By Jon Chan – Director of Technical Services, Anexsys
If your organisation sometimes still finds itself in future shock at the explosion of data volumes, you are not alone. Data has taken on new importance in markets around the globe as a force for transparency, growth and change. It is a potent tool for acquiring business intelligence and steering a safe course, but growing demands for more access and analysis will only bring more worries about storage, management and safety.
We can examine these worries in any data analysis discipline, but they are paramount when we look at electronic discovery, an increasingly important facet of corporate and legal business in the UK and abroad. Electronic discovery (eDiscovery or eDisclosure) is the process by which sensitive electronic information is procured, secured and analysed for use in civil and criminal proceedings. It’s an industry that touches governments and corporations alike, all around the world, and though a UK practitioner might follow different rules than counterparts in North America or Asia, the only way to win the day is to have the best team possible organising and acting on data.
Growing markets mean more choice in deciding how to conduct eDiscovery operations. Some organisations have the inclination or resources to bring an eDiscovery operation in-house, but those who do not are not out of the game, thanks to a thriving industry of dedicated, outsourced eDiscovery and legal technology service providers.
These service providers exist to help you carry the technology expertise and infrastructure loads. Finding the right provider can lead to an incredibly productive relationship. When business is good, it is good together and when challenges arise you will meet those together as well. Service providers are agile and things often move at a breakneck pace. The consultants drawn to this work tend to seek challenges, ask questions and advocate loudly for their skills.
Here are some of the most important things to listen for the next time your organisation considers a partner.
We know the technology end to end, inside and out
When you seek an outside firm to manage eDiscovery or other technical service, step one is finding experts who best understand leading technology in the industry and just what it is capable of. Service providers might advocate for different tools, but if they present a comprehensive, technical account of what they have achieved with their preferred platform you can be sure they are working to build a foundation on good faith and real results.
Every industry has unique technology challenges, and this one more than most. Conducting eDiscovery is neither about having deep knowledge of an insular area of law, nor about holding ‘ninja status’ in any one aspect of technology but rather it’s about having an understanding of the breadth of the process from end to end. The savvy practitioner must respond to strange collections from sources both legacy and modern, where tomorrow’s challenges are complicated by yesterday’s applications and storage devices. Once collected, they must process an ever-growing range of file types and handle demanding lawyers and deadlines in review. One of the reasons technology-first service providers succeed so well in this is that the eDiscovery workflow reflects the very same process- or systems-oriented thinking that underpins technology innovation, or simply taking a project from code to completion.
Your relationship with a provider can be as transactional or familial as you like, but there will always be some distance between organisations. As it turns out, that is not a bad thing. By bringing outside technology providers into the fold, your organisation gains a bird’s eye view of the organisation and opportunities it might not see for itself. This puts them in an ideal position to not only bring fresh technology ideas, but to apply their process-thinking and push back, always with love, on ‘the way it has always been done’. There are always new ways to leverage data analytics for early case assessment or apply machine learning techniques to review, and your outside provider understands better than anyone how the solutions used will impact and elevate each other as the process continues.
Of course, sometimes outside providers cannot solve a problem with the snap of a finger. There are cases, rare though they may be, where the software just cannot do what needs to be done. There are also cases where software solves the problem, but the task is repetitive and still requires much human intervention, and therefore risk. The most technology-forward providers understand this and will come to you recommending an open platform – Anexsys might suggest Relativity, for example – which allows them to build new applications to meet your unique needs. There is a roaring trade of ideas in the eDiscovery ecosystem and service providers have been invaluable to software developers in extending functionality of their offerings. The firm you choose should be excited to build and enthusiastic about how the work they do with you might one day advance the entire industry.
We manage the services, you run the business
Business success is a game of resource management. Will we be able to achieve these three goals in the next fiscal year? Should we expand our team or invest more in the people we have? How should we calculate returns on investments for special projects?
That’s enough to worry about for any leadership team without controlling a complex, state-of-the-art infrastructure for eDiscovery or other specialised, technology-based projects. The greatest peace of mind a provider can give you is taking those day-to-day responsibilities out of your hands and keeping them ticking like a clock.
Managing eDiscovery services requires much more than simply contracting reviewers when a case arises. The service provider gives you capabilities from the ground up to help run your infrastructure and provides licences and full support at any required level. They fine-tune an environment of services that depend upon and complement the things your in-house teams do best. They offer subscription-based services to assist you with your costs and allow access to data-processing and project management services when required.
“Conducting eDiscovery is neither about having deep knowledge of an insular area of law, nor about holding ‘ninja status’ in any one aspect of technology, but rather having an understanding of the breadth of the process from end to end”
If you don’t have all that in-house, it is a lot to build. You’ll need a network architect, a storage engineer, security consultants and database administrators, all of whom operate comfortably (hint: they don’t) with you not being able to predict tomorrow’s infrastructure requirements. Your provider’s entire business is to have all of that built, tested and optimised. It might be outsourced, but it is still a big job. Providers always have their hands full (and wouldn’t have it another way), but just as your team stays intently focussed on growing your business, the provider team will stay focussed on supporting that growth with their expertise.
We can take you to the Cloud and here’s why we you should go
Since your ideal technology firm spends its days dreaming of the most innovative tools and streamlined deployments, you should expect that they will be fierce Cloud computing advocates. Cloud eDiscovery is still in its adolescence and providers will not force you to make a switch as a prerequisite of doing business, but your technical consultants cannot help but look eagerly ahead, into the entirely new era of information technology.
