How can software help to establish Governance in a legal department?

 

Governance is also known as “the establishment of policies, and continuous monitoring of their proper implementation, by the members of the governing body of an organization. It includes the mechanisms required to balance the powers of the members (with the associated accountability), and their primary duty of enhancing the prosperity and viability of the organisation”.

It is important, it is everywhere and, in every organisation, and none more important and vital than in local government.

The key to governance is establishing the procedures that need to be followed and making sure these are flexible enough to deal with as many eventualities as possible. When we discover events that are not captured by our procedures then we need to amend them and take into account that which we’ve learned.

This is the basis of learning algorithms where we feed our findings into the procedures to enhance them and make them smarter.

Local Government Legal departments all have a duty of Governance but being able to display evidence of its establishment and monitoring. This can be a hugely expensive but essential task. It simply does not matter how much it costs to display Governance in local government, it must be done as there is public money at stake. Private organisations can approve their Governance internally and be content at the board or owner level, but any organisation funded by public funds simply does not have this luxury. They need to prove their Governance when challenged internally and externally.

Indeed, we are moving to a world when local government need to prove their Governance as part of their own KPI standards.

Software and its smart usage can be a critical part of the Governance challenge. System monitoring starts at a very low level, checking every users’ log in, log out and actions when acting on cases or using software. There must be no doubt as to who did what for effective accountability. This is both a safety net and potential training guide for users.

DPS works in local government legal departments and can be used to set procedures and then carry out monitoring of those procedures to ensure they are being followed.

When information is entered into systems it is essential to have a good validation process that ensures the right data is being captured at the right time and in the right way.  This ensures that the data captured at a single stage is as correct as it can be. The key is then to ensure that the stepping stones from one stage to another are monitored and carried out in a manner that complies with the procedural standards of the governance policies for the department.

Moving from stage to stage in any action is dependent on rules and actions that can be part of a good algorithm that is set in the software to warn or alert of any areas that are not being followed.

This is where algorithms that learn and can spot cases that have not moved or are not moving in accordance with our governance procedures are key.

DPS employ BOTs that act on data and systems externally. Literally sitting above the case load and checking each case for its movement between stages. The BOT actions alerts for cases that are not moving from stage to stage effectively or so as to comply with the governance polices.

The DPS BOTs run continuously 24 hours a day, every day. The alerts can be immediate or compiled for morning, mid-day or evening reports, or some other time schedule, subject to the type of alert. Alerts can be escalated subject to type, how many times they have been raised and persist.

So how can we use software to help with effective governance?

  1. 1.       Continuous audit and monitoring
  • The need to know who did what and when they did it. By monitoring every user’s action on every case file, we are showing through logs that this is done.
  1. 2.       Definition of the stages of a case file
  • We need to define each stage of a case file and when we’d expect according to policy to reach the stage as a time line from the previous stage or a time line from an action in the previous stage or some other rule we want to apply.
  • This needs to be done as a work flow in our software
  • 1.       Definitions of automated steps
    • Where automated steps can be taken as a result of a previous step either happening or not happening then the DPS BOTs can as part of the procedure take the steps as ‘case workers’ in the procedure. This can ensure that steps that do not need human intervention are taken. This ensures that data that should perhaps have been provided is provided or a chasing step that should have been taken is taken.
    • The level of automation is very much dependent on the type of process being undertaken but can be critical in ensuring achieving high efficiency levels.
    1. 2.       Data capture at each stage
    • The software needs to have effective validation to ensure that the correct data is being captured at each stage and monitor how the data is being captured if it is from an external source.
    1. 3.       Moving from stage to stage
    • Effectively moving a case from stage to stage is critical in the flow of work through the department. There need to be monitoring tools to alert when stages are not being reached and alert management to ‘blockages’ in the pipeline.

    DPS BOTs can be employed to act on ‘blockages’ or provide alerts for other to act on them. Indeed, they can be set to chase events that should have happened but have not, or alert human workers to chase ups that are not being heeded.

    1. 4.       Reporting on Efficiency and Performance
    • If the above factors have all been met, then the final reporting on efficiencies and performance can be simply produced

    In effect we are using software to monitor each activity in the process and then report against pre-set criteria. We then need to learn from the processes being followed and improve the criteria we measure against.

    The key factor behind software and governance is that clearly it cannot do everything but can provide a clear framework measuring performance so proving the viability of the organisation being monitored.

    Governance is not a set of procedures, or actions or activities. It is the ability to evidence responsibility and accountability.

    Good governance is making clear the organisational direction, responsibilities and processes. Every business or organization has governance of one kind or another. Software can be used to evidence the procedural responsibilities and measure these against the business direction and aims.

    Good software does not mean good governance, but it can help manage the processes and evidence the management.

The author is Osman Ismail, Managing Director of DPS software. He has extensive experience in the legal software area and is credited for pioneering case management software in the UK.

DPS software are a leading software provider in the UK and are at www.dpssoftware.co.uk

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