business rules management system (BRMS) or rules engine as part of its process automation platform.

At the moment, the team hasn’t had any need to localise SUMAC; all participant user interfaces are provided in Spanish. However, there are plans to also deliver user interfaces in English, as this will help the organisation secure federal funding for future developments.

The results

The Office of Courts Administration projects significant cost savings from the implementation of SUMAC, coming from reduction in use and storage of paper, together with increased efficiency and reduced error rates in case processing.

Beyond this, the Office of Courts Administration has uncovered some important organisational benefits as it has developed its process improvement project. Firstly, it found that in going through the process of running process discovery workshops, the people involved initially had relatively little time to talk about what they did in their roles; participating in workshops was a great way for them to find out what other roles did and were responsible for, and the organisation found that overall the understanding of the ‘big picture’ of the issues quickly became much clearer to all concerned.

As the program progressed and as IT staff started to get engaged in software delivery, another benefit became apparent. Prior to this program of work, ‘the business’ (legal staff, secretaries, judges and so on) were largely disengaged – they had little interest in technology or how its potential could improve the working environment or help them meet the organisation’s goals. Now, though – because the CIO has put multi-disciplinary teams together that have worked collaboratively and iteratively to deliver SUMAC – there’s much more general willingness amongst the ‘business’ population to understand and engage with IT. As the organisation progresses on its journey to bring IT delivery skills and responsibilities increasingly in-house, this is a great foundation for future projects and programs.

Recommendations for BPM adopters

In carrying out this case study, we asked the Office of Courts Administration’s CIO to share any recommendations he’d offer to other potential adopters of BPM. Many points were shared, but the following five points were highlighted as particularly crucial:

  • Start with a vision of continuous improvement. As you conduct your project, you’re bound to learn things you didn’t anticipate or weren’t prepared for. By adopting an approach based around the idea of continuous improvement – rather than being constrained by a ‘one shot’ project – you’ll be more agile in your ability to respond to issues as they arise.
  • Create discipline to establish a proper business blueprint. Using good tools gives you a framework to frame requirements for how processes, people and technology will work together. However, it’s not always easy for people to express their thoughts accurately, even with the right tools to hand; you must educate to create a disciplined approach to analysis that will drill into the details. Capturing the initial business blueprint was hard for this organisation at first, but it was vital – without a shared and agreed ‘big picture’ to act as a frame of reference, people are liable be more loyal to their own abstractions and biases than to the reality of the business.
  • Make sure you enlist the right resources. Getting proper engagement and time from subject-matter experts is absolutely crucial. You have to choose people that have the right expertise, but also the right profile and attitude: honest, collaborative, open and helpful people who can put aside their egos and are willing to learn. These people have to be willing to go through the painstaking process of drawing out what might appear to them to be ‘obvious’ details of problems or situations; you can’t rely on intuition alone.
  • Clearly manage stakeholders’ expectations through measurement. Take time to explore problems and opportunities for improvement properly, measuring the scale of the issue. Then analyse what other ‘environmental’ blocks there might be in the way of making changes. Make it clear to relevant stakeholders how you will achieve clearly measured improvements, and make them aware of their responsibilities to remove any blocks that they can. In short, don’t ‘write blank cheques’ to solve problems for your stakeholders at any cost: be very explicit about goals and preconditions.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. You may be lucky enough to work with subject-matter experts who know everything that’s going on in your project and in the rest of the organisation; but there will be many more people who are in the dark. You need to put a lot of effort into communicating the status of your work outside your project team, to help ‘warm up’ the people who will be affected way before the change impacts them. They will find out anyway, through informal communication channels – but these channels are notoriously problematic; people tend to share partial messages, exaggerate, and so on. The challenge is to get ahead of this informal communication by giving people the full facts, as early as possible, and inviting them to ask questions.

Best practice insights

Through the ongoing implementation of its work program, Puerto Rico’s Office of Courts Administration has demonstrated a number of best practices that you should think about in the context of your own implementation.

Start by finding and engaging the right subject-matter experts (SMEs), and bring them on the change journey with you. Don’t think that you can discover, design and deliver a program of process-centric change without SMEs, and don’t focus exclusively on these people’s subject matter expertise. Individuals can know their business area inside-out, but still be a poor fit for the kind of exercise you need to conduct in exploring problems and opportunities in a BPM or case management context.

Avoid being tempted to ‘write blank cheques’ when taking on the challenge of improving an area of your organisation’s effectiveness. Temptation can come because you want to win over unconvinced stakeholders, because you fear being denied important resources, or because you feel you don’t have the time or momentum to spend effort scoping your program of work to the correct level of detail. However it’s vital, particularly in a large organisation with lots of ‘moving parts’, that you spend this time and effort up front. Make it clear to stakeholders that you understand the scope and scale of the challenge, make clear commitments to specific and measured improvements, and in return get clear commitments from other stakeholders that they will assist in addressing blocking issues that may have to be managed outside the scope of your remit.

A business process improvement program’s success is driven by the acceptance and involvement of knowledge workers. By implication, the way that you manage knowledge – about the structure of the business area under improvement, about processes and work environments, and about the systems that you put in place to improve things – is absolutely crucial to building sustainable improvements. You can outsource aspects of technical implementation work, and engage external consultants, but unless you have a clear understanding of how you will transfer and then retain critical business improvement knowledge in-house you will fail in the medium term.

RESEARCH REPORT // FREE