Q&A with Courts & Justice Division President, Rusty Smith

November 18, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

Q&A with Courts & Justice Division President, Rusty Smith

What is the biggest challenge facing courts and their justice partners today? What does success look like for courts of the future? Find these answers and more in this interview with Tyler Technologies' new President of Courts & Justice, Rusty Smith.

What is your favorite leadership book, and why?

Good to Great remains my favorite. That book was released about the same time I graduated from college and was the first leadership book I read. As a new professional trying to understand what it meant to have long term success and what a great business looked like on the inside, it resonated with me. It shaped my view of the impact business leaders have on their companies and the people in them. As a more reserved person, it was reassuring that I didn’t have to be a flamboyant person to be effective in business.

Rusty Smith, President, Courts & Justice Division

What are the biggest challenges facing courts and their justice partners today?

Courts are a crucible of sorts with social inequities, incentives that don’t always align with positive outcomes, and technological advancement opportunities—all within a very public part of our government. Courts systems are complex and require a lot of cooperation from everyone involved. The initiatives the Courts & Justice teams are working on that improve access to justice are critically important. Providing the courts’ justice partners with solutions that are rich but also integrate their processes with the courts helps align the various groups.

What are the practical first steps that courts can take to overcome these challenges?

The most practical steps start with engaging the various groups involved in the process and building agreement with leadership about a strategic technology plan to enable the progress they want to see in their courts. Obstacles along the way range from leadership turnover via elections to balancing scope, time, and cost, as well as just the day-to-day issues that vie for attention. Our clients are the heroes of the story because they deal with these realities. It’s extremely satisfying to see them succeed because it’s hard work to challenge the status quo. The primary benefit our clients get from our Client Success department is assistance in planning and executing change. We help guide CIOs to build multi-year plans that balance the unique needs of those they serve while showing measurable progress.

What does success look like for courts today, and what does success look like for the courts of the future?

From a technology perspective, success is having modern systems that continue to evolve, that protect against malicious actors, that provide access to their constituents – both internal and external – and having initiatives in place to continue to press for better outcomes. Courts of the future will need to be more virtually accessible, have tighter timeframes to move from case filing through disposition, and wisely use data to direct their energies towards more effective outcomes. C&J’s strategic pillars address these needs of the future: Reimagine Courts, Empower Legal Professionals, Connect Justice Partners, Lead with Data, and Evolve the Foundation.

Do you have a favorite story of how a Tyler solution – from any division – has made a real difference in a community or agency?

I have many favorites, but one that made an impact on me was Marco Island, Florida. Marco Island, a client using Tyler’s EnerGov solution for building permitting, has been a pioneer of electronic access and process efficiency. This focus made a difference to the community in September 2017, when Category 3 Hurricane Irma made landfall directly on the island. The destruction included uprooted trees, flooded streets and homes, damaged roofs, and a loss of electricity and water for days. City staff immediately began working with the public for the rebuilding effort to get people back into their homes, students in school, and resort hotels operating at full capacity. For the next year, the city’s permitting activity more than doubled their typical annual load, and they managed it successfully without adding staff. The City leaders credited the city’s use of Tyler’s technology in streamlining electronic reviews and providing electronic access to the public – things that helped people rebuild faster and safer. Our contribution is often hidden in society, but we are thrilled when our clients achieve success and communities benefit.

What do you love about Tyler clients?

I have a saying that we serve the most important industry in the world. It’s the industry we all depend on as citizens, workers, and parents. I admire all who devote themselves to public service and who press for change to do better for their communities. Local government is where the voters are most closely connected to those they elect and the taxes they pay. When I’ve met with clients, I feel the reality of their accountability and commitment to their taxpayers, and I’m always pleased that we are a strategic partner in what they are trying to accomplish.

How is Tyler uniquely qualified to help communities solve problems?

With thousands of public sector entities that partner with Tyler, we have a huge responsibility. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Historically, our systems have been in place to assist in the automation of paper processes. Now, with virtually everyone in society having the power of a computer in their pockets, we have the ability to help transform the way governments and schools interact with those they serve by bringing more access to our systems and shortening the communication loops. With the acquisition of Socrata in 2018, we recognized the opportunity to use data to bring insights to officials making decisions. By continuing to strengthen our core systems and creating stronger connections across systems, our hope is we can contribute in some part to connecting the communities we serve.

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