If your e-discovery software doesn’t adequately secure the preferred communication channels of your social media
technology, you’ve got a big problem. You can have great controls built into your email system, but if your corporate instant messaging isn’t protected, it's like locking the front door and leaving the back door wide open.
In talking to compliance shops, I’m finding that many are taking one of three basic approaches to social media technology: allowance, avoidance and acceptance.
Companies that are indifferent to the consequences of litigation are allowing social media technology into their corporate infrastructure without any plan to fortify their compliance practices. My only comment about this is: Ignorance is not a defense. Consider Phillip Morris USA Inc., which parted with $2.75 million due to inefficient retention policies.
Avoidance may be a good second step, but the challenge with this approach must be fought on two fronts: First, harnessed the right way, social media technology can benefit your organization. I have always backed the idea that compliance should support corporate strategy, not the other way around. Don’t block organizational productivity under the banner of corporate compliance. Second, the permeating influence of social media makes it very difficult to completely banish it.
Dealing with social media? Go back to basics
Given these two rather unappealing options, I strongly suggest you consider the third -- acceptance. Accept that social media technology is a way of life, embrace it within your corporate infrastructure, and create solutions for e-discovery software concerns. It’s really not as difficult as you suspect if you stick with the following basics:
Maintain good practices with policy and procedure: The dirty little secret that consultants and software vendors don’t want you to know is there’s no need to alter your business practices because of e-discovery. As I said, compliance should support the corporate strategy, not the other way around. As long as you can prove that your business practices are sensible and in compliance with other standards and regulations, you should be good to go. One important piece of advice: don’t overengineer e-discovery.
Centralize the routing of all communications: The trick here is to prove that you’re doing all the right things. I wouldn’t overengineer this but at least route all communication, regardless of the technology used, to a central place and store that information according to your corporate policy. If you’d like more on this topic, I’ve written articles for SearchCompliance.com this year around enterprise content management, which has good tips for architecting around unstructured data.
Maintain a good records management system: From an e-discovery software standpoint, everything starts with a record. This is at the heart of your e-discovery defense. Printed documents, emails, instant messages, text and blog posts are all considered records. Your records management system should be persistent, permanent and searchable. All records must adhere to the corporate retention policy, the contents of which must be unaltered from its original state and you must be able to find any record when you need it.
Simple design is the hallmark of any good system, and e-discovery is no exception.
You must also accommodate a litigation hold, meaning from that point onward no record attached to the context of the hold should be destroyed. Don’t be overly concerned with designing for retroactive searches, because this is all handled with good practices. The functionality for litigation holds should be built into your records management system when designing for permanence and searchability.
Centralization is an important concept in dealing with social media. As long as all texts, blog posts and instant messages are housed in the same place as your email -- and printed documents for that matter-- you can install an intelligent search and retention function, even after the fact. The only requirement left is to ensure that litigation holds are consistently honored.
Simple design is the hallmark of any good system, and e-discovery is no exception. Stick to the fundamentals, keep the design manageable, and your worries over e-discovery should dissipate.
John Weathington is president and CEO of Excellent Management Systems Inc., a San Francisco-based management consultancy that helps companies improve efficiency. His clients include Fortune 100 firms such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and eBay Inc.