Assistant IMSE professor, undergrad duo testing courts’ efficiency
Technology often is aimed at making our lives easier and more efficient. A University of Missouri assistant professor and a pair of undergraduate students are out to see exactly how much more efficient in the case of the state’s judicial system.
Jung Hyup Kim, an assistant professor in MU’s Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department, currently is in the process of determining the impact of the Missouri eFiling System (MeFS) on efficiency of case processing and document management for the Missouri Judiciary. IMSE juniors Brett Watkins and Caroline Schmidt are working with Kim on the project.
MeFS began as a pilot program in Missouri’s 11th Judicial Circuit in 2011, and 39 additional counties have since implemented the system, with 18 more set to join the ranks before year’s end. The system’s goal is threefold, according to the project’s abstract: accept, return or edit filings through a clerk-review queue; docket and schedule cases in the state’s electronic case-management system, known as the Judicial Information System; and provide electronic secondary service and notification. Put more simply, MeFS is intended to trim the amount of time and energy needed to both create and process relevant case documents.
The Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA) commissioned the evaluation project in April, hoping to cull the information gained from past studies and complete a comprehensive review “to assess if electronic filing and document management has reduced clerical workload associated with case processing and the maintenance of court documents.” Quantifying the amount of staff time, and thus staffing costs, saved will show how valuable — or invaluable, as the case may be — the MeFS is over the more traditional file-folder and paper system.
“In IMSE, we [specialize in] many different specific fields, and one of them is human factors and Ergonomics [HF&E]. We try to improve human performance by optimizing the relationship between technology and the human” Kim said. “In this project, we conduct a time-motion study to collect the time data from the traditional and e-filing system. By analyzing the collected data, we can suggest how to improve the system in the future — reducing the number of motions or making motion easier.”
Schmidt and Watkins became involved as members of Kim’s ergonomics class this semester. Students were invited to apply for the two slots, and Kim and representatives from OSCA helped select the duo.
“I’d never done undergrad research before until this semester, but I had experience doing time studies in my internship over the summer, but it was my own developed time study,” Schmidt said. “It’s quite a bit different. It’s more structured, and there’s a lot more steps to it. But the experience with the courts has been interesting.”
Once the team was assembled and goals outlined, it was time to tackle how exactly to quantify how much workload was saved by replacing the old filing system. Measuring those not using the system is easy enough — a simple stopwatch to time how long it takes to complete a task would do.
But what of timing how long it takes on the e-system? It is hard to observe the process time of different task elements on the e-filing system, because clerks only use wrist and forearm motions to perform their tasks. Early on, the research trio used Google Glass to capture video to time how long it took to file the proper documents, but the devices started to overheat after 10-15 minutes, limiting the data intake. After brainstorming other options, Kim came up with the idea to use Leap Motion gesture sensor as an electronic stopwatch, which starts and stops at the wave of a hand.
That issue resolved, the project is moving on its 10-week track, with Schmidt and Watkins heading to courthouses to monitor the findings before the trio can group and analyze the data. And those trips come with their own unique set of challenges in terms of personal interaction.
“They all seem happy to be there, but some of them are kind of avoiding our work a little bit. They don’t want us to measure how long it takes them to do certain tasks,” Watkins said. “I think they’re fearful for many reasons. People don’t want to say this is going to eliminate jobs. You don’t want people to think that. We’re simply trying to say, ‘Does this save time and money using this e-filing system or not?’”
Kim said his hope is this project will open the doors for he and other students to collaborate with outside companies on similar projects in the future, adding that there’s plenty of potential for similar studies to be useful for banks and a multitude of other places where clerical work is central to the company. Thus far, the data gathered has been encouraging from a technical standpoint, with the gesture sensor working as well as hoped to date.
“I assume there are many companies out there troubled by similar problems, because they know that they have to change the systems, but they are hesitant to do that because of [unknown] problems,” Kim said.