Enterprise eDiscovery Collection Remains Costly and Inefficient

2016 marks my sixteenth year as a senior executive in the eDiscovery business. I began my career as a co-founder at Guidance Software (EnCase), serving as General Counsel, CEO and then Vice Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer from 1999 through 2009. After becoming the dominant solution for computer forensics in the early part of the last decade, Guidance set out to define a new field — enterprise discovery collection. Despite a good foundational concept, a truly scalable solution that could search across hundreds, or even thousands, of enterprise endpoints in a short period of time never came to fruition. To date, no other eDiscovery vendor has delivered on the promise of such a “holy grail” solution either. As a result, eDiscovery collection remains dominated by either unsupervised custodian self-collection, or manual services.

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Organizations employ limited technical approaches in an effort to get by, and thus enterprise eDiscovery collection remains a significant pain point, subjecting organizations to both significant cost and risks. This post is the first of a two part series on the status of the broken enterprise eDiscovery collection process. Part two will outline a proposed solution.

Currently, enterprises employ four general approaches to eDiscovery collection, with two involving mostly manual methodologies, and the other two predominantly technology-based. Each of the four methods are fraught with inefficiencies and challenges.

The first and likely most common approach, is custodian self-collection, where custodians are sent manual instructions to search, review and upload data that they subjectively determine to be responsive to a matter. This method is plagued with severe defensibility concerns, with several courts disapproving of the practice due to poor compliance, modifying metadata, and inconsistency of results. See Geen v. Blitz, 2011 WL 806011, (E.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2011), Nat’l Day Laborer Org. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, 2012 WL 2878130 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2012).

The second approach is manual services, usually performed by eDiscovery consultants. This method is expensive, disruptive and time-consuming as many times an “overkill” method of forensic image collection process is employed. It also often results in over collection, as the collector typically only gets one bite at the apple, thus driving up eDiscovery costs. While attorney review and processing represent the bulk of eDiscovery costs, much of these expenses stem from over-collection, and thus can be mitigated with a smarter and more efficient process.

When it comes to technical approaches, endpoint forensic crawling methods are employed on a limited basis. While this can be feasible for a small number of custodians, network bandwidth constraints coupled with the requirement to migrate all endpoint data back to the forensic crawling tool renders the approach ineffective. For example, to search a custodian’s laptop with 10 gigabytes of email and documents, all 10 gigabytes must be copied and transmitted over the network, where it is then searched, all of which takes at least several hours per computer. So, most organizations choose to force collect all 10 gigabytes. The case of U.S. ex rel. McBride v. Halliburton Co.  272 F.R.D. 235 (2011), Illustrates this specific pain point well. In McBride, Magistrate Judge John Facciola’s instructive opinion outlines Halliburton’s eDiscovery struggles to collect and process data from remote locations:

“Since the defendants employ persons overseas, this data collection may have to be shipped to the United States, or sent by network connections with finite capacity, which may require several days just to copy and transmit the data from a single custodian . . . (Halliburton) estimates that each custodian averages 15–20 gigabytes of data, and collection can take two to ten days per custodian. The data must then be processed to be rendered searchable by the review tool being used, a process that can overwhelm the computer’s capacity and require that the data be processed by batch, as opposed to all at once.”

Halliburton represented to the court that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on eDiscovery for only a few dozen remotely located custodians. The need to force-collect the remote custodians’ entire set of data and then sort it out through the expensive eDiscovery processing phase, instead of culling, filtering and searching the data at the point of collection drove up the costs.

And finally, another tactic attempted by some CIOs to attempt to address this daunting challenge is to periodically migrate disparate data from around the global enterprise into a central location. This Quixotic endeavor is perceived necessary as traditional information management and electronic discovery tools are not architected and not suited to address large and disparate volumes of data located in hundreds of offices and work sites across the globe.  But, boiling the ocean through data migration and centralization is extremely expensive, disruptive and frankly unworkable.

What has always been needed is gaining immediate visibility into unstructured distributed data across the enterprise, through the ability to search and collect across several hundred endpoints and other unstructured data sources such as file shares and SharePoint, and return results within minutes instead of days or weeks. None of the four approaches outlined above come close to meeting this requirement and in fact actually perpetuate eDiscovery pain.

Is there a fifth option? Stay tuned for my next post coming soon.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, eDiscovery, eDiscovery & Compliance, Enterprise eDiscovery, Information Governance, Information Management, Preservation & Collection

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