Lighthouse business development director EMEA Matt Bicknell talks to The Lawyer about how in today’s remote environment, cloud based collaboration tools are not just desirable but a necessity – but also the challenges they pose for ediscovery processes.
What is the driving force behind the massive migration to cloud-based environments over the last few years?
There are a few factors at play here. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, companies were already moving their data to the Cloud (both public and private) in droves, in order to take advantage of unlimited data capacities and drastically lower IT overhead. The move to the Cloud is also being driven by a younger workforce that feels at home working with cloud-based chat and collaboration tools, like M365 or G-Suite. However, the worldwide shift to remote work due to the pandemic really broke the dam when it comes to cloud migration. We’ve seen a seismic shift to cloud-based tools and environments since March of 2020. In a completely remote environment, cloud-based collaboration tools are not just desirable, they are necessary to keep workforces productive. Migrating to the Cloud can greatly reduce the need for workers to be physically present in an office building.
What are some of the challenges that cloud migration can pose to the ediscovery process?
Unlimited storage capacity at low cost can be a great thing for an organisation’s bottom line, but can definitely cause issues when it comes time to find and collect data that is needed for a litigation or investigation. Search functions built for cloud-based tools are often built for business use, rather than for the functionality that legal and compliance teams require in order to find relevant information. In addition, collecting and producing from collaboration tools like Teams or Slack can be much more complicated than a traditional email collection. Relevant communications that previously would have happened over email now happen over chat, through emoticon reactions, or through collaboratively editing a document. All of this relevant data may be stored in several different places, in a variety of formats within the Cloud. Even attachments are handled differently in cloud-based applications – instead of sending a static document as an attachment via email, Teams defaults to sending a link to the document in Teams. This means that the document could look significantly different at the time of collection than it did when the link was sent. Collecting from those types of sources, producing them in a format that makes sense to a reviewer/opposing counsel, and accounting for all the dynamic variables can be a difficult hurdle to overcome if the organisation hasn’t planned for it.
How can companies prepare for ediscovery challenges in a cloud environment?
First, make sure compliance, legal and IT all have a seat at the table and have input into decisions that may affect their workflows and processes. Understand where your data resides and have effective retention, data governance, and compliance policies in place. Your policies should spell out which cloud-based applications employees may use and also have rules in place regarding how they can be used and where work product should be stored. Understand your legal hold policy and what type of data it encompasses. Make sure you have the right talent (either within your organisation or through a vendor) who understands the underlying architecture behind Teams, G-Suite, or any other cloud-based tool your organisation uses and also knows how to collect relevant information when needed. Ensure that your IT team or vendor has a system in place to monitor application and system updates. Cloud-based updates can roll out on a weekly basis; those changes may significantly impact the efficacy of your data retention and collection policies and workflows.
As cloud technology continues to evolve, what does the future hold for ediscovery?
Because of the near endless storage capacity of the Cloud, the amount of data companies generate will just continue to exponentially expand. As a result, the technology behind AI and analytics will continue to improve, and those tools will eventually be less of an option to use in certain matters and more of a necessity to use for most matters. I also think as more companies feel comfortable moving their data to the Cloud, we will start to see more and more of these companies bring their ediscovery programs in house. Vendors are already beginning to offer subscription-based, self-service ediscovery programs which hand over the ediscovery reigns to the organisation, while the vendor stores and manages the data in the Cloud (both public and private). This type of service allows companies to eliminate the middleman, control their own ediscovery costs, and easily scale up or down to meet their own needs, while leaving the burden of data storage security and maintenance with the vendor. Finally, look for vendors to start offering subscription-based services to help organisations manage the near-constant stream of application and system updates for cloud-based services.