November 16, 2022

Evaluating Software to Modernize Court Processes

Louie Nicastro
Brenda Peppers

Solving problems is gratifying, and even better when that solution has a significant impact on people and the community. Chesterfield County Court is leading the charge on a national issue that continues to grow with the increasing use of technology. To date, individual trial courts in Virginia do not have a state-sponsored means to effectively manage the volume and variety of digital evidence being submitted in court.

Chesterfield County, named among the top digital counties in the United States three times in the last 15 years, took the initiative to develop a local solution with the courts.

They chose to partner with SingleStone and, together, we set out to create a system that could be used as a model for others. The impact of this project would make Chesterfield a forerunner in the Commonwealth of Virginia and raise the bar for digital evidence management everywhere.

Background on Chesterfield County Court

Chesterfield County identified the need to be more forward-thinking with its Digital Forensics & Evidence Management (DFEM) software. They solicited and received six responses to their request for information (RFI) from off-the-shelf solutions, each of which contained gaps in meeting the needs of their critical stakeholders.

Improving the DEFM software would allow digital evidence to be easily and securely shared between approved parties, all the way from initial collection to display in the courtroom. This would include the elimination of the “air gap” that exists between pretrial and trial, where electronic media must be converted to physical evidence, like printed pictures, to admit in court.

Chesterfield County was not satisfied with off-the-shelf options partially because they did not accommodate the needs of self-represented defendants or the public. They believe that every community member is entitled to the same consideration and access regardless of how they are being represented. From the beginning, it was recognized that an innovative solution would be blazing a trail ahead of the state supreme court and other counties with this implementation. Success would represent not only improvements within the county but a win for the larger Commonwealth of Virginia.​

We set out to find answers.

  • What would a DFEM system that could serve our critical stakeholders and fulfill its legal and security responsibilities look like?
  • How might our stakeholders interact with this new system?
  • How much would this cost to acquire?
  • How much would it cost to maintain?

Our Response

We were asked to compile requirements and evaluate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and custom software options, resulting in a build vs. buy decision. The team went beyond the initial ask to make sure the answer was correct.

Rather than leap to an evaluation based on the considerable work that was already done, the team dug deeper to better understand the needs of every possible user. This included working with groups of stakeholders to build a comprehensive current state map using Domain-Driven Design (DDD) techniques, iterating through conceptual future state designs with business and technical leaders, validating maintainability constraints, and conducting vendor demos and interviews.

With security and simplification pinned as the leading requirements, we delivered a “Build vs. Buy” analysis. This report evaluated:

  • Four off-the-shelf products
  • Hybrid solutions that included a combination of purchase and customization, and
  • An option for a fully custom solution

These options were measured against qualitative and quantitative requirements that were collaboratively established over the course of the engagement.

The team ultimately offered a healthy mix of final recommendations for a path forward that weighed options against upfront cost, implementation effort, and support cost/effort. This roadmap will serve as the primary input to their budgeting process, fueling the discussion around when and how to spring a mutually agreed-upon solution into implementation.

Our Impact

The build vs. buy analysis for Chesterfield County Court’s Digital Evidence could serve as the future state roadmap for the implementation of a hybrid system built on the foundation of rapidly deployable off-the-shelf software enhanced with strategic use of small, custom-built applications. The final evaluation was so thorough that it allowed the county the opportunity to bypass additional administrative processes, saving tens of thousands of dollars. Once implemented, the DFEM system designed with our partners within the Chesterfield County Courts will become a model system that can be adopted at scale by other localities.

The Partnership

Great innovation stems from great collaboration and teamwork. The diversity in skillsets necessary to solve complex problems generally is rooted in combining deep subject matter expertise with deep technical and analytical skills. Partnership and engagement of both parties are vital. The different branches of government in Chesterfield were generous throughout the project with their time and expertise – leading to a superior outcome.

Client Thoughts

“The SingleStone team was a perfect balance of professional and friendly. They jumped into the deep end with multiple stakeholders, legal/court terminology, and acronyms. Their ability to achieve a working knowledge not only of the justice partner relationships and jargon but also of the complexities of the process was impressive. Further, they took this newly formed knowledge base and translated it into accurate process charts with all the details captured. Taking their work product to vendors and then analyzing and presenting available options provided invaluable data. Their efforts brought clarity and direction to what had been a very daunting data collection and analysis task. The work of SingleStone allowed for an informed and simplified selection decision. The entire team exceeded expectations.”

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