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Friday, May 25, 2007

What is E-Discovery 2.0?

In a previous post, I wrote about the forces transforming e-discovery, a phenomenon that has received increasing attention from the press, most recently in this week’s Economist magazine. While everyone agrees that something big has changed, and (generally speaking) on the reasons why, people struggle to put their finger on exactly what e-discovery has become.

That’s why I think the concept of “E-Discovery 2.0” is so helpful. Analogous to Web 2.0, E-Discovery 2.0 is a set of new processes, technologies, and services that enable companies to manage huge volumes of data, lower costs, and meet tight deadlines.

New Processes

When e-discovery meant handing over a few boxes of paper, companies did not need much of a process. But in today’s world, where it involves terabytes of data, teams of reviewers, and precious little time, it is a very different story. To cope with the growing volume and complexity of e-discovery issues, companies have had no choice but to adopt new processes. These include:

  • Collect and Preserve: Most companies have now established procedures so that, when the need arises, they can collect all data relevant to a case and ensure that it cannot be changed or deleted.

  • Analyze Up Front: When presented with more work than can be done, a company’s only option is to work smarter, not harder. That means analyzing the collected data up front, to cull it down to only those emails and documents directly relevant to the case at hand.

  • Collaborate Efficiently: E-Discovery has become a team sport. And whenever you have a team, you need a playbook, or a process, to ensure work is not repeated and that everyone is marching towards the same goal.

New Technologies

If technology created this problem, by making electronic communication so pervasive and voluminous, then it can also solve it. In recent years, several new technologies have arisen that enable companies to store and sift through their data to fulfill e-discovery obligations. The most significant of these trends include:

  • From tape to disk: As the cost of disk storage has continued to decline, more and more companies are abandoning tapes and instead keeping their data online. Email archiving software optimizes for storage efficiency, allowing companies to keep hundreds of terabytes of data readily available for e-discovery.

  • From search to analysis: Basic keyword search has evolved into sophisticated analysis technology that mines email meta-data for relevance, links messages together into discussion threads, and groups them by topics. These analysis applications allow users to sift through millions of messages in minutes, to rapidly identify, tag, and export relevant data.

  • From closed systems to open standards: Until recently, technology providers made no effort to integrate their applications, leaving customers to fend for themselves. But that has started to change. Symantec Enterprise Vault and HP RISS now have open APIs, creating pressure on others to follow suit. George Socha’s Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), a standards body, has received widespread support, accelerating progress towards creation of an open e-discovery platform.

To anyone working in litigation support, legal, or information security, all this is quite unremarkable. Of course they use technology to address e-discovery. Obviously, there has to be a process. From the company’s perspective, e-discovery has become no different to HR or finance – it is a core competency, part of doing business.

And that, perhaps, is the most remarkable thing about E-Discovery 2.0 – in only a few short years, it has become so widespread and deeply entrenched within the enterprise, that people barely notice it.

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