Is On-Prem eDiscovery Software Becoming a Thing of the Past?

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[author: Jim Gill, Legal Technology Writer]

Not so long ago, one of the big discussions in LegalTech circles was “moving to the cloud.”

Back then -- I’m talking the mid-teens, not ancient history -- there were a lot of concerns about moving eDiscovery data to what many thought of as a singular, nebulous unknown called “the cloud.”

Things have changed quite a bit in those few short years, with more eDiscovery SaaS offerings on the market, and more corporate legal teams and law firms using hosted solutions. In fact, according to the 2021 Gartner Market Guide for eDiscovery, “In aggregate, the majority of eDiscovery solution deployments are delivered via hosting by a third party.” However, the same report shows that 43% are still using their tried-and-true on-prem solutions. It’s a battle of ideas: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it vs. if you’re only solving today’s problems, you’re behind.

Remote Access

One of the main reasons organizations cite for continuing with an on-prem deployment is the desire for more control over eDiscovery data. But this requires a full IT team, which manages hardware and software upgrades, and maintenance, while understanding the specific requirements that their legal department or law firm needs from the solution. Add that to being responsible for securing against hacks and data breaches, while maintaining the needed upgrades for handling new data sources, and you’re already looking at a heavy burden.

And with the COVID-19 Pandemic and the move en masse to remote work demanding even more from IT staff, and it’s easy to see why there was a major shift to cloud eDiscovery this past year.

“As organizations adapt to work-from-home practices,” the 2021 Gartner Market Guide for E-Discovery Solutions states, “infrastructure and operations leaders need new capabilities to better manage the eDiscovery of workstream collaboration products and to securely conduct e-discovery remotely.”

The report continues, “Buyers are willing to store sensitive, eDiscovery information off-premises to offload the management of these environments from I&O teams…[and] to support remote eDiscovery as organizations shift resources to work-from-home staffing.”

IT / Security

As I mentioned above, many organizations see keeping their eDiscovery on-prem as a security advantage, which isn’t completely wrong. In an earlier article, I wrote about how the Air Force uses decades-old technology as a cybersecurity advantage (i.e. if it was built pre-internet, it can’t be hacked.)

But the heavy-lift required of the IT department, particularly with law firms, to maintain security for an on-prem deployment is a large one, not to mention managing all software updates, patches, and other upgrades. And with law firms being targeted more and more by hackers, a shared responsibility on security might be welcomed.

There is also an increased desire for, “Reducing reliance on IT and improving self-service capabilities for legal and compliance users by evaluating solutions based on ease of use and simplicity,” according to Gartner, because “centrally stored data is more efficient and effective to collect, process, host, review and produce ESI in a secure cloud environment.”

The report goes on to say, “By creating a cross-functional team of IT and legal staff to ensure that technology selection aligns with infrastructure strategy, while enhancing legal workflow processes and user experience…[legal teams can] eliminate gaps and overlaps between e-discovery tools associated with multiple buying cycles.”

Cost

A final consideration that arises with the on-prem vs. cloud eDiscovery debate is cost. On-prem has a large up-front cost and a lengthy implementation and training cycle, but once you’re done, you’re done--at least until you want to update. This may be another reason why a large number of organizations are still hanging onto their on-prem systems. They’re paid for, people know how to use them, and the idea of switching to a new workflow is more overwhelming than just staying the course.

But as the 2021 Gartner report points out, more users continue to expect a “clear, predictable and transparent pricing structure,” giving rise to “less-complex subscription pricing models [which] are trending to provide more-predictable, transparent structures to mitigate unexpected costs.”

“Subscription-based licensing options have become the most common,” the report states, although they cite the many variations that may be applied to that pricing: “TB processed; TB stored; or the number of matters, users or custodians (or a combination of these factors).”

Besides reducing the upfront cost of eDiscovery technology by spreading it out over a pay-as-you-go subscription model, cloud-based deployments also provide the latest in Artificial Intelligence and Analytics, which can reduce the amount of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) sent to review and production through Live EDA, Active Learning, and other capabilities. They also are continually updated to provide capability for new data types, particularly for collaboration tools such as Slack and Teams, which have greatly increased since the move to a more remote workplace.

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