Understanding e-discovery deployment options

A variety of factors can determine which option is the best for each individual organization

With new data formats and increasing data volumes, new deployment models have emerged for managing e-discovery. Besides the traditional on-premise software, wherein the organization manages the software and review staff in-house across the entire process of e-discovery, companies and law firms can now also opt for SaaS models that offer the convenience of on-premise software without the need to manage it within the internal datacenter; managed services models that allow for a wholly outsourced approach to e-discovery; and hybrid approaches that combine two or more deployment methods dependent upon the unique needs of each case.

A variety of legal, technical and organizational factors can determine which option is the best for each individual organization, and leadership is often left questioning the most strategic choice. The first step is to gain basic understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each of the deployment models:

  • On-premise: For organizations that want complete control over the software and data, hosting the software in-house may be the best option. This typically offers corporations the opportunity to put in place specific security capabilities to address their confidentiality and privacy requirements; however it may not always be the most cost-effective. If a case arises that balloons outside of the on-premise software’s capacity, the corporation is faced with adding resources or outsourcing to accommodate the size of the particular case. Hosting the software in-house also requires larger upfront costs, ongoing investments in upgrading and refreshing the technology on a regular basis, and IT involvement in maintaining and managing the software.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): This option provides a similar level of control as the on-premise model, but with more ability to align costs to operating budget. These types of offerings typically come with a subscription fee, which allows the organization to plan a set e-discovery operating budget that gives them access to the tools needed for any size matter. As analytics and predictive coding becoming more ubiquitous, it is important to maintain access to all of the latest and greatest features as they become available to remain competitive and avoid using antiquated technology. With this model, the burden of maintaining the most recent version of the software is removed, as long as software is continually innovated and the most up-to-date versions are available without any additional upgrade fees or maintenance.
  • Managed services: The decision to use this option usually comes down to whether the organization has the people on staff to handle the case management and administration of the tools. For very large cases, tight timelines or for legal teams that simply don’t have the resources or desire to host the software or do the e-discovery project management, managed services allows for outsourcing the entire e-discovery process. Certain types of matters, especially second requests and other regulatory issues that go at a very fast pace, are a good fit for managed services. This provides the extra care and resources the legal department needs to ensure all of the data is reviewed and produced on time. 
  • Hybrid: Many legal departments take a hybrid approach to deal with the unique needs of a variety of cases. Some medium-sized matters may only need a team to have access to the SaaS solution, while more pressing cases require additional resources from a managed services provider. We’re seeing a number of law firms move to implement a hybrid of on-premise, SaaS and managed services models to address the wide range of matters they handle on behalf of clients.

Key Considerations

The next step is to evaluate the drivers that matter to your organization and how compatible they are with the different e-discovery deployment options. Below are the top three key trigger points that can help you evaluate the best approach for your organization.

  • Cost: What is the total cost of ownership for your current approach? And, given your litigation profile, are you likely to see cost savings using another deployment model? Figuring out your cost-control strategy will enable you to evaluate the potential cost benefits of a different approach, and whether it is worth the effort to implement a change.
  • Culture: Most legal departments have a general preference or attitude toward e-discovery strategy, outsourcing, cloud usage and other factors that may determine which deployment option is the best fit. The relationship with outside counsel and on what level they will be involved is a factor to consider, as well as the company’s litigation profile and e-discovery capabilities of internal employees. 
  • Security: Security breaches and cyber-attacks against large corporations are regularly reported in the news. Information security must be taken into serious consideration as far as what technology, process and protocol need to be in-place now and the future to protect client data. Law firms and companies must do an objective audit of internal IT as well as extensive research for selecting outside providers, including law firms, to ensure that security is not compromised. Industry regulations and standards will need to be considered as well when determining the level of security required for your organization. At times, there might be a misperception that merely by keeping data in-house that it will be more secure than outsourcing to a provider. The fact is vulnerabilities exist in all deployment models. Therefore, it’s critical in understanding your security and compliance requirements for your e-discovery projects and working with information managers and security specialists to implement the level that best addresses your needs using available technologies, setting access controls, and strict data management and information governance policies to protect your data.

Once cost, culture and security are evaluated, e-discovery teams should have a better understanding of the top two deployment models for their particular organization. From there, additional criteria can be weighed to ensure the model is a good fit, including business goals, e-discovery processes, and platform functionality.

Contributing Author

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Joel Jacob

Joel Jacob is a managing director in the Technology practice of FTI Consulting and is based in Chicago.

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