It doesn't take a genius to see that Microsoft is making a major shift to the cloud.
This is a move that makes a lot of sense. Cloud software, also called software-as-a-service or SaaS, is how consumers and companies are looking to purchase applications in the future.
There are obvious benefits for application buyers such as not having to make capital investments in data centers and flexible licensing. For software that helps companies to collaborate, cloud applications also have the distinct advantage of being available anywhere workers are without having to find ways to poke holes in the corporate firewall. Ubiquitous access is a facilitator of real collaboration. As such, it’s not surprising that Microsoft is offering SharePoint Online, alongside Exchange Online, Office 365, Yammer and SaaS versions of Dynamics.
The Challenges of e-Discovery in the Cloud
No matter how SharePoint is used, as a workflow engine or more commonly as a document repository, it is a place where organizations keep critical and sensitive information. This is exactly the type of information that becomes the subject of e-discovery in litigation. When faced with litigation, attorneys have to be able to understand what information is stored on all relevant data stores and who owns it. They need to ensure that pertinent data is not destroyed and, if ordered to do so, need to turn over that data to the opposing side or court.
The responsibility to preserve and hand over certain data during a lawsuit doesn't suddenly disappear because the data is kept in an online repository. It is still discoverable data.
This is, of course, not just a problem for SharePoint Online. The problem is even worse for newer online file services such as Box, Google Drive and Dropbox. At least with SharePoint Online, corporate IT knows it’s there.
Luckily for corporate attorneys, SharePoint Online 2013 has support for e-discovery queries and preservation. Unfortunately, only some e-discovery software vendors are providing access to cloud data stores such as SharePoint Online.
e-Discovery Vendors Play Catch Up
There is much more to e-discovery than pulling information out of a data store. E-discovery tools have sophisticated workflow, coding, analysis, organization and production tools that assist the human reviewers in sifting through and producing the data relevant to litigation. These tools have a direct effect on how expensive litigation is for the company. Information sitting in a data store that cannot be easily accessed by e-discovery tools is going to raise the cost of litigation.
This is a hole in the ecosystem that needs to be plugged quickly. Otherwise, cloud data stores will become home to data that is, in effect, invisible to the e-discovery process. Data such as this may contain a smoking gun that catches an attorney offguard. It might also be information that the company should have produced for the court but didn't, leading to sanctions.
The good news is that e-discovery software vendors are starting to add support for cloud data store services including SharePoint Online. For example, Acaveo just announced support for Box and already had support for SharePoint Online in their information management tools for e-discovery and defensible disposition. This is a good first step.
Until this functionality is ubiquitous, companies need to think twice whether their e-discovery vendor supports cloud data stores such as SharePoint Online or Box. Or maybe they should rethink migrating to these services until their e-discovery vendors catches up. Either way, it’s dangerous to ignore the e-discovery relationship to cloud data stores.
Title image courtesy of Peshkova (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more of Tom's thoughts in Microsoft SharePoint Powers Social Applications