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Information Technology & eDiscovery: Q&A

IT eDiscovery

With more and more job descriptions for eDiscovery functions requiring IT certifications or IT skills, we focus on some of the key questions about how Information Technology professionals intersect with eDiscovery as a business process in today’s enterprise.

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Do you all consider email to be structured or unstructured?  What about document management systems?

Let’s start with the simpler of the two – Document Management Systems.  At the heart of all Document Management Systems is a database that can track everything from the files themselves to multiple file versions, user activities and other audit and control information.  The system as a whole thus falls into the realm of structured data.

With respect to email, it’s not as simple an answer, because email could be considered to be both structured and unstructured data.  At the heart of all email systems is a complex database structure – which is, by its very nature, structured data.  Take for example, Microsoft’s Exchange email system.  The primary repository in Exchange is an “EDB” file – or Exchange Database file.  That file contains all email for all users in a structured proprietary database format. 

That said, email can also exist in container form (think Lotus Note’s NSF files or Outlook PST files) and individual file forms (think MSG or EML files) that can be scattered about computers, servers, cloud storage repositories and other such locations, just like any other data file type.  So, while many consider email to be structured data, it actually fits both structured and unstructured definitions, depending on the circumstances.

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How can IT become a profit center and not just a support center?

Especially in today’s environment where CFOs and CTOs are looking to slash IT budgets and automate more processes.  It can be difficult for IT to become a profit center when it comes to eDiscovery, but there’s definitely an efficiency that can be gained.  So while it’s unlikely that you can show traditional “profits,” you can definitely show how IT can help an organization drastically reduce its eDiscovery spend, and those savings drop right down to the bottom line profit.

One of the ways to accomplish that is to focus on creating process efficiencies, and as with anything, the key to that is to plan ahead and put in place solutions and processes that create efficiencies so that you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.  It’s an old axiom, but it’s true: preparation is key.  With the right solutions in place, IT can quickly change eDiscovery from a difficult, exceptional and expensive process to a routine, planned and efficient process that re-uses data matter over matter, which alone translates directly into realizing huge savings in processing, hosting and other eDiscovery costs. 

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How can a governance or compliance tool or process help to mitigate eDiscovery concerns?

Answer:  There are a lot of tools out there that help track and automate information management, records retention and compliance concerns – and more importantly, those systems are no longer in the stratosphere when it comes to pricing.  Indeed, many don’t even require huge IT infrastructures and behind-the-firewall solutions.  While you can still spend six figures or more on such solutions, others have brought those prices down significantly.  There are some very good web-based, SAAS model solutions – BIA’s TotalDiscovery is one, and there are some others out there that are also very good solutions to various Information Management needs. 

Even if not specifically geared toward eDiscovery, those tools can help with eDiscovery in the same basic way that they help with regulatory compliance and information governance.  Most such tools have a focus on storing and tracking files and other information within an enterprise in an organized and searchable format that simplifies categorization and retrieval.  It’s that organization of the data that really impacts the first – and most crucial – aspect of eDiscovery: Data Identification.  Simply put, the more organized your data, generally the easier it is to identify and collect that data and be assured that your data collection process is comprehensive.   

Continue this reading about the role of Information Technology in eDiscovery with respect to information security by reviewing the BIA article about Essential Questions to Consider for eDiscovery Security.