Electronic discovery best practices for SMBs

Electronic discovery (e-discovery) can be a challenge for organizations of all sizes. Brian Hill, senior analyst with Forrester Research, discusses the specific e-discovery challenges that SMBs face today and outlines e-discovery best practices in this Q&A. His answers are also available as an MP3.

Listen to the SMB e-discovery FAQ

Table of contents:

>> What is the No. 1 e-discovery challenge SMBs face today?
>> What can an SMB do to address e-discovery challenges?
>> Are there e-discovery products available at an SMB pricepoint?
>> Is hosted archiving a good approach for SMBs?
>> What are some important steps an SMB can take from a management perspective to prepare for e-discovery?

Depending on the type of business, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can be subject to some of the same e-discovery and compliance standards as larger enterprises. What is the No. 1 challenge for SMBs when it comes to e-discovery?

I think, first, it's really important for SMBs to understand that e-discovery and regulatory requirements absolutely affect them, too. Often times in the news, you see stories about larger companies being sued, but the same thing also happens to smaller organizations. And while SMBs might not have the same broad array of content types and systems, they are challenged by having fewer resources, especially IT and legal resources.

What can an SMB do to address these challenges? What are some of the steps from a technology standpoint that companies can take to be proactive and prepare for an e-discovery request?

On the technology front, I think it's really important to take a proactive approach to e-discovery. One component of that is to keep content only for the required time from a regulatory perspective or for a business-need perspective. That will make the e-discovery process a lot easier going downstream because you'll need to search across a smaller set of information to conduct e-discovery successfully.

There are a number of e-discovery tools and applications available in the market that can assist with that, but in general it is advisable to look at message archiving, records retention and management applications. It's also very important for these applications to be tightly linked with legal-hold applications and legal-hold processes, so that when you do reach the point in your retention schedule when it is appropriate to dispose of the information you can be certain that the information is not subject to current or pending litigation.

So, in addition to this technology approach, it's also critical for legal and IT to meet to map out the game plan for taking proactive and reactive approaches to e-discovery.

Are there products that address some of these e-discovery needs at a lower price point?

Absolutely. The message archiving market, for example, is fairly mature at this point and there are a number of products from companies like EMC and Symantec that are adopted by SMBs as well as enterprises. There has also been a significant uptick in hosted or Sofware-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based solutions, provided by companies like Global Relay, Live Office, Mimecast, Smarsh and others. Generally, these hosted solutions are attractive for SMBs.

Is hosted archiving a good approach for SMBs? What are the pros and cons of hosted or SaaS-based archiving?

If you look at the customer counts for these services, it's clear that this market is growing quite rapidly. There are a number of reasons why this is happening; the overall cost of ownership is quite compelling for a lot of SMBs. In addition to the lower total cost of ownership, the ability to get it up and running quickly is also a major advantage of hosted or SaaS-based solutions. Also, the industry overall is responding more appropriately to privacy, security and other operational concerns that initially dogged hosted or SaaS-based systems.

What about from a non-technological perspective? What are some important steps an SMB can take from a management perspective to prepare for e-discovery?

The most important thing is to have IT and legal work together. It's remarkable how frequently this simply doesn't happen. However, it doesn't, usually because there are different reporting structures, different budgets, etc. So the most important step is for the IT and legal stakeholders to start working together if they haven't already. Then, identify the systems and repositories throughout the organization and prioritize those that represent the biggest legal risk to the organization.

Many SMBs will find that messages will be a significant legal challenge and message archiving can offer some significant operational benefits, such as improved data backup and recovery and storage utilization.

Lastly, it's important to have a good game plan for what happens in the event of litigation. So, not only are you getting rid of the information you don't need to keep for legal or business purposes, but when litigation does hit you have a good workflow in place to appropriately respond.

This was first published in October 2009

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