Background

In the last five years collaboration technologies have completely changed the landscape of consumer and enterprise communications. Team Messaging, PBXs, and video conferencing systems all exist and reign supreme in the enterprise realm. But there has always been one major gap that exists between consumer and enterprise technology and their ability to interoperate. On the enterprise side, many of them have high end telepresence systems for collaborating B2B, but consumers don’t have these tools.

Enterprises use telepresence; consumers use apps like Facetime and Skype.  However, none of these interoperate easily, if at all. This is where developer-driven solutions come into play. These custom solutions make it easier to provide the same high end, enterprise experiences to your customers and vertical markets.

Cisco and others have long tried this with Jabber Guest, Lync Guest, and all the meeting on demand services like WebEx. All these experiences are sub-par, expensive, and hard to implement into a truly consumer friendly experience. So, how do we fix this? Cisco has been hard at work on a new cloud platform name Cisco Spark which has a pretty large portfolio now; team messaging, video, PBX as a service… but they are starting to wrap this into SDK’s for the major platforms. Now you can embed the spark experience into any platform you like on a pay-by-use model.

 

WebRTC

A huge part of this vision is the adoption of WebRTC over the past few years. I want to give a bit of a history so people understand how this changed things. We have been talking webRTC for about ten years now. For those that don’t know, it’s real-time voice and video in web-browsers without having to install any plugins. The idea is it would spread these technologies way faster, when this stuff started we mostly all used flash. Over time browsers added native video playback to many common formats and now we are nearly there on the WebRTC front. Two things have killed widespread adoption:

  • Video codec wars (H.264 vs. VP8). This never got solved 100 percent but they have a working solution. Instead the WebRTC consortium agreed all browsers would support both. Cisco also helped by paying the H.264 royalty for anyone who wants to use H.264. Firefox and Chrome support both.
  • Safari has no WebRTC support on desktop or iOS, but both have moved into the development phase and is finally being tracked on the Safari webpage. All things point to WebRTC for Safari in 2017 which will drastically change adoption.The best way to understand is to see an example in action. Today we are going to look at how Cloverhound is using Cisco technology to power a new virtual court platform which allows people to attend court hearings over video and audio remotely instead of going into a physical court location.

We’ve all likely been to court before for a speeding ticket. Generally, you get a timeslot like 8:30-9:00AM on Tuesday. You go into court, wait in a lobby with or without your attorney, eventually a clerk calls you up, and you talk to the judge for 4 minutes. He confirms you’re an idiot and gives you a $250 fine and you go on your way. What if we could do that from home? Let’s look at a court system a little and see why this may not be a popular idea:

  • Technology Barrier – As we mentioned above most consumers and businesses don’t have the same type of technology. There are courts doing audio only call-ins for some types of hearings but this is typically done for special cases. To do video, we would need to have the same technology end-to-end to be able to easily communicate between attorney or claimant to judge.As I mentioned before, most court systems will allow a special case for an audio conference hearing, but they are generally manually arranged. They don’t do this at volume because of complexity. Most of this is because the conferencing system has no awareness of the judge’s case scheduled or the courtroom schedule, so it takes a clerk’s manual intervention to get the judge and attorney or claimant on the line together.
  • Scheduling – Many of the cases have multiple parties. They have a claimant, a defendant, attorney for both sides, and witnesses. It’s hard to coordinate everyone to be on audio or to log-in remotely, so you need something that makes it a hybrid experience.
  • Adoption and Ease-of-Access – Going to court may not be an easy experience overall but you generally know what to expect and it’s pretty straight-forward. You get your court information, find the room, see the judge in person, ask your questions, and you’re done. Things have to be ridiculously easy to access and adopt if you want people to utilize them. Video conferencing equipment is not ridiculously easy for the average person to utilize.

 

Purpose-built applications

The above provides a nice use case to highlight the vast differences in currently available options. If you google “virtual court hearings”, there are a few, sparse product options out there. Unfortunately, they are mostly audio-only, and they require new business processes to be implemented, new technology to be installed, and new hosting to be provided by a vendor in the courthouse. What are our options for doing something to help people come to court remotely?

  • We could take look at writing an intelligent IVR but it would inevitably take a high level of integration work into the court case management system and it only would support audio.

We could setup remote kiosk type solutions that are more conveniently located and easier to get to than the courthouses.
We could ask attorneys to invest in some video equipment. But they would need to have the same equipment as their judges and typically within government it can be a mash up of products and equipment.
We could try to do something over a web conferencing platform, but this would take a bunch of scheduling up front with all parties and probably pretty slow.
We could accept that there is no great fit and build something purpose built.

We are going to go with the last option. Let’s look at what we need to make a virtual court system and some very simple rules about how a court runs:

  • Judge can only be in one hearing or case at a time.  This would imply the system needs a presence system to know who is in what case and not let other cases be started.  It also implies we are going to need a queuing system or waiting room (ACD?).
  • Case management integration.  We are going to need to know the case schedule, location of courthouses, who’s going to be expected, and which courtroom they are taking place in.
  • Courts close for inclement weather and emergencies.  Judges get sick, change schedules, and trade cases.  Clerks manage all this.  There can’t be any loss in flexibility for the court system to run.
  • Generally, courts have a goal that the outcome of a case should be the same as the last case with the same rule-set.  If I had a property dispute in 1898 and the laws and circumstances haven’t changed then the outcome should be the same in 2005.  Does technology change this in any way?  If it does it’s out of the court system.

Lastly, what are we trying to gain from this?  The court must be interested in technology for a reason.

  • More cases processed equals a quicker time to resolution and, therefore, better justice for constituents.
  • More time for clerks to focus on court duties rather than organizing people.
  • More efficient resources (more cases serviced by the same number of judges, clerks and attorneys; less overtime needed from court resources)
  • Better experience for constituents. After all, the court systems are working for us, the people.  This also includes attorneys.
  • All these generally add up to savings for the courts and, thus, for the taxpayers.  This is a win-win all around.

So, we agree if we can have faster, cheaper, and easier-to-navigate case processing, then all parties involved are happier overall.  That’s a win, win, win, win situation.

 

Cloverhound’s Virtual Court Hearing

We’re extremely excited to be partnering with a leading state government agency to bring this innovative and impactful solution to its constituents.  Demonstrating the breadth and extensibility of the Cisco Spark platform as a service, our Virtual Court Hearing (VCH) solution gives judges and clerks visibility into all of their cases while providing attorneys, claimants, defendants and witnesses an easy and intuitive way to appear in court remotely — all requiring minimal effort with no path to make mistakes. 

We’re currently in the pilot phase and tracking with plans to move into full production in the second half of 2018. 

We’ll keep you posted!

-Chad