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Head to head: Ministry of Justice runs software tests

Business analysts replaced by people with no process experience to help identify requirements
New case management options have been put to the test by New Zealand's Ministry of Justice

New case management options have been put to the test by New Zealand's Ministry of Justice

An innovative Ministry of Justice case management technology proof of concept has tested business process management software alongside commercial off the shelf software.

And the process paid off, the ministry said, dispelling myths, providing new insights and proving it could "do things differently".

The findings have informed design and investment decisions, being used to help develop a business case for future case-flow management for New Zealand’s courts.

Aiming to understand how technology could support the management of court cases from start to finish, the ministry integrated market research into the process by sending a request for information to a range of suppliers around the world.

That both informed the selection of the representative suppliers for the proof of concept and provided rich information about the breadth of available tools and the approaches that others have taken, the ministry said in a post.

The ministry then conducted user research interviews with the clients of suppliers, gathering insights across the experiences of different justice systems that were undertaking a similar change to those the ministry was contemplating.

The ministry last invested in case management tools in the 2000s, but technology has advanced considerably since then, it said.

BPM offers flexible configurable systems that can be used to develop a complete solution, while COTS offers tools specifically developed for a court system.

The proof of concept tested the two options to see how they could be configured to meet the requirements of a court process and the judiciary, and support participants such as lawyers.

The purpose was to understand what trade-offs there were - if any - between the options, to enable the ministry, judiciary and participants to see what could be possible in the future, and to see if technology opened up new ways to manage change to different ways of working.

Among the innovations created during the process, the ministry developed a non-traditional requirements "PoC book" that described the business and user contexts.

Specifically, it outlined the outcomes the ministry was looking for, key rules and legislation the system must support and what was to be tested in each part of the process.

Instead of using business analysts, two people with no process experience - a junior court registry officer and a staff member from the operational part of the business - developed the requirements.

"The PoC provides a unique opportunity for us, the judiciary and our stakeholders to tangibly see the future of managing cases rather than a system that replicates today’s paper-based world," former ministry CEO Andrew Bridgman said.

Bridgman is now CEO of the Ministry of Defence, replaced at Justice by Andrew Kibblewhite, formerly CEO of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The two selected suppliers worked on-site at the ministry, starting on the same day after a joint induction when they were given the PoC book. They had three weeks to configure their system and be ready to demonstrate it.

They were shadowed by in-house technical architects to allow the ministry to understand the amount of effort that was needed to do the work. The architects gave only limited guidance and spent equal time with each supplier to avoid bias, the ministry said.

The PoC book was well received by both suppliers, the ministry said, finding it easier to work from than traditional requirements.

Following the three-week configuration, the PoC was demonstrated to over 80 people from a range of associated agencies such as Police, Corrections and other stakeholders.

Because the intent of the exercise was to compare the options rather than specific technology products, each option was evaluated by what it could do differently from the other, rather than by what they had in common. 

The ministry also gathered user experience feedback throughout the demonstrations to understand what users valued and didn’t value.

"Technology options available today are more modular and configurable, enabling an expansion of functionality over time as maturity increases, and iterative development involving prototyping, piloting and implementation," the ministry said in its post.

"The PoC really challenged the thinking of those involved and established a true partnership between the business, the judiciary and ICT, as well as fundamentally changing how we will approach the design and implementation of case-flow management," Bridgman added.