Illinois court office leapfrogs to 21st century

The last time the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk's Office upgraded its systems, 'Charlie's Angels' and 'The Hulk' were hits on the small screen, not at the box office.

Fast-forward a few decades to 2000. Few employees in the office had e-mail, voice mail or even a PC. The 'computer on every desk' revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s somehow missed the Illinois county office. The 2,300 employees used green-screen terminals to access the county's IBM mainframe, said Craig Wimberly, CIO for the court.

And not one of the circuit court's offices, the five district courthouses or even the data center division was connected to the county's WAN, he said.

The county's new circuit court clerk, Dorothy Brown, vowed to bring the systems into the 21st century as one of her campaign promises.

One of the first things she did after the 2000 election was to demand that the staff have e-mail and voice mail.

The office decided to forgo PCs in favor of thin-client appliances from Neoware Systems Inc. of King of Prussia, Pa.

'We had to deploy a technology infrastructure that allowed us to leapfrog a few generations,' Wimberly said.

A certified public accountant and lawyer, Brown said that part of the reason the office chose thin-client appliances was cost. The thin clients cost $500 each versus $1,000 for a PC. Buying thin clients for all 2,300 employees saved nearly $1.2 million.

Less stress

The Neoware systems also let the office keep the mainframe as its central server, which employees access from the thin-client appliances using IBM 3270 emulation.

Bridget Dancy, the office's director of network services, said she is saving travel time and aggravation by using Neoware's ezRemote Manager software. 'We used to spend a lot of time going to downtown Chicago to fix stuff,' she said. Dancy and her staff now use the software to manage servers and, if necessary, commandeer a user's keyboard remotely.

The next modernization Brown has requested is to make court forms interactive on the < href="http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org">www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org Web site.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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