Cornerstone Technologies - Driving IT Leaders to "Discover" Value Today

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Yesterday companies were looking for means to quickly organize and discover emails. Today, companies are exponentially growing their electronic data with the rapid adoption of social mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and other forms of social media. Meanwhile, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are forcing IT to be prepared with what to do with today's "Electronically stored information" (ESI) and how to quickly deliver it for Legal when litigation is pending.

San Jose, CA Two of the metrics Executive Management uses to measure the effectiveness of IT Leaders are: 1. How significantly has he/she cut costs. 2. Does he/she drive value for the business in such a way as to impact our bottom line? E-discovery and Archiving solutions are two applications Corporate I.T. have attempted to deliver to drive real business value for the enterprise. While archiving and e-discovery tools are great, much of the potential business impact that can be had is lost due to a lack of awareness or education of the parties involved.

According to the 2009 Litigations Trend Survey by Fulbright and Jaworski, an international law firm, over 52% of U.S. corporations are still outsourcing all of their e-discovery with only 48% performing "some e-discovery" activities. At an average cost of $250-$500/hour for manual legal discovery and forensics, it’s simple work for the typical consultant or software reseller to perform an ROI model for the I.T. Department to justify Legal Discovery tools. Lump that in with an IT Manager’s desire to eliminate mailbox quota’s, eliminate PST’s, and to have the “ammo” necessary to reduce the company’s unstructured data footprint by 40% plus and the results are an eclectic mix of half-baked archiving and e-discovery solutions deployed that create marginal value at best for the business.

Archiving solutions like Symantec’s Enterprise Vault, Iron Mountain’s Nearpoint and EMC’s SourceOne are all excellent data archiving and data management platforms. Yet while each solution is very effective in helping IT realize their infrastructure benefits of storage reclamation, improved data management and administration, and a reduced storage footprint; I.T. Departments (IT) are all too often narrowly missing the opportunity to drive real business value to their peers on the Legal side of the house by showcasing the associated sister e-discovery products of these vendors and their ability to bring in all data sources into their archive. E-discovery Tools like Symantec’s Discovery Accelerator, Iron Mountain Enterprise Discovery Suite and EMC’s SourceOne Kazeon solutions with work flow and case management capability can only be as effective as its adopters make these tools.

Though it seems reasonable that an e-discovery solution would be selected by the combined efforts of Legal and I.T., perhaps much in the same way one would expect the Sales Department and IT teams to select a CRM application or Accounting and IT to select a billing application, what seems to be more common practice with archiving and e-discovery is that IT is selecting the archiving application and adopting the packaged e-discovery application for the selected archiving solution. The idea being that the discovery application will either benefit the Legal team eventually or that it will meet IT’s objectives of magically delivering content quickly when Legal submits their request (perhaps unsuspectingly pleasing their requestors) and thereby convincing their Legal counterparts of the fact that I.T. made a great investment for the business.

Data Archiving and E-discovery, can it be one without the other? At the onset of the Data Archiving there were so many benefits to realize that not making a decision for Data Archival was just plain silly. IT leaders found an inexpensive and effective way to eliminate mailbox quota’s and improve user satisfaction; to reclaim storage and eliminate hardware costs; to shrink Exchanges stores and speed up Mail Server migrations or upgrades. As a result, many early adopters purchased the mail and file management modules of these archiving solutions and received the associated benefits. However, as time went on the discovery capabilities of these archiving solutions were evolving and making use of the already embedded features of searching, indexing, single instancing, Boolean search capabilities and future proofing (i.e. the ability to convert file formats into html renderings to ensure long term viability should an application “end of life”). Although the evolution of data archival and e-discovery have led to a convergence of sorts within each vendors solution set, our consultants have noticed an increased level of dissatisfaction with a sole sourced solution. As a result, activity has increased in looking at alternative solutions for the discovery component, versus the incumbent vendor, even when customers are generally satisfied with the archiving solution.

