How to Survive Data Discovery in the Digital Age

eDiscovery. That one word will make IT professionals start shaking. But, as the most technologically advanced civilization in the world, why is that? Is it because of what will be found? Is it because of what they are asked to search? Or is it because of the search terms they are asked to use? Well, the answer to each question is ‘Yes’.

Data Discovery has grown into a multi-billion dollar world-wide business. Though the United States might lead the way because of our litigiousness, we are not alone. Many other countries are following our lead and performing eDiscovery on whatever data can be searched. Regardless of the reason for eDiscovery (legal, HR, public records, etc.), eDiscovery is an extremely important tool for almost any business and many times usurps the priorities of other tasks that employees are performing. So not only is it important, but highly visible.

So why is it so difficult? Two of the prominent reasons are;

  1. Data disparity
  2. Location

No data is alike which makes eDiscovery much more difficult and it’s never where it’s supposed to be or more importantly, it’s never only where it’s supposed to be. Meaning, data becomes distributed, which then makes it exponentially harder to discover.

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Data disparity

First, let’s talk about disparity. Did you know when trains and tracks were first proliferating across America between the 1830s and 1850s that there were different gauges (widths) being used everywhere. The effect of this was trains couldn’t travel between states. The reason this became a problem was lack of foresight and communication. The states didn’t even consider talking to each other about standardizing a gauge. They were inward-focused and were resolving their own problem.

The same is true for data. Even though we have some of the most brilliant technicians, they are usually inward focused. Building their own software, proprietarily storing their own data. That’s great for them, but becomes a nightmare when eDiscovery is needed. Just like the track gauges, there is no easy way to ‘travel’ between data. This means that those of you tasked with performing eDiscovery need to adapt.

Survival tip #1: Don’t think this all falls on you

One person can’t possibly know all types of data and where they are stored. You will need to have a team of people that can help inventory your data and make determinations of what is the most high-risk, meaning what data is most applicable to eDiscovery. One of the biggest challenges to eDiscovery is that it is reactive. Although you cannot plan when it will occur, you can do everything in your power to be prepared as possible, by analyzing your infrastructure. It is best to have a plan that is ready to be executed when eDiscovery requests occur. This also includes having the necessary tools to help automate your eDiscovery process. If you are not automating the eDiscovery process, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Could the eDiscovery process be performed manually? Yes, but not efficiently, not effectively, and not within the typical time-constraints.

Think of automating eDiscovery like car insurance. You don’t buy insurance after you have an accident. You buy it when you purchase your car and are prepared to use it when the time arises, even though you typically don’t know when that will be. With eDiscovery some of the best advice I can offer is be prepared. Don’t be reacting when legal is calling.

Data distribution

The other major challenge of eDiscovery is distributed data. What I mean by that is data isn’t only where it’s supposed to be. Many times it gets distributed physically (e.g. paper) but also electronically (e.g. thumb drives, etc.). This is where you could drive yourself crazy.

Survival tip #2: Determine where you need to search

Trying to prevent data from leaving your organization is virtually impossible. Just think of the ways data can travel and it might make you shudder. What you need to do is think strategically and focus on where you know the data is stored. However, you also need to make the ‘powers that be’ aware of your concerns. This will allow them to make informed decisions regarding the information you provided. For instance, they could make a company policy on printing emails or copying data to thumb drives, etc. This will not only relieve you of the responsibility of this distributed, but also once again, allow you to focus only on where the data should be.

In summary, you can survive eDiscovery, but only if you are ready for it and I hope you use the survival tips provided. As the famous saying goes, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail!’

 

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