SharePoint Faces E-Discovery Challenges, Like Every Enterprise CMS Does

SharePoint Faces E-Discovery Challenges, Like Every Enterprise CMS Does

Microsoft SharePoint is one of the most widely used content management systems in the world, but it wasn’t designed with the needs of courts and lawyers in mind, according to attorneys and IT consultants who work with SharePoint customers.

Those gaps in the software can lead to problems when companies get sued and have to produce information for the lawsuit that’s being kept in SharePoint.

Microsoft senior product manager Ryan Duguid says the SharePoint team is well aware of the issues that e-discovery can create for customers and has been designing features for SharePoint to help with the problem since 2004.

In SharePoint 2010, for instance, it’s possible to query an entire SharePoint deployment to find information and “lock it down” — not to move it, but to place it on hold.

Customers have a responsibility too, though, Duguid says: They need to treat SharePoint as the enterprise content management system that it is and be careful about how they deploy it.

“If you deploy any system for content management without structure — without custodians, or thinking about how it’s configured, or defining taxonomy or content types or retention schedules or a corporate- wide data map, you’re in trouble come discovery time,” Duguid says.

Government Regulation of Electronic Information — and Its Discontents

Starting in December 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended so that lawyers have to disclose all potential sources of electronic information to the opposing side, even if that information may be hard to produce.

Since then, the amount of information that companies keep electronically has exploded along with the growth of the Web. In addition to looking on corporate laptops and PCs, lawyers must now look in the cloud — in social networks, blogs, wikis, instant messages and a growing variety of smart phones.

The federal rules changes have had unintended consequences too — they’ve encouraged even more discovery, says George Socha, a lawyer who founded Socha Consulting, an e-discovery firm.

“More people know the information is out there, and they either feel they have to do something about it or see it as something they might want to pursue,” Socha says. “Many have very little experience (with electronic information). They don’t know what to do, and there are all sorts of mistakes they can make.”

Rich Finkelman, the managing director and practice leader of technology services at Navigant, says his firm may collect 10 Gigabytes of data per person for a client involved in a lawsuit — 80 percent of it in email. “What five years ago was 5,000 items is now 50,000 items,” he says.

When SharePoint is involved, this information can be tough to locate and track. A big Microsoft customer may have 20,000 SharePoint sites, Finkelman says — one client had 300 to 400 Gigabytes of SharePoint data. Finkelman also sees more data going into SharePoint as companies move away from email attachments and start sharing information online.

SharePoint sites are created by corporate IT people, but they are often used and changed by other employees, possibly even by corporate partners who are not employees. Information changes and proliferates and gets harder and harder to tie to one person.

E-Discovery Initiatives at SharePoint and …Google?

Five years ago, to help his clients, Socha started the Electronic Discovery Reference Model, a framework for companies to follow when they’re hit with e-discovery requests.

This year, for the first time, Duguid and other members of the SharePoint team at Microsoft have joined EDRM, Socha says, which means they’re helping other members develop the framework.

Duguid says the framework is useful for customers and that Microsoft wants to be involved so it doesn’t end up on the receiving end of a defacto industry standard.

Getting information out of SharePoint is a big market for whoever figures out how to do it, Socha says. He says he knows of several companies that are working on the problem. Some of them are Microsoft SharePoint partners, according to Duguid.

Finkelman also expects Google to contribute to the e-discovery problem as it gets more corporate clients for its business software, but Socha sees problems with e-discovery as symptoms of a larger problem — the fact that few companies have their electronic houses in order. “They don’t know what data they’re creating or where they’re putting it,” he says.

So he’s launched another framework — the Information Management Reference Model — to help companies find and organize all the information they have.

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