Online File Storage and the Growing Need for e-Discovery

Did you ever ask yourself, ‘Now, where did I save that message or that file?’ With all the data stashed away on PCs and in the cloud, trying to find a specific item can be a challenge. Think how much more serious a problem it is, when your business depends on you being able to find data – for example,  in order to respond to a legal injunction or court order. With so much business now being done electronically and online, legal systems have started to go digital too. The leader so far has been the United States. More recently other countries such as the UK and Australia have created legislation to oblige legal proceedings over a certain size to be conducted with digital instead of paper-based information.

Information Records Obligations

It’s tempting to just upload files to an online file storage system and forget about them. After all, reliable cloud storage is getting cheaper every year and if you really need those files again, you can surely get them back somehow. However, rules and regulations in different countries mean that organizations must pay more attention to the way they archive their electronic information. There are often fixed minimum time spans during which companies must be able to produce both digital records and e-correspondence. That means not only well-organized storage procedures, but also techniques for locating the bits you need, when you need them.

E-Discovery – “Oh, there it is”

E-discovery is the term for these search and retrieval techniques for information that may be almost anywhere in your company – on individual PCs, on servers, or (more and more) in the cloud. While the legal requirements indicated above are one reason for smarter information retrieval, any organization dealing with a significant number of records may find e-discovery techniques useful. This is because of the metadata that can be stored with digital files and documents. Metadata is ‘information about the information’ – for example, the date when a document was creating or when an engineering drawing was produced, or tags that help to relate it to specific categories. Having easy access to this kind of information may be important in helping a customer on a project, or in determining copyright or patent claims.

The Process

If you find your online file storage growing by leaps and bounds, it may be time to get organized. There are four stages to setting up for e-discovery. They are data harvesting, processing, filtering and formatting. The harvesting is done by locating and copying the data from your different storage locations (cloud, network drives, local disk drives) in a way that keeps all the data intact, including the metadata. Some of this data will come from operating systems or cloud platforms themselves. The purpose of the processing phase is then to get the data created by users rather than the system-generated data. Filtering is the part that is concerned with developing keywords, parameters and even predictive specifications for data to facilitate future searches. Formatting as the final phase means putting the documents into a format so that they can be loaded into a given database for examination for any of the reasons above.

Will You Need E-discovery?

If you operate in a sector with strict data retention rules or you are affected by laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley or its equivalents outside the US, then finding out more about e-discovery may be a wise precaution. If your information storage is becoming increasingly mixed (local an online file storage), good e-discovery may simply save you time and energy. And because it also obliges you to think about which data have to be retained till when, and how best to organize your data storage and archiving, it can help you make better use of all your information and IT resources.