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.