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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Top E-Discovery Software Vendors: Responses to Yesterday’s Post

Yesterday’s post about the top e-discovery software vendors prompted a couple of interesting comments. George Socha posted a response here, disagreeing with my conclusions; and someone else (“top8”, whoever that is) asked whether one should “always listen to the top 5-10 songs on the list…[or] use the top 5 software products, regardless of one’s situation.”

To clarify, I whole-heartedly agree with George that there is no such thing as a “best” e-discovery service provider – as George says, it really does depend on your situation and I can think of many cases where a smaller, less well-known firm is a better choice than a national brand.

But e-discovery software is different for 2 reasons. First, and most importantly, in software there are increasing returns to scale which do not exist for service providers. The more companies that use a particular software product, the better that product becomes. Speaking from personal experience, when you have a large number of demanding customers, they force you to make your product better – and give you the money to do it. That’s why most technology markets are incredibly concentrated: everything from databases (Oracle) to search engines (Google) have a single dominant player. We are still in the early days of the e-discovery software market, but ultimately I expect it will follow suit and consolidate around a very small number of players.

The second difference between e-discovery software and service providers is that enterprises cannot change their software vendors as easily as they can change their service providers. Once software is deployed behind the firewall, it is fiendishly difficult to get it out, requiring enterprises to pick a single product for all cases. By contrast, it is easy to change service providers, so enterprises can pick the most relevant expertise on a case-by-case basis.

To answer the question posed by “top8”, I am not suggesting that everyone should only read Harry Potter, watch American Idol, and (Heaven forbid!) listen to Britney Spears. Those are matters of personal taste where diversity is what makes for a rich, vibrant society. But there are very good reasons why so many corporations rely on Veritas for backup software, Oracle for databases, Symantec/McAfee for anti-virus, IBM for developer tools, and so on. In software, the best products only get better. That’s why, 5 years from now, the list of top e-discovery software vendors will be even shorter.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top E-Discovery Software Vendors

There are two independent analyst reports identifying the top e-discovery software vendors.

The first, published in June 2007, is the Socha-Gelbmann Annual Electronic Discovery Survey. The authors, George Socha and Tom Gelbmann, probably know more about e-discovery than anyone else you are likely to meet. As someone who has filled out their 178-page survey, I can tell you it is excruciating in its detail and incredibly rigorous. According to the report, George and Tom contacted nearly 1,000 individuals and collected detailed data from 115 organizations.

The second analyst report is Gartner’s MarketScope, which is published today (December 2007). Its author, Debra Logan, is fast emerging as one of the leading lights of e-discovery and has great instincts about the market. For her report, Debra tells me that surveyed 30 vendors and checked over 90 customer references.

The results from the two reports are as follows:

Socha-Gelbmann Top Software Vendors (1) Gartner Top Software Vendors (2)
CT SummationGuidance
FTIIron Mountain/Stratify
ISYS Search SoftwareKroll
Zantaz (now Autonomy)Orchestria
PSS Systems
(1) Companies listed as “Top Electronic Discovery Software Providers Based on 7 Criteria” (Table 19 and 20), listed in alphabetical order. (2) Companies awarded ratings of “Positive” or “Strong Positive” (Figure 1), listed in alphabetical order.

Why are the lists so different? Primarily because of two main factors:
  1. Gartner’s list mixes service providers and software companies whereas Socha breaks them out separately. The Socha report has an entirely separate list for service providers.

  2. Socha’s report was completed 6 months earlier than Gartner’s. In that intervening period, several new players entered the e-discovery market. For example, Kazeon was ranked by Gartner earlier this year a “niche player” (lower left quadrant) in the enterprise search market, and has not been in e-discovery long enough to participate in the Socha study (or, if they did participate, they did not have enough e-discovery customers to gain a high ranking).

The first conclusion to draw from these lists is that any vendor not in them is probably not worth considering for e-discovery. If neither Socha nor Gartner ranked them highly, then the vendor either could not provide compelling customer references or has lost competitive bake-offs to someone who is on the list. Either way, they are best avoided.

The second thing that stands out is how different these lists are. Of the 21 vendors identified by Socha and Gartner, only 5 are ranked as top e-discovery software vendors by both of them. Those 5 are Attenex, Clearwell, FTI, Guidance, and LexisNexis. So, if you are an enterprise looking for an e-discovery solution, it is clear who you should call first.

Finally, it is worth noting that both these analyst reports are relatively new. This is the third annual survey for Socha, and the first MarketScope for Gartner. That speaks to the fact that e-discovery software is a new, fast-growing product area. More and more enterprises are adopting e-discovery software solutions, and asking analysts about them, because they offer such a compelling ROI.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seagate Acquires MetaLINCS For $80 million

First ZANTAZ, then Stratify, and now MetaLINCS – all within 5 months. The e-discovery space is consolidating fast!

