I recorded a podcast last week with Warwick Sharp, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Equivio. It is available from Equivio’s home page. I know there is no great technology involved in podcasts, and I might be expected to be jaded about technology anyway having been immersed in it since the dawn of time (that is, the mid-1980s) but I still think it remarkable that I can sit in Oxford,talking to Warwick in Israel via a US telephone meeting system controlled by an organiser in London (Enterprise Technology Management) and that we can be listening to the results ten minutes later.
If I am impressed by some basic telephony and recording, then what to make of Equivio itself? Some of the technology in this market does relatively simple things which are hard to explain. It is dead easy to explain what Equivio does, but one cannot begin to think how it achieves it. Does that matter? Not a lot, frankly, as long as you can satisfy yourself as to the results. Equivio has very quickly gained many very satisfied users.
Its role is the elimination of redundant data. If that sounds technical, redundancy, in data terms, refers to information which you do not have to see it a second time because you have already seen it. The key elements here are near-duplicates and e-mail threads.
Imagine that you have eliminated the obviously irrelevant material – system files etc. You may have narrowed your selection by reference to custodians, date ranges etc and you have identified the exact duplicates – this is a relatively trivial task in data terms. What are the next quick kills – the next method of cutting down the amount to review?
Near-duplicate files are brutally expensive to handle by eye relative to the progress made. One 50 page document may differ from another by a couple of words. The hard bit is not so much finding the two words – document comparison or redlining software has been around for years. The hard bit is grouping together the documents which have a close degree of similarity so that they all fall under the eye of the same reviewer at the same time. This is not only efficient in resource terms, it also increases the likelihood that they will be handled consistently – if one is privileged then so almost certainly are the others.
That “almost certainly” is a critical point for lawyers who are nervous about the ease with which conclusions may be applied to documents in bulk. That is left to them – Equivio does not purport to direct what you do with the near-duplicates, merely shoves them under your nose. The tools are there for bulk coding if your judgement leads to you conclude that this is a safe course. It may be enough merely to flag the degree of likeness. The other safety mechanism lies in the fact that you do not have to delete the near-duplicates and can go back to them if a different decision is made later.
The same applies to redundant data in e-mail threads. Equivio identifies the “inclusive” – the last message in a series which includes all the others. It also flags up attachments present in prior exchanges which are not present in the inclusive.
Equivio’s tests show that between 30% and 50% of the time spent on review can be saved by these tools. Translated into costs, that is a big saving. They make the point also that this approach does not increase risk – far from it, when your comparator is the variable input to be expected from multiple reviewers who may not perfom as well by the end of Friday as they did first thing on Monday – or, at least, not as consistently.
Equivio’s customers are litigation support providers, and firms and corporations who want to build the Equivio tools into their in-house processes. The demand is led, they say, by the clients themselves who require their lawyers to place the work where Equivio’s tools will be used.
That decision comes down to time and cost – what will the review cost be if we read every document set against what that cost will be if 30% or 50% of the documents are identified as near-duplicates. Do the math as our American friends say.
Warwick Sharp gives a good demo. He introduced me to a useful test: when you can explain something to your mother and have her explain it back to you, then you are ready to talk or write about it. If I could get my 79 year-old mother to put down her iPOD and leave Google, her vinyl-to-mp3 transfer system and her sat-nav alone for a bit, I would try it.