The following guide is a starting point in addressing the planning, development and implementation of community court technology.
Network vs. Stand Alone
Determine if the information system will be housed on a network or on a stand-alone desktop PC. Influencing your decision will be such things as the size of the court, its caseload and whether you're sharing technical resources with a larger court system. An information system specialist may need to help decide how best to proceed.
Does your community court need to retrieve information from existing legacy data sources? Your management team should determine early on if you need to integrate with an existing data source like a mainframe or enterprise wide system. If you do, what scope of integration will meet your community court's informational needs? This requires analyzing whether you need a system that responds immediately to data processing (known as real time) or one that uploads data based on a series of commands (know as batch file processing). Alternatively, you may be able to achieve what you need without building a costly new system. The appropriate strategy may be to interface with existing information systems within your community court.
The above two points will largely shape the scope of your project. For example, network-based client-server system with read/write capabilities to a legacy data source is a very large undertaking requiring a significant financial, operational a physical resource outlay. On the other hand, a stand-alone system that operates on a few PCs in the drug court requires substantially fewer resource outlays.
Conduct a detailed survey of your location's technology infrastructure. Know what types of computers, server (s), network (LAN) are in place. Also, develop partnerships with the individuals or departments responsible for purchasing and supporting this infrastructure. They will be key to the success of the community court technology.
Recognize the importance of building partnerships with entities that have a stake in the community court. In many cases, partners can bring critical resources to the table for the developing new technology. These partners can be vital in leveraging resources both financially and operationally.
Establish a bottom-line dollar figure you can spend on planning, development and implementation of the community court information system. Understanding your budgetary limits will further help define the scope of the project. If your court is working with a budget of $100,000 and you would like to develop a client server based system that runs on the network to be used daily, it is safe to assert that your costs including programming and equipment will exceed the available budget. In this case, you would need to raise additional funds or modify the scope of your project.
Identify the specific information/data needs of our project. Reach out to all partners to assess their needs, especially those relating to evaluation.
Identify the information key community court players want. You'll want to find out, among other things, how the data is currently being collected, if there is any data entry operation, and what reports will need to be created. Once these questions have been answered a formal proposal or design document outlining your community court's needs should be prepared.
Develop a detailed plan for application functionality, which would address issues including user access, security and defendant confidentiality. It might help to examine what community courts nationally are doing in this area.
- Learn which federal and state regulations apply to the release of information and confidentiality about defendant's criminal history and involvement in substance abuse programs.
- Incorporate visual displays that make the information accessible and easy to understand.
- Establish rules and guidelines regarding data access and write them up for community court staff.
Appoint someone to administer the system and to create a security protocol based on the user access guidelines.
A community court may fail to achieve its stated technology goals because it has not closely managed the project. To avoid this, designate a person, or if the scope of the project is large, a group of people who will oversee the information system development process. The project manager will be responsible for coordinating all planning and development activities, including:
- staffing, organization and management of the project team;
- assessing project needs;
- designing documentation and procedures to assist the project team.
Build vs. Adapt
Understand the advantages and disadvantages between building a new information system and adapting an existing community court information system.
The disadvantage of building a new system is that it's expensive to customize software scratch. The advantage may be that your community court can build a system tailored to its specific needs.
Understand that technology is not static and is constantly changing, as will your community court's needs. For this reason, you should plan for on-going costs including maintenance, protection against data loss, expansions, upgrades, modifications, programming, training and technical assistance.