Extract Systems, developer of ID Shield Automated Redaction Software interviews the First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania's website team to learn what it takes to create an award-winning public sector website.
Extract: Congratulations on being honored as a Top Ten Court Website by FACT. Communication has an incredible impact on a public sector organization’s ability to achieve its mission. How is your website helping the First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania realize its mission?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: The Court's Website has become one of the most important tools we have to broaden access to justice for citizens, governmental agencies, and private organizations. The website is a vehicle for us to increase public sector transparency, facilitate open government, and increase public trust in the judicial process.
Extract: What platform is the site built on? Is the court’s current website a redesign of a previous website or was it “clean sheet” project where you started from scratch?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: The site is built on a Windows IIS 7 Platform using both classic ASP and ASP.net. The site is a redesign from previous versions. We are in the early development stages of our next version which will be a Responsive HTML5 and CSS3 site.
Extract: Which internal stakeholders were on the web development team? Did you involve external stakeholders?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: For the Civil E-Filing Project our external representation came from large law firms, sole practitioners and a few private companies. Our group spent countless hours with these groups in the fact-gathering component and design stages. The representatives then joined us as we presented training seminars and presentations to the Bar. Our internal group was formed with the top judicial and administrative leaders as well as key front-line staff, departmental managers and IT staff. Every process was looked at to weigh the impact that e-filing would have. Old processes were also looked at as new web development and technologies presented opportunities to effectuate more efficient business practices.
Extract: What e-government best practices did you use as a foundation for its design and functionality? Were there other court websites that you used as examples for design or functionality?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: The number one best practice for e-government or any online entity would be “Ease of Use”. How easy it is for visitors to use your website, find what they want, and do what you want them to do is critical. A website lacking proper ease of use is a quick way to lose visitors. As for using other court websites as examples for design and functionality, it is essential to see what your peers are doing, but also looking at sites such as Amazon or Apple where millions of dollars are spent on website development and user experience is also helpful in designing your own site. These sites are designed to increase visitor traffic not lose it.
Extract: What types of user metrics are tracked on the site and how are the metrics useful in guiding future development efforts?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: We use Google Analytics which gives us a board range of metrics to analyze visitor traffic to our site. For example, we know from real-time active user data that the Civil Docket Report page and our Civil E-Filing site are the most visited sections on our website.
Extract: Do you solicit user comments and feedback? If so, does that feedback guide the development of future features/functionality?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: Yes, we rely on user feedback to correct any issues they may have with using our website and applications. Also, a visitor might suggest to us a new idea on developing an application that would benefit all shareholders of the site.
Extract: You offer some court documents online via your website. How do you balance privacy with access to public information?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: Criminal and Family documents are not available online. Civil documents are not available to the general public without registration, login and payment.
Extract: Pennsylvania has a law requiring that a permanent paper record of all court documents be maintained. While that law may have served an important purpose a decade ago, do you anticipate a new ruling that would allow for a permanent digital record of all court documents?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania just adopted a statute allowing for permanent digital records of court documents. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the state County Records Committee and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission are working on rules and standards to implement the statute.
Extract: If and when Pennsylvania issues a new law permitting a digital record, will your court offer additional court documents online?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: That is yet to be determined.
Extract: How will you secure private information within the record?
First Judicial Court of Pennsylvania: automated redaction software will be reviewed.
About FACT: The Top Ten Court Websites Award is an annual competition sponsored by FACT, Forum for the Advancement of Court Technology, to honor courts that are working hard to extend and expand online access to public records, court services and information. A National Association of Court Management special committee founded in 1989, FACT is a consortium of private-sector companies and court representatives dedicated to strengthening the dialogue between courts who use technology and companies who provide technology.
About the Author: Greg Gies
For 20 years in the software industry, Greg Gies has been helping businesses, government agencies and healthcare organizations achieve their goals and carry out their missions by making better use of information and automating business processes. Greg has held positions in sales, product management and marketing and holds an MBA from Babson College.