Outside service providers work with a wide variety of clients. They understand that every industry moves at its own pace and for many larger corporations, law firms or government departments moving to the cloud is a paradigm shift. They would be negligent, however, if they did not build a serious business case and roadmap for a Cloud transformation, based on close attention to the joint successes of your partnership.
After all, it’s happening. As it stands in 2018, 86 per cent of large companies globally and 53 per cent of European businesses, including in the UK, had adopted some amount of Cloud services. Furthermore, 60 per cent globally are deploying, or preparing to deploy, their most critical business systems in the Cloud. The European Cloud market has grown this year – despite what we’ve heard about complications from Brexit or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – thanks in part to expansions of Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft into the market.
“The choice to conduct eDiscovery in-house or with an outside provider is one of the most important ones you can make”
The legal industry has traditionally been slow to adopt new technology, but the service providers are not. While there is grappling to be done with how a Cloud-based model of business can be most effective for clients, the providers are working hard to understand the technical requirements of the Cloud and they pay keen attention to new developments in that market. Deploying services in the Cloud might eventually be a great advantage since the unpredictable nature of eDiscovery projects is an ideal candidate for an elastic Cloud workload.
Your organisation might well be ready for embracing the Cloud, or it might need more time to evaluate the opportunity and the market. There are many who can help, but just as the transition from physical to virtual wasn’t a case of simply putting an application designed for a physical infrastructure into a virtual environment, moving to the Cloud requires infrastructure teams to think differently, and the provider who has already embraced this might help you avoid the mistakes that they’ve previously made along the way.
We live and breathe security
Partnering with any outside firm requires incredible due diligence and a certain measure of trust. Nowhere is that more apparent than the realm of security. After all, the safety of your data is core to the health of your business. The words ‘data breach’ send chills down the spine of leaders and engineers alike.
Your service provider, if they know their stuff, has spent many long days and sleepless nights considering security, evaluating the worst that could happen if their systems were breached. Data analysis and technology innovation might be things they do, but, for the best firms, security is what they are: a vault holding your most precious and fragile resource that only you have the right or ability to access and act on.
Seek out the provider or consultant that wears its certifications proudly. It’s very likely that your own internal teams will hold or strive for the same ones, but if you are unsure of what is meant by ISO27001, Tier 3 datacentres, or Cyber Essentials Plus, your provider should leap at the opportunity to explain them with evangelical zeal.
Certifications can tell you a lot, but they’re the baseline, the minimum. True cybersecurity preparedness begins when security is put at the core of everything a provider does. Providers need to focus heavily on choosing safe platforms, implementing the digital and physical practices and hiring the smartest people to keep the doors locked and the wolves at bay. Threats do exist – even as your provider innovates clever new eDiscovery apps, the bad actors are innovating new ways to get in. Compliance is the start, making security the core is the heart and keeping your eyes open is the way to make it work.
Should you find a provider that will excel at keeping your data safe, but has studying to do on eDiscovery, consider giving them the time to do so. You can’t organise and act on your data if the wolves have already made off with it. UK service providers and technology consultants have proven to be fast students of issues relating to data security and privacy; when the GDPR arrived earlier this year providers had already been aligning with it in the previous two years to ensure their responses would be rigorous and appropriate for the new privacy landscape.
Where is your business going and how can we help get you there?
You decided to find an outside service provider for eDiscovery, taken meetings, read proposals and heard every one of the themes above. After all that, which provider is the one that will help you grow your business? That’s a simple thing to discover: it’s the one who asks you what’s next.
Good providers want to build new technology, help you transition to the Cloud and find new ways to streamline eDiscovery and other services. Great providers hit the ground running with all of that and are ready to start looking for answers to questions they haven’t been asked.
Beware the provider who is incurious about your vision. To maximise the benefits of your partnership, they should be great supporters of your work. When a provider fails to ask about a roadmap, they are not looking at your partnership as an opportunity for mutual growth, but one where each query is simply another transaction under contract. Likewise, if your organisation hesitates in bringing big ideas to the table or throwing complex problems their way, a huge part of the value of working with an agile firm can be lost.
Any change comes with a learning curve. The big ideas might not be achievable in the near term, but when you light the fire in a technology-forward provider or consultant, it is hardwired in them to hold on and work the problem until it is done. The great partner will always want to hear from you what skills should be honed. Not only will they work tirelessly to meet your needs, but you commonly find that you have worked together to pioneer something that impacts the entire industry.
There will always be traditions and norms in your organisation and for many, change can be slow and difficult. But for outside technology providers, agility, innovation and rapid response to change are the orders of every day. They can assess your organisation from above with their bird’s eye view, but they can also search its future, if you point them in the right direction.
The choice to conduct eDiscovery in-house or with an outside provider is one of the most important ones you can make. It must be said that every organisation will find pros and cons to either structure, but should it be time to investigate outsourced solutions, the conversations above will guide the way.
About the Author:
Jon Chan is director for technical services at Anexys Ltd., a U.K.- based firm offering dedicated outsourced services to law firms, corporations and the public sector. Jon is responsible for the delivery and operations of all of Anexsys’ technical services including e-discovery and computer forensics.