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IT shops look to e-discovery, architecture tools to manage Web content

With Web content reaching tidal-wave proportions thanks to social media, compliance officers are looking at e-discovery along with architecture-based management solutions.

Many compliance officers have turned to e-discovery technologies like enterprise content management (ECM) products to track and manage Web content as it mingles with internal mission-critical data. Some, however, believe a better long-term approach may be found at the architecture level.

"Web content is at such a high volume with all the data generated with social media, so we are now forced to deal with it on a more strategic level," said Eugene Lee, a systems administrator at a large bank in Charlotte, N.C. "We need to have our IT infrastructure operating at Web scale so we can extend policy-driven architectures involving compliance and e-discovery across multiple business domains. Then, we can deal with issues at the business-process level rather than the application level. That's where the real payback is."

Analysts agree with Lee that compliance officers should stop focusing on tactical e-discovery solutions because internal initiatives often overlap, and technology solutions are duplicated. Tackling the problem at an architectural level makes more strategic sense.

"Taking a holistic approach to gain a strategic view of all your data -- inside the company and coming from outside -- makes a lot more sense," said Dana Gardner, a principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions LLC in Gilford, N.H. "This way, e-discovery and compliance investments begin to feel less like a penalty or cover-your-butt measure, and more like an investment towards a master data management strategy."

How e-discovery, compliance are alike

Both Gardner and Lee said they believe corporate users cobbling together e-discovery and compliance architectures with existing ones are beginning to see a lot of commonality in how the two are constructed. In fact, there are so many similarities that corporate shops can simply use existing tools to extend their existing architectures for applications, security and business processes to envelop newer e-discovery and compliance solutions.

"One of the big eye openers people are aware of is the different point-solution sets for compliance, information management, SOA and cloud computing are all starting to look alike from the perspective of methodology and strategy," Gardner said.

Before bringing architectures together, an internal team of executives responsible for each of the major technology and business pieces that manage a piece of the Web content-based strategy needs to be formed.

The nagging problem for larger companies in accomplishing this is the age-old lack of communications among technology and business teams, particularly IT and legal. Many times, the two have very different business objectives. Exacerbating this tension is that some vendors exploit this rift by selling products directly to legal departments, allowing legal to completely control e-discovery projects.

"If a company really wants to make long-term gains, it would get legal and IT in the same room to define the requirements, then have IT purchase the system. That is slowly starting to happen, but that communications gap still exists and is a big stumbling block for these organizations," said Barry Murphy, founder of, a website focused on challenges facing e-discovery professionals.

The importance of a balanced e-discovery team

Users and analysts generally agree there are three reasons for assembling a team to pull together a companywide e-discovery initiative:

  • To ensure there is no redundancy among the tools being used;
  • To ensure an efficient and cost-effective method for deployment; and
  • To make the best use of existing and potentially new software licenses.

"In many companies, there will be divisions that have already brought in tools the other divisions don't know about, or everyone is not up to speed on whether you are even using software licenses you have already paid for. You need people who can look at solutions in a different way to craft the best answers," said Brian Barnier, a principal at ValueBridge Advisors.

E-discovery and compliance investments feel less like a cover-your-butt measure, and more like a master data management strategy.

Dana Gardner, principal analyst, Interarbor Solutions LLC

Crafting the best technology solution is not the only benefit of a well-balanced team with a unified vision. As e-discovery and compliance systems and existing architectures grow closer, each technology and business unit can have a more direct impact on the products and services of other units.

"You can generate business benefit when you have a plan that everyone buys into because you end up helping out the sales organization with what they have to do, or the CMO with things they have to do that are totally unrelated to e-discovery or compliance," Barnier said.

A successful e-discovery strategy for managing Web-based content needs a strong ECM foundation, some industry observers claim. The problem, however, is that few corporations have made the hefty financial investment necessary to create an enterprise-level ECM, which typically can cost in the millions and take upwards of several years to complete. Most are inching their way toward such systems, putting small chunks of the foundation in place to take care of a few functions at a time.

"End-user companies are doing what I call practicing. They know they need to do something that is in good faith, but they do not want to spend $1 million on software. 2010 is the year of early case assessment for deploying tools that can hold down the amount of potentially responsible data by doing iterative searches," Murphy said.

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