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Getting Perspective on DAWSON

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Today guest blogger James Creech brings a series of articles to our attention which illuminate the Tax Court’s case management transition from a different point of view. Whatever your thoughts about DAWSON, considering the transition from an internal point of view is a good exercise. Previous PT coverage of DAWSON can be found here, and the Court’s DAWSON User Training Guides are here.

One of the practitioner challenges of the transition has been learning about new features. The Court maintains a page on its website with DAWSON release notes, which indicates that improvements were deployed just two days ago. Perhaps the Court could consider an announcement system that would alert users to upcoming features as well as new features. Of course, the Court must manage staff workload and it may have bigger fish to fry. Christine

Much has been written about the Tax Court’s new case management system from the practitioner’s point of view. While most of the articles focus on the shortfalls of the new system, such as a search function that has been “coming soon” for months on end, and the change in the way orders are published, not much has been published about how DAWSON was created from a technical point or internal Tax Court staff point of view.

A recently published set of blog posts from 18F changes that. 18F is an internal US Government technology and design consultancy group that worked on developing and implementing DAWSON. As part of 18F’s outreach they have published a three part series on the Tax Court’s case management modernization project. The first article is more of an overview of the Tax Court and the shift from the old case management system to DAWSON and the second and third articles are interviews with Jessica Marine, the Deputy Clerk of Court who oversaw the project, and Mike Marcotte the technical lead.

The articles are technology focused and at times paint an overly rosy picture of DAWSON’s success. Being technical there are numerous references to bugs and minimal viable products (MVP) but not a single reference to the Internal Revenue Code. Despite this, there are still several items of interest to those of us who regularly use DAWSON. Some tidbits include that more than 1 million cases containing more than 1 terabyte of data have been transferred over to the new system, DAWSON is built on an open source framework (which is considered more secure), and at least according to Mike Marcotte there is some internal optimism that the initial problems with the launch have been resolved and that new features can be confidently deployed.

These articles are also a good reminder of all the hard work that went into creating DAWSON. Migrating 30 years of legacy computer systems and 70 years of Tax Court cases does not happen without significant planning, technical skill, and bug fixes. Getting a glimpse into these issues, including one ruined Thanksgiving, is a reminder that building and deploying software is difficult.

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