Make It Modern: Why You Can’t Build a Legacy on Legacy Systems – Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how modern software has become a critical component of effective employee engagement. Software has come a long way from just being seen as a productivity tool and is now a key factor in managing and improving employee satisfaction. Our daily experiences with extremely user-friendly, fine-tuned consumer applications have raised our expectations of what software can be, and increased demand for a similar experience in the workplace. Poor software is actually a contributing factor to employee turnover and loss of institutional knowledge, difficulties in hiring, and higher-than-necessary training costs. But modern software does more than just increase your colleagues’ daily satisfaction. It can provide a platform for employees to truly flourish, whereas legacy applications are an overall drag on every aspect of your organization.

My own experience is a clear demonstration of how this can play out in the public sector. As a public defender, I was expected to use a legacy case management solution for tracking my cases. The interface was difficult to look at and hard to navigate, and the software was an overall chore to use. Maybe the expectation was that any software solution was better than paper, but it really wasn’t. Every one of my colleagues still relied on manila folders for storing their documents. On the front and inside of each folder were pre-printed forms for entering the dates and outcomes of court appearances, defendant and witness contact information, and other relevant notes and details about the case. Outside of the folder system, we all used daily journals and calendars for managing our own schedules and appearances, and also keeping various notes on particular cases. We sent emails or filled paper forms for requests for our paralegals and investigators, and then had to track each separately across all our cases (frequently more than 100 per attorney).

Even though we were supposed to be able to log all this information in our case management system, every attorney relied on workarounds that created a huge impediment to information sharing and productivity. Poor user experience and lack of training meant the software was only partially adopted, making it a daily hurdle to overcome that we would probably have been better off without. Even worse, as a large and progressive public defender agency, we were privy to massive volumes of extremely useful data that could have helped us in our mission, but which we were failing to capture and leverage. If all of our activities were properly logged in our system, we could have proactively identified certain law enforcement practices, such as the exceptionally (and unconstitutionally) prevalent use of stop-and-frisk tactics, to engage in litigation to remediate civil rights violations.

The lack of a unified system also led to the loss of tremendous institutional knowledge and mentorship opportunities. A reliable case management system would have allowed junior attorneys to search for more senior colleagues who had litigated certain types of cases, or before certain judges, or against certain prosecutors, and gain meaningful and useful insights to elevate their own practice and the outcomes for their clients.

Ultimately, the lack of modern technology fed the view that our organization overall was outdated. Even though my colleagues were hands down some of the best, brightest, and most dedicated attorneys (and public interest servants) I have ever had the pleasure to meet, this perception made it difficult to attract new talent or lateral transfers. Others chose to leave the organization in favor of more modernized workplaces.  Had I stayed in that role longer, I might have done the same.

These situations should all sound painfully familiar to the government employees and supervisors out there. Every day, we hear stories from our customers about their difficulties with legacy software or manual processes and the pain and frustration their colleagues feel when navigating whatever system someone else chose for them years ago. Most recognize the lost opportunity to elevate their entire workplace and workforce ineffective solutions represent, and want to remedy the situation.

It is worth mentioning here that even software that has been around for some time can still be modern, so long as the provider has kept it current and isn’t just coasting. For example, we created FOIAXpress, the market leader in FOIA case management for more than 20 years, and routinely deliver new updates and capabilities, including document deduplication, email threading, conceptual clustering, and AI and video redaction. One of our most common pieces of feedback from new prospects is that they’re talking to us because a lateral transfer has demanded our software after using it in a previous position. The reality is that modern software is much more valuable than the immediate business problem any given application proposes to solve, and every organization needs to view their procurements and current practices trough this lens. To paraphrase Marie Kondo, “your software should spark joy.” If it causes frustration instead, it’s time to see what else is out there.

Benjamin Tingo is the Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at OPEXUS. OPEXUS (formerly AINS) is a DC-based GovTech 100 awardee whose mission is to empower professionals to elevate trust in public institutions through the design, development, and delivery of specialized case management software, including Open Government (FOIA and Correspondence), OIG Audits and Investigations, and Human Resources/Employee Management. Benjamin is a licensed attorney, with nearly twenty years of experience with complex civil and criminal litigation and as in-house GovTech counsel. He is also a member of NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee and a volunteer firefighter.

Image by Alex Tokar on Unsplash

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