Illinois court beefs up service with thin clients

The Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., is improving record-keeping and citizen access to services and court files by moving to thin-client technology.

For the past 10 years, the court has been employing technology to improve service, including creating and maintaining timely, accurate and complete records of court cases, according to Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The Clerk’s Office also aims to provide justice-related agencies with timely and efficient information services to help strengthen public safety and protect civil liberties.

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The Circuit Court of Cook County operates 17 locations, including branch courts in the city of Chicago and five suburban districts, the Criminal Courts complex and a records center. Litigants file 2 million new cases annually, and more than 400 judges conduct 6.5 million hearings each year. The documents needed to support those cases can be staggering: the Clerk’s Office manages roughly 1 billion electronic court records, city officials said.

Approximately 1,900 Clerk’s Office employees -- more than 80 percent of the court’s staff -- traded in slow, aging computer terminals for new HP Thin Client technology supported by HP ProLiant blade servers and HP storage with VMware virtualization software.

Four hundred additional thin clients were installed as public-service terminals.

Thin-client computer systems are components of a broader computer infrastructure, where many clients share their computations with the same server. A thin-client system is designed to be especially small so that the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server.

With budgets as a constant challenge, thin clients can provide excellent performance and reliability, said Bridget Dancy, CIO for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Court staffers and citizens now have Web-based access to applications, which eliminate the need for many to travel to court locations. Previously, citizens couldn’t take advantage of online technology to access court services. Instead, they had to navigate a maze of rules to find the right office or court to conduct their business in person, court officials said.

The technology upgrade has helped improve timeliness and accuracy of record-keeping. Among the first systems developed to speed the court’s work was an integrated cashiering and security system, which automated processing of traffic-court fines to eliminate errors and reduce long lines.

But thin clients aren’t just used to access specialized applications, officials said.

“The fact that we’re able to use standard productivity software, centrally managed in our data center, is a big advantage,” Dancy said. For instance, the IT staff couldn’t load Microsoft Office on a dumb terminal. But thin clients can run it well, Dancy said.

“We also save money on licenses because we’re able to share software among multiple employees who aren’t all accessing it at the same time,” Dancy noted.

More recently, the court has begun implementing an imaging and document management system in two of the court’s 17 divisions. That enables the court to work from electronic case files and allows citizens to view files electronically.

In the past, citizens had to submit a document request, and then wait up to three days for records to be retrieved, if it was at the Record Center. However, electronic document management is changing all that, officials said.

Thin clients also allow employees and citizens to access electronic filing applications, which helps eliminate even more personal visits to Circuit Court Clerk’s Offices. An electronic traffic ticket application means traffic offenders now receive highly legible, computer-generated traffic tickets on-site when a police officer pulls them over. The officer enters all the appropriate data in a mobile terminal rather than hand-writing a ticket, which eliminates the need for centralized data entry in the Clerk’s Office. Offenders also have online access to their ticket as well.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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