Sea Changes -- Ediscovery and IT

Wednesday Jul 20th 2011 by Christine Taylor
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Ediscovery is increasingly falling into the IT organization's hands. This presents a challenge for ediscovery vendors who are used to dealing with IT secondary influencer but selling directly to legal.

Corporate ediscovery purchasers and influencers run the gamut of departments and disciplines. This can make selling ediscovery into the corporation a tough row to hoe unless you know your buyer extremely well. This is particularly true with the IT ediscovery buyer and influencer.

Many ediscovery vendors are used to selling into the corporate Legal suite, but not the IT organization. As a secondary influencer, sure. As a primary purchaser? Not so much. But that is exactly what is happening in the corporation as the ediscovery emphasis widens to include information management, search and collections –- all processes firmly in the IT department's hands. And the ediscovery vendor conversation that works with corporate legal often doesn't work with IT.

Let's look at three major themes in the evolution of IT and ediscovery:

  1. Growing influence over the ediscovery purchasing process
  2. Continued challenges around ediscovery practices and deployments
  3. IT's critical success factors

IT Is a Key Influencer on Ediscovery

Legal used to have a stranglehold on budgets and purchasing decisions. But as ediscovery products around search and collections grew in importance, they increasingly impacted IT. The size of data collections grew, and the cost of culling the results for review was and is prohibitive. Attorneys look to their ediscovery vendors and to IT for help in collecting more relevant data faster.

This influence is growing as both legal and IT departments increasingly understand the role that information management decisions play in supporting ediscovery as a business process. Legal is using IT more frequently as internal consultants for analysis and processing purchases, and single vendor ediscovery platforms require both IT and Legal input from the start. Legal remains the gateway, but IT buy-in is a necessity.

Not all corporations keep data collections in-house, of course; many archive email to a hosted service provider for storage and ediscovery actions. This relieves IT of intensive collections processing on email, which is ediscovery's primary content target. But SharePoint, file systems and long-term backup are also subject to ediscovery collections. These are not as likely to be hosted. IT must still deploy the host's archiving software and arrange for remote pushing of the data to the hosting data center.

What Changed?

Historically, IT has been famously reluctant to engage in ediscovery, believing that it was purely Legal's lookout (and problem). This has changed for several reasons including:

  • Self-defense: Ediscovery requirements are more demanding than they used to be. Legal and corporate law firms could frequently plead undue burden to get out of having to search through ESI, but that is no longer tenable. The result is IT workers spending much more time searching poorly searchable backup data. They are also shipping off more backup tape and drives to ediscovery consultants while resenting the loss of data control.
  • Legal supports ediscovery technology: Legal is increasingly demanding ediscovery technology along with human resources devoted to the process of ediscovery. Their technology needs center around analysis and review, but they are very aware that information management, collections and preservation require better tools as well.
  • Ediscovery purchases require IT input: Very few corporations are running out and funding entire ediscovery platforms at once -- ediscovery budgets remain largely reactive -– but technology purchases are getting funded in response to critical ediscovery needs. Reactive purchases are characterized by a limited deployment in response to a critical matter. IT will either helm the project or work closely with the vendor. Proactive purchases will not be so time-intensive, but they will generally have a broader impact and require regular IT involvement.
  • IT's desire to keep data under its control: The multistage ediscovery workflow requires intensive data movement between stages, products and people. IT will not always have this data under its control as it moves off-site to service providers and external law firms. But during the early stages of ediscovery, the data will be on corporate networks and devices, and IT will need to control access and protect data integrity. The more involved the department is in early ediscovery stages, the better it will be able to maintain data integrity and management.

IT's Job Isn't Easy

IT's job is never easy, and ediscovery is no exception. The organization is increasingly responsible for collections and preservation amid fast-growing data stores located in individual applications, computing systems, locations and storage resources. It must also deal with shorter collection time frames by managing storage resources, so they are easily searchable.

Ediscovery search and collection tools should automate the process as much as possible in the interest of fast and efficient ediscovery. For example, collections speed is critical to the early ediscovery process. Manual collections cannot meet current speed and preservation requirements. If corporate IT is responsible for collections and preservation, then they must have a collections tool that offers high-speed collections and defensible data disposition. The collections tools should not be limited to email but must also include applications like SharePoint and file systems content, and increasingly even structured databases.

This approach to collections and preservation enables IT to manage its part of ediscovery without enormous workloads as well as maintain control over corporate data.

Benefits and Critical Success Factors

IT has four critical success factors for ediscovery. There is no guarantee that a given ediscovery project will provide all four CSFs, but the closer it comes, the more successful the project will be.

  1. The ediscovery product should integrate with existing information management technology. Take archiving for ediscovery, for example. If the ediscovery process is coming into an archiving vacuum then fine, archiving adoption becomes an added bonus for storage management. But no one wants to hear that her new collections product will require installing a different archiving platform and subsequent data migration. Wherever the product can leverage with existing technology, it should.
  2. The ediscovery product should provide attractive CAPEX. Management Simplicity is a clarion call for data management across the board, and ediscovery is no exception. Costs related to operational technology management are extremely high already, and ediscovery products should not make this even more expensive. This is true whether or not IT actually runs the software; they will ultimately be the ones getting the support calls when the attorney end user can't figure it out.
  3. 3. The product should be fast and scalable. IT will primarily be involved with collections and attendant search and preservation. These processes must operate at high speeds to meet limited ediscovery deadlines. They will also require back-end storage with high ingestion speeds and highly scalable capacity. IT will not want to struggle with software and systems that have limited performance and capacity.
  4. 4. Data integrity is the name of the game. The preservation process is key to maintaining legal defensibility, and IT understands that requirement. IT is also responsible for protecting data integrity across the collection process along with any subsequent data analysis and review. These post-collection processes will steadily release non-responsive data. IT must be certain that the release protects data integrity within and without the collected data sets.

Over the next few weeks I will be commenting more on these and additional issues around ediscovery and IT. This is an exciting time in ediscovery development, which has deep implications for IT beyond the legal issues.

Christine Taylor is an Analyst with The Taneja Group, an industry research firm that provides analysis and consulting for the storage industry, storage-related aspects of the server industry, and ediscovery. Christine has researched and written extensively on the role of technology in ediscovery, compliance and governance, and information management.

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