The cloud, as a term, is used as if there is a common understanding of what it means. The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines cloud computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” These characteristics add up to huge potential benefits for customers. Resource pooling across multiple clients brings economies of scale, which lead to lower costs. Elasticity lets customers scale up without having to add internal IT resources.
However, just because cloud is a hot topic and seems to gaining traction, does not necessarily mean that it has achieved mainstream usage in corporations. While the cloud has gained mindshare, official usage is evolving slowly. This gives companies the opportunity to get ahead of the curve on how to conduct e-discovery on these new sources and types of information.
eDJ’s “eDiscovery and The Cloud Survey,” conducted throughout November and December of 2011, found that only 26.2 percent of respondents have adopted cloud-based storage of enterprise information, while another 18 percent did not know. More than half of the respondents have not yet adopted cloud-based, proactive information storage. (See Figure 1, below.)
This does not mean that cloud-based storage for information will not become widespread; it simply means that companies have to prioritize e-discovery efforts around the information sources currently in use. If an enterprise is moving to the cloud, e-discovery should be part of the strategic plan. In the meantime, initiatives must be focused on where the information lives right now.
In addition, while the use of Software-as-a-Service for applications like CRM (e.g., Salesforce.com) and bookkeeping (e.g., Quicken) feels pervasive, half of the respondents indicate that they are not using SaaS tools for these kinds of applications. Just over 25 percent of respondents indicated that they are using SaaS applications for enterprise processes. As such, these sources of information must be part of the e-discovery plan. (See Figure 2, below.)
Usage of the cloud will continue to grow. In fact, President Obama has called for the U.S. Government to investigate a move to managing digital records on the cloud. According to an article by Elizabeth Montalbano from November 2011, President Obama’s order calls on government agencies to “improve the management of existing and ongoing records -- including emails and social-media communications. Their plans should include the use of cloud-based services or storage systems for digital recordkeeping.” When government agencies begin adopting technologies and practices, it is common for corporate America to follow along or at least get over some of the concerns about those solutions; in the case of the cloud and social media, the primary concerns are security, privacy and control of the information.
In addition to cloud usage becoming more commonplace, there is another reason to address the data sources in e-discovery: case law is emerging that says companies have to. There may not be an overwhelming amount of case law pertaining to the cloud, but one important case to note is “IN RE NTL, INC. SECURITIES LITIGATION; GORDON PARTNERS, et al., Plaintiffs, -against- GEORGE S. BLUMENTHAL, et al., Defendants.” The main idea in this case is that if a company has “access to documents to conduct business, it has possession, custody or control of documents for the purposes of discovery.” One of the keys to the cloud is ubiquitous access to information, essentially putting companies on the hook to be responsible about e-discovery of that information.
A decade ago, the e-discovery focus was around a challenging data source known as email. Companies adopted email so quickly that e-discovery was never correctly planned for; discovery capabilities were built in after the fact. Many painful lessons were learned, and yet the possibility of repeating those mistakes is very real when it comes to information in the cloud and social media. For the eDJ survey respondents, e-discovery is very much an afterthought as companies evolve into using these data sources more and more. Less than 16 percent of respondents put an e-discovery plan into place before moving data to the cloud. (See Figure 3, below.)