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What does Microsoft’s Ignite Mean for Legal? Compliance NOT eDiscovery

Published on October 27, 2020 – Panoram’s co-Founder Greg Wildisen

In the previous blogs I made some observations about how the announcements in MS Ignite 2020 would affect legal – The first was titled –“There’s an App for that!!” the second “Enterprise grade AI tools built right into the Platform” and the third was “Teams and Toys, the obvious combination!

Fourth Observation – Compliance may be the death of eDiscovery!

By way of context re this discussion, here’s some interesting stats around what was presented at MS Ignite 2020. 

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That’s a lot of screen time if you’re so inclined. I spent a decent amount of time working our which sessions to attend, and the one thing that really struck me was that I couldn’t find any sessions that specifically focused on MS vision for eDiscovery. Okay, I understand not everyone is massively excited about eDiscovery, but this is a growing industry, in fact it is estimated to grow from USD $10.76 billion in 2018 and expected to reach USD $17.32 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.0%.

Let’s get that into context for MS though. The Oil & Gas industry is worth $86 Trillion, Insurance is $1.39 Trillion, and Pharma is some $938 Billion. The legal industry is some $800 Billion but of course the important point is that eDiscovery isn’t really legal – it effects ALL industries – especially those that are heavily regulated.

What is MS doing about eDiscovery? 

MS has provided some basic tools and called it Advanced eDiscovery (nice marketing!). This functionality came about with the MS acquisition of Equivio in 2015. Capability from that technology was built into the MS platform, and now fits within the MS compliance capability. The idea behind the toolset seems to be to provide a functional toolset that allows businesses to get the simple stuff done.

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The direction of travel seems to be to enable more of the business do what’s required, although as it stands today, much still requires more technical people to get the process to work smoothly. There is basic workflow, and if everything is working in a straight line on your matter, then it works.

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BUT the minute the workflow changes, lawyers change tac, the investigation changes direction, and as a result you need to go back, maybe even reset, then things get hard. If you want to move data around, things get hard. If you want to deal with non MS data, things get hard. These are every day challenges in eDiscovery. So there remains a large gap between what MS Advanced eDiscovery is currently offering and what the specific eDiscovery tools are offering.

What is Microsoft’s plan to bridge that gap? 

The answer sadly, is not obvious. And after Ignite, I’m not sure its much clearer.

One strategy: it may be that, as they did with Equivio, MS is waiting to buy in the right tech to add to their current eDiscovery stack. This is after all what they did to get AeD to where it is now. There are options in the marketplace, an obvious one being KCura’s Relativity. They are a strong MS partner, have a strong client base and a strong product. But on the other hand, its nothing MS couldn’t build themselves in short order if they so chose, and they already have all those customers, so what are they really buying? Speed to fill a gap they don’t seem very interested in.

From the lack of any obvious changes to AeD, and the fact they could have bought the tech many years ago had they wanted to, it seems more likely that the MS vision is to negate the need for eDiscovery as a process altogether, by building out their compliance capability. Right now, businesses perform eDiscovery post issue, it seems from MS’s compliance play, they are looking to solve the issue at source – ie stop the issue from happening at all, or at least spotting it instantly it does happens. Forget rectification or remediation, just solve the prevention challenge and the need goes away.

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And as other tech within the broader M365 platform strengthens, arguably the compliance picture gets stronger. For example, take a look at the capability of Cortex within M365 platform, combine it with the current Compliance capability and the picture starts to take shape. As eDiscovery experts we know there are other data sources right now that live outside of M365, eg mobile phones, whatapp, zoom etc but these are still relatively edge cases for the bulk of ECA / eDiscovery.

So if, as Corporate counsel, Corp C Suite, or legal ops you’re looking to refresh your legal services strategy for the next 3 years, then consider moving some budget away from outsourced eDiscovery vendors to building out in-house capability – move the needle from expensive, unpredictable, reaction to problems, toward more cost effective, controllable prevention in M365. Back the platform the business is invested in, ultimately a sensible strategy. 

That brings this blog series to an end. I hope they have provided some useful insight. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss further.