When should you look at an e-discovery platform?

Using a real-life example, Jay Rollins provides some decision-making criteria on whether to purchase an e-discovery platform.

Using a real-life example, Jay Rollins provides some decision-making criteria on whether to purchase an e-discovery platform.


There is a lot in the technology press about e-discovery lately. These systems came into their own thanks to Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Oxley as a way to provide more transparency into an organization. This combined with the big Morgan Stanley e-mail snafu that ended with a judgment against the financial company for $1.58 billion and then reiterated with yet another Morgan Stanley e-mail retention snafu, this time costing $15 million a couple of years ago.

Basically, the company could not provide e-mails relating to a lawsuit files against it. They were either deleted or could not be found. If you have ever had to do e-discovery without any specific tools, you may be able to relate. As a proactive leader, you probably have all your resources focused on new projects focused on helping the company make money or save money. Your help desk is staffed just right to handle the load and everything is humming along.

Knock, knock. It's Mr. General Counsel wondering if you can help him pull together documents relating to a subject. Who do you pull off of what project to try and help with this discovery? Oh, and by the way, you have three weeks to get it all together or the company will be fined. So every PC, file server, and e-mail inbox needs to be searched for anything related to the lawsuit.

This happened to me three times during my first year at a mid-sized media and entertainment company. Instead of pulling valuable resources off of projects, I relied on a local partner to come in and perform the searches for me. The first one cost $10k, the second about $22k and the third was close to $35k and I still had to pull people off of projects to help out. These lawsuits plus the various human resources issues that IT is asked to help perform discovery on (i.e. insider information or sexual harassment) started adding up and threatened to revert my proactive IT team back to a reacting group of firefighters. There had to be a better way.

In came two of our partners, HP and EMC, with a couple of solutions. My requirements were simple. A secure data store that can be confidentially searched by legal or HR, in essence, getting IT out of that process. Additional benefits included automating our document retention policies to ensure compliance and provide an easier way to restore individual files or emails for the errant user "oops" that happens every so often. EMC proposed their Centera system bundled with Symantec Enterprise Vault. HP put forward their Integrated Archive Platform (note that this was before the HP and Clearwell Systems alliance). Both systems were easy to maintain and support by my staff and met my requirements. We ended up with the EMC/Symantec solution for one reason, the search interface was more user-friendly and robust ensuring IT can bow out of the process. I would have preferred having one fully integrated solution from one partner (favoring the HP solution), but the integration risk with EMC is very low so we pulled the trigger on the system.

Both companies, even with their size compared to my company, bought into the whole partner instead of vendor approach. My HP rep, after spending the time to find out about my company and what we did, is the one that came up with the idea for the archiving solution. Instead of the quarterly "Can I do anything for you this quarter?" call, these guys were proactive and put in the effort to determine my needs.

About a month or so after the system was up and running and everything that needed to be archived was archived, we had our next e-discovery request. The legal department was able to perform the search without the help of IT. Within the first year of the system being in place, we were about 60% of the breakeven cost.

There were additional benefits of the system as well. All of the e-mails, documents, etc., took up a lot less disk space with the system. Basically, duplicate documents, files or attachments were eliminated and pointers placed on the PC, file server or email inbox. We saw an aggregate disk space savings of about 30% overall.

As with any new system, there were some hiccups. Legal needed some extra attention when it came to setting up document retention policies within the system. We also ran into a couple of cascading software version support issues as well. One example was that we had to delay an upgrade to the Microsoft Exchange server because the new version wasn't supported by the Enterprise Vault, but eventually everything was caught up.

The systems are not cheap, but if you get a lot of these discovery requests, the business case should be pretty easy to determine. The rules of thumb to look at when trying to decide if your company should invest in an e-discovery platform are:

  • Lawsuits and HR discovery requests number more than 10 annually and you have more than 300 users being supported.
  • You are a public company and fall under SARBOX, the automated document retention polices make life so much easier on IT and helps manage a huge risk area for legal

If you're looking at a way to archive large data stores, save disk space or have an easier way to restore one-off files, emails or directories, I would suggest looking at a more robust backup solution. Many of the disk to disk backup systems today make these tasks much easier than having to restore from tape and you get a robust backup solution for the entire enterprise.

(For more on this topic, take a look at TechRepublic's e-discovery report. Expert Tom Olzak offers practical advice for setting up your data policies and raising end user awareness to make the processes easier.)

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