EDiscovery in an Information Governance World

When looking over commentary from electronic discovery experts in the past few years, it becomes apparent that there is now greater emphasis on eDiscovery as part of a complete ”Information Governance” (IG) picture.  The management of corporate information at an enterprise level is far from new; in fact, organizations of all sizes have been employing strategies to deal with vast amounts of data well before electronically stored information subsumed its hardcopy counterparts.  However, many professionals who have a solid understanding regarding the components of electronic discovery struggle to understand how processing data for discovery purposes falls into the broader world of information governance.

In the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), the far left step is ‘Information Management.’  The EDRM assumes that the organization involved in eDiscovery has implemented at least minimal Information Governance principles.  The ease of electronic data discovery (EDD) is highly dependent on a stable IG framework. In other words, the processes, tools and procedures in place for the effective administration of corporate information will also facilitate the identification and collection of data for litigation or investigation.

The initial steps of eDiscovery as outlined in the EDRM are the bread and butter of Information Governance.  With effective management, updated data maps will be available to identify the location of key custodian data.  Tools will be in place to collect data from these known sources and filtering the data by date, addresses or keywords becomes straightforward.  Analysis and processing tools may be in place as well further streamlining the process.   All other steps (Review, Production, and Presentation) should then follow seamlessly from the strong IG framework.

To help understand the relationship between eDiscovery and Information Governance, let’s talk a bit about what is meant by Information Governance.  Gartner defines IG as “… the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.”  Also known as ”Information Management,” “Data Governance” and a host of other monikers, IG is simply a set of interdisciplinary policies and procedures used to regulate the electronic assets of an organization from creation to disposal.  Looking at it another way, IG is the administration of the electronic information lifecycle.   As explained here stakeholders from business, records management, legal, risk, compliance and IT should coordinate to create and manage an information governance program.

A very important component of Information Governance is the Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles (GARP) created and promulgated by ARMA International.   Using these principles, the goal of companies is to become transformational, in other words, “to have integrated information governance into its overall corporate infrastructure and business processes to such an extent that compliance with the program requirements is routine…”   In this model, the key steps of collection and production for eDiscovery become seamlessly integrated into the entire process.

Unfortunately, this ideal is far from realized; instead, for many organizations, this note from the preface of the Sedona Conference’s Commentary on Information Governance is more apt: ”litigation risk management tail might be wagging the information management dog’.    In other words, for many organizations, critical policies and procedures are implemented as a reaction to the threat of litigation, rather than with an eye to furthering the goals of the business, agency or nonprofit that is tasked with creating them.

In an ideal world, it should be the opposite.  The eDiscovery tasks should flow naturally as a subset of a strong overall Information Governance framework.  With an effective IG implementation, risk decreases as automation in collection, culling and processing make the process quicker, less costly and more defensible.  If eDiscovery is the tail that is wagging the dog, as hinted above, then the many benefits of a strong IG policy are lost as the responses to risk and needs of eDiscovery may outweigh the requirements of other stakeholders.

If your organization needs additional assistance, or needs questions answered about the role of eDiscovery in your overall Information Governance model, please take a look at the solutions and resources Sherpa Software has available to help address your needs.

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