The 451 Group, Rob Robinson of Applied Discovery, and I each have different roles in the business of spreading information about e-Discovery and e-Disclosure. The 451 Group is a technology analyst company whose business involves in-depth knowledge of enterprise IT underpinned by research into the industry and its players. Rob Robinson remains, as he has been seemingly for ever, the fastest gun in the West (Austin, Texas in fact) at picking up information, news and views across the industry and serving it up in easily digestible form, not least in a weekly list of articles distributed by e-mail and by widely-read resources such as the Posse List’s Electronic Discovery Reading Room. Mine is the easiest role – I have the luxury of writing, in my own time and without regard to journalistic deadlines, about only those things which interest me and which I hope will interest others.
The ideal model therefore, from my point of view, is that The 451 Group does some research and analysis, Rob Robinson and Applied Discovery tip me off about it, and I write about it, adding such comment as seems appropriate, particularly if there is a UK angle to bring in.
It is not surprising that Applied Discovery wants us to read The 451 Group’s recent report e-Discovery and e-Disclosure Bringing It All Back Home, since Applied Discovery features prominently in its 2010 User Survey Results. 22% of survey respondents said they had used Applied Discovery, a ranking second only to that of Guidance Software at 23%. You can get a copy of the 2010 User Survey Results from the Applied Discovery site here.
Almost all the respondents were from the US and, as the report itself notes, a high proportion of them came from records management. I will leave you to read the report (which is short and elegantly summarised) for yourself, but it is worth picking out a few key points.
The majority of respondents reported that they perform e-Discovery in-house using their own tools and staff, yet only half of them had proper business processes (even by their own account) in place to manage it, or dedicated e-Discovery managers in-house. This means that they are incurring the cost and retaining the risk whilst doing nothing to capitalise on the former nor to mitigate the latter. It parallels something which has been evident in law firms over many years; they buy contact management, practice management or case management systems and seem to think that the mere spending of the capital monies has somehow moved them on. You need skilled staff and processes designed to maximise the investment for a defined business objective before you can move on.
A similar contradiction, or at least the appearance of one, lies in the fact that many respondents say that integration and configuration issues are “significant pain points”, but only 23% of them say that end-to-end functionality is a big factor in selecting suppliers. I am less surprised at this. Most organisations, companies and law firms alike, have significant investments both in existing systems and in the training and skills to use externally-hosted platforms. Although many vendors are keen that you should buy into the whole of their offering, the more prudent ones recognise that they need to accommodate new applications from elsewhere by making data easily transferable between systems.
This gives them a marketing problem, since they find it hard simultaneously to promote their ability to solve the whole problem for their clients – “one throat to choke” as The 451 Group puts it – and to make it clear that their applications are good at taking in data from elsewhere and passing it along to others who may have different strengths for another stage in the process. They depend to some extent on the “buyer inertia” identified by the report (the suppliers themselves would doubtless call this “customer loyalty”). Whatever you call it, the position of suppliers is akin to that of political parties in the current UK elections, who compromise on what should be strong and unequivocal messages to one group for fear of alienating another. This frankly gutless approach to marketing – the unwillingness to stick your flag in a patch of turf and say “this is mine” – is as difficult for the potential buyers of software applications and services as it is for voters. It gives rise to the closing words of report which are:
Overall, users predicted price commoditisation and vendor consolidation in the industry. The researching process for acquiring e-Discovery tools and services was described as “painful”, and communicating requirements to vendors was described as “difficult”. Users criticise vendors for not concentrating on long-term relationships with customers, and focusing on the “latest and greatest” over quality assurance and tracking
There are several separate points here – clarity of messaging, particularly towards those new to the subject, repeat business from existing clients, quality, innovation and, of course, cost. They are all obviously important, but none of the others are worth having if the messaging is poor. If I was asked to extract one line from the report, I would take the words the researching process of acquiring e-Discovery tools and services was described as ‘painful’, and I would want to know from the would-be buyers what would make it less ‘painful’. The answer is not pure cost, important though that is – my guess is that many of those who find the research painful never get as far as investigating the cost.