Even up to a few years ago it was common place for IT to want to eliminate Legal from the decision making process, as it related to archiving solutions. Today it has become the exception more than the rule that Legal is not invited into these conversations. Although Legal is now generally involved in the selection process, it never ceases to amaze me how often Legal is willing to be a bystander or a witness and little more. More common, has been that Legal will endorse the use of the discovery tools but will leave them in the hands of IT to administer and deliver content. This seems to me, as odd as, having a billing application selected by IT and Accounting where Accounting has the IT Help Desk entering Receivables which they will rely on to sustain their business (a stretch perhaps but something to consider nonetheless).

Though I am not an attorney, nor do I have any Legal training, I have had a number of opportunities to sit with Legal Counsel and provide extensive overviews of the features and capabilities of e-discovery applications. The interest is to educate the users of these applications on how to use the tools but not to set policy nor define best practice. My experience has been that they all too often, even after years of possessing an e-discovery tool of choice that work flow has not been adopted, the administrators are barely aware of how to configure the application and that the tool is used to retain far more than is necessary and often times the “review” process has not even been leveraged. And though the results do glean some benefits far more could be recognized and more value can be delivered to the business.

So what are the steps I.T. can take to help Legal realize value for the business?

Keeping in mind that driving value for Legal will mean reducing their expenses to outside counsel. There are 4 very practical recommendations I make to clients who find themselves in this position.

1.)    Educate/Re-educate: Though it takes some effort request your vendors and the internal stakeholders to meet so you can have an overview of the technology you purchased, even if it was years ago. Depending on your vendor’s busyness, you may find them less willing to demonstrate the products but a good Reseller partner should have the ability to bring all parties back to the table or have the ability to train your Legal team directly. Educating or re-educating Legal on the value and use of the tools will help them to realize the costs they can eliminate for outside counsel.

2.)    Define and Set Policy: Not having policy defined makes setting expiry and deletions policies impossible. This creates problems with storage growth, accelerates the likelihood of running into other system problems, as well as, frustrates administrators. Companies like Contoural (http://www.contoural.com) are great at interpreting regulations associated to your industry, defining what your policies should be and documenting those policies.

3.)    Health Check: Perform a third party health check for your archiving environment. There is nothing worse than having the Department of Justice breathing down your neck do deliver content that can’t be delivered when everyone around you is expecting it to be delivered. I’ve seen it happen. Insuring that your content can be discovered in the instance of litigation is critical. Taking this step of insuring that your archives can be discovered against will insure that, should the call come, you are ready.

4.)    Deliver Content: I’m a strong believer that the best way to deliver content to Legal is to have them deliver to themselves. Today, many of my IT customers are on the hook to deliver content. I’m confident that this is carry over from years of having “always done it that way.” In both years past and present requesting that IT get the laptop and extract PSTs or pull tapes and restore files has become common place. The idea of having a centralized application with all the data sources archived and content indexed and searchable, while maintaining case management and workflow capabilities, has generally not been realized. As a result, providing intermediary solutions (e.g. of just email or file system content) will grow the organization toward that realization as they mature in the enterprise content management strategy.

Data Archival and e-Discovery do go hand in hand but be mindful to not wed the two just because they are under the same vendor. Many customers have found themselves with a very good archiving solution but a less than desirable e-discovery application. Some discovery tools will work across vendor platforms, so consider that before performing a forklift upgrade. As you embark on the road to resolve your content management and e-discovery challenges involve Legal and don’t lose sight of the real value you can drive for the organization. With legal spending accounting for up to 5% of revenues for those companies surveyed, 2005 Litigations Trend Survey by Fullbright and Jaworski, you may find yourself driving more value for the business than you ever envisions you ever would.

About Frank Velasquez and Cornerstone Technologies, LLC.
Frank Velasquez is the President and Managing Partner of Cornerstone Technologies LLC. Cornerstone Technologies, provides IT engineering services and is a trusted partner for data archival and storage, data protection, data security and virtualization solutions. The company has been selected by Symantec as an Accredited Consulting Services Partner and Gold Reseller. Cornerstone also has formalized partnerships with Citrix, EMC, Dell, Brocade, and VMWare. More information is available at http://www.cornerstonetechnologies.com. Corporate headquarters are located at 1845 Hamilton Avenue, San Jose, CA 95125.

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Joy Hahn
Cornerstone Technologies LLC
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