On December 6, Seagate announced its acquisition of MetaLINCS. Financial terms were not disclosed, but my sources tell me that the price is $80 million. Given that MetaLINCS is a 50 person company with fewer than 25 customers , this is a fantastic outcome and I congratulate the MetaLINCS team. My educated guess is that in 2007 MetaLINCS will earn $5 million to $10 million in bookings, making this a healthy multiple of 8-16X. Contrast that to the 5X revenue paid by Iron Mountain for Stratify, and MetaLINCS shareholders clearly got a great deal.

That still leaves the question of why Seagate, a non-entity in e-discovery, would want to pay such a rich price. The answer, according to Seagate, is its desire to grow beyond manufacturing hard drives by having its services group provide a broad range of “solutions”, including archiving, back-up, recovery, and e-discovery. EVault, acquired last year for $185 million, is the backup and recovery part of that equation; MetaLINCS is the e-discovery component; and, say the analysts, don’t be surprised if an archiving acquisition is next.

Does Seagate’s entry into the e-discovery market make any sense? I don’t think so, and here’s why: there is a mismatch between Seagate/MetaLINCS and its target market. Seagate’s services offering will appeal most to mid-market companies which often outsource archiving, backup, and recovery. Seagate admitted as much when it announced the EVault deal. But the mid-market will be the last place to adopt e-discovery software like MetaLINCS; it is the Global 2000 who will move first, as they are the most sophisticated and in the greatest pain. For the limited amount of mid-market e-discovery business that is out there, Seagate/MetaLINCS will compete with every other service provider, from Kroll to Stratify to the hundreds of mom-and-pop shops across the country.

Net net: this acquisition is great for MetaLINCS, is small enough to be immaterial for Seagate, and will likely have no impact on the e-discovery market which will be won and lost in Global 2000 companies that are not interested in a Seagate/MetaLINCS service offering.

First ZANTAZ, then Stratify, and now MetaLINCS. It makes you wonder who will be next.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An Eventful Day

Thursday, December 6 was a big day for several e-discovery companies. Starting on the home front, it was Clearwell’s 3rd birthday and we celebrated by announcing our deployment at Bear Stearns. Looking at where we are now, it’s hard to believe that 3 years ago the company consisted of a few guys with an idea. Today, we have over 100 customers who rely on Clearwell for e-discovery, and we are thrilled to count Ruben, Christoph and the team at Bear Stearns among them.

That same day, MetaLINCS announced its acquisition by Seagate (more on that to follow shortly), and Guidance announced the appointment of a new CEO. Victor Limongelli was promoted from President to the top job after what sounds like a comprehensive evaluation of both internal and external candidates by Guidance’s board. I always enjoy my conversations with Victor and applaud Guidance’s decision.

All in all, an eventful day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

ZANTAZ Announces Desktop Legal Hold Solution and Takes on Guidance

Technology companies are notorious for aggressive marketing, whereby they either announce products that do not exist or wildly exaggerate their capabilities. So when ZANTAZ announced its new Desktop Legal Hold solution alongside an image claiming that it can help you “become your company’s superhero”, I was naturally wary. Reading the press release only heightened my suspicion that ZANTAZ’s marketing department may be running ahead of its product development team. For example:

  • The release cannot name a single customer using Desktop Legal Hold. The best ZANTAZ could do was quote a retired executive from BASF, who spoke about the potential value from this type of solution (not the actual value realized from this specific solution by a current customer);

  • ZANTAZ makes a series of wild claims about the solution. My personal favorite: “Desktop Legal Hold automatically overcomes spoliation, obfuscation, misclassification and non-classification of important data” Need I say more?

  • Desktop Legal Hold is not listed in the “Solutions” or “Products” sections of ZANTAZ’s website. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I can only find it mentioned in the press release.

All of this will be re-assuring in the short-term to Guidance, whose Encase product is the leading desktop collection and preservation tool. I doubt customers will be rushing to entrust something as important as their legal holds to ZANTAZ until the product looks more proven, and its capabilities are more clear.

That said, ZANTAZ has clearly signaled its intention to attack Guidance’s core market. ZANTAZ wants to make it easier for its customers to get data into its archives. And it wants a piece of the revenue in this market: from Guidance’s quarterly financials, if you deduct revenue from services and its e-discovery product, it looks like the Encase business is worth $30-35M per year in license revenue. That’s a meaningful prize for ZANTAZ.

It will be interesting to watch how this develops.