Moving to a paperless work environment is not as simple as it might seem. As comfortable as we are with the Internet and computer technology, hard copy documents are part of an expensive corporate comfort zone.
As individuals, we feel entitled to have a choice. As organizations, the challenge is less about choice than about identifying a paperless document management model that addresses criteria such as searchability, ease-of-use, security, privacy and the ability to work across numerous platforms.
For organizations considering a migration to digital documentation, the Document and Forms Maturity Model used by Ontario’s legal system is an excellent roadmap for achieving the transformation. This maturity model introduces organizations to the benefits of automating paper into electronic documents, including e-forms.
The Ontario Homicide Investigators Association (OHIA) recognized that having detectives copy, collate and manage case study documents on paper or with multiple file formats was a waste of time, money and manpower. To meet increasing disclosure demands, OHIA began some extensive research to establish a cost-effective method for the disclosure process.
E-disclosure procedures have now been adopted by the OHIA as the accepted standard for law enforcement agencies across Ontario, and are being used throughout the province by police agencies for criminal trials. The document management model addresses the criteria of all parties in Ontario’s legal process. The procedures simplify e-disclosure and convert homicide case documents into a digital format. The efficiency, time and cost benefits are dramatic. Importantly, officers are able to spend more time on their investigations.
The OHIA model uses the PDF format to manage and distribute case information to prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other applicable court staff. “The average case can be anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 pages,” said Ian Grant, Deputy Director of the Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Hard copy documents can be difficult to cart into court and also take a lot of staff time, effort and money to compile, he added.
Under the OHIA’s process, every police department involved is moving toward a completely electronic system where no paper is required. The control and protection of information, which is imperative to their disclosure processes, is enhanced with e-disclosure procedures. According to Grant, the OPP criminal case management information generated in digital format is never printed, and instead is filed in the police department’s electronic filing system.
“For anything seized in paper format, we keep the original in hard copy and then scan copies to PDF,” he said. The OPP also uses Adobe’s optical character recognition tool to make the PDFs searchable and ACD Systems’ AC/DSee Photo Software to allow officers to tag photographs or handwritten notes.
Any interviews conducted during an investigation are recorded digitally and filed on the same hard drive (but in different folders) as the other PDF documents, he said. Additionally, officers have the ability to black out sensitive, privacy-protected information in the documents using a redaction feature.
E-disclosure is growing at a rapid pace. Grant said the courts have deemed it an acceptable method to carry out case management as long as it’s organized, contained in one spot, easy to use for the officers and legal professionals involved and, most importantly, readily searchable.
After choosing a format, organizations must also stay consistent in reporting and documenting the information. In the case of the OHIA initiative, that would mean every police department in Ontario must standardize their processes and how they digitize the information.
An electronic PDF workflow now enables investigators and case managers to build an e-disclosure in days instead of the months often required with paper-based processes. The productivity boost offers detectives more time to devote to investigations, improving the quality and availability of content delivered to courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors.
The savings in paper and delivery costs can total tens of thousands of dollars for large cases, and that does not account for the considerable savings in time previously spent copying and collating documents. Importantly, those with a preference for hard copy can simply print all or selected portions.
It is becoming more widely understood that there are two separate and distinct parts to managing documents. Enterprise content management systems address the storage, processing and retrieval of records. The second is specific to how users create, enter and distribute paper and forms. The two levels go hand in hand and provide a complete enterprise view of your business around documents.
Shawn Cruise, Country Manager for Adobe Systems Canada, is driving digital document management across the country in the management of standards for electronic disclosure and electronic documents.
Benefits of migrating to the Document and Forms Maturity Model
- Significantly reduce expensive paper purchase costs;
- Achieve increased productivity gains by more effectively utilizing resources;
- Expedite administration processes by working online or offline with PDF documents;
- Harness embedded find and redaction tools to improve search capabilities;
- Integrate multiple sources into single electronic media for distribution;
- Secure sensitive documents and data; and
- Integrate multiple sources into a single electronic media (video, audio, 3D images) for distribution.