The increased capabilities and efficiency provided by modern IT means that SMBs can operate far more effectively. This presents both challenges and opportunities. Think back only a few years: if you lost an email and needed to get it back you could be waiting hours, if not days, for your IT folk to find it. If you were involved in a legal dispute and had to present electronic evidence, many man-hours could be lost to the discovery process.
For example, a judge may have asked for all emails from the last five years relating to a particular client or employee. In an era where the amount of data held by businesses is growing at an explosive rate through collaboration, communication and commerce, the challenge of discovery is considerable.
Put simply, discovery is the process of researching and presenting all relevant documents for a legal case. Done incorrectly, it can lead to a failed legal action or defence that puts the business at risk. E-discovery simply moves this to electronic documentation, making sure that organisations can easily recover exactly what they need in their increasingly large stores of data.
Taming The Technology
Email servers and applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Outlook allow organisations to not only communicate via email but also store and archive all messages sent and received. This in turn provides a record of all an SMB’s communications and serves as an invaluable repository of documents that may be needed in the discovery process.
Keeping every single email ever sent available for discovery through your live email systems is often impractical: both in terms of the storage space needed and the effect on efficiency of having bloated email folders. In this case, archiving Exchange and other folders is essential to preserve a working environment. Yet it also makes those documents more difficult to search and retrieve when needed, as any e-discovery search will need to first recover all of the archived documents before searching.
Fit For Business
This is where technologies such as virtualisation are starting to make a difference. Virtualisation and associated backup and recovery technologies are making it much easier for organisations to trawl their archives for e-discovery purposes. With email systems sitting on physical servers, once a mailbox or folder was archived, it would need to be restored before it could be searched.
This restoration process is typically quite time consuming. However, with email systems such as Microsoft Exchange sitting on virtual servers, archived mail boxes and folders can be trawled instantly, with no need to go through a lengthy restoration process.
Virtualisation can also help to improve the e-discovery process beyond email applications. For example, in many industries organisations have to keep data for anything up to 10 years for compliance reasons. Often, although they have the data from 10 years ago, the applications that presented that data such as a CRM or HR system have been replaced by newer versions. Frequently these new applications cannot open the old data, or the older version will not run on current hardware.
Therefore when e-discovery is necessary companies are forced to find the old application, re-install it and then re-load the data. If the application is virtualised, they can back up the entire application infrastructure: meaning if they need to access data from a previous point in time, they can very quickly open the application at any point in time at very little cost.
With the majority of SMBs already using virtualisation the combination of virtual infrastructure hosting email servers and archives, as well as other applications, makes the e-discovery process far simpler; often meaning that it can be completed in a matter of hours or even minutes, rather than days and weeks.
While technology can help with the search and retrieval that is so vital to e-discovery, it is dependent on having appropriate processes in place. For example: if an SMB uses virtual infrastructure to ensure swift recovery of archived emails then processes must be in place to ensure employees only archive mail folders to that infrastructure, rather than to their desktop or other location. This will require collaboration across the business to ensure things work as planned, yet the benefits in terms of both e-discovery and simplifying and clarifying internal processes can be invaluable.