microsoft_lowgow.jpgWhat's the worst that could happen when your records go unmanaged? Ask Microsoft, which spends an average of US$ 20 million for e-discovery per litigation, according to one company exec.E-discovery made headlines last year when the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to require that certain e-discovery issues must be brought up and agreed-upon at the beginning of legal proceedings. Issues include the format of documents, how they're preserved and who receives access to them. Microsoft records management analysis manager Rachaele Heade describes e-discovery and records management as two sides of the same coin. "When someone says they can't find the return on investment (on a records management process), I so disagree," she said at the CA World 2007 panel discussion in Las Vegas. She adds that the success of a company's e-discovery strategy relies on the strength of its records management function. While this news may register as unsurprising, it does not come unaccompanied with a certain degree of pain. A recent AIIM survey shows businesses are still not savvy to records management. Recently, Gerry McGovern noted even critical data properly filed may reflect shoddy quality because enterprises lack experience managing content. James Daley, litigation attorney and founding member of Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Redgrave, Daley, Ragan & Wagner LLP, agrees with Heade's two-sides characterization. Organizations should think proactively about records management if they want to pave the way for stress-free e-discovery down the road, he notes. "You've got to treat the disease, not the symptom. E-discovery risk and sanctions are a symptom of unmanaged electronic information, particularly e-mail and office content," Daley adds. Responding to what has become an expensive backlog of cases that need attention, Microsoft integrated records management into the annual job review of its executive VP's, tying it intimately to their bonuses. Daley agrees with this effort. Large companies ought to create a position or a multi-disciplined team that can allocate attention specifically to records management. That way they can create a process that is systematic, uniform and repeatable, he explained. At present Microsoft's staff can measure the degree of their compliance with self-assessment tools designed for different tiers within the organization. Heade notes that successful implementation of a solution also involves a certain manner of training, with face-to-face training preferred over online styles. Disposition is also critical to whether the tools provided to staff will even be used. "If the user-interface doesn't appeal to them, or if they don't understand it, they will either not use it, or second guess themselves," says Heade. Tim Carroll, a litigation attorney and shareholder at Vedder Price, Chicago, says staff compliance isn't the only thing that matters. Successful records management campaigns "[need] leadership and [need] to come top-down" to adequately convey how important it is to remain compliant. Retention schedules often have too little or too much direction, which can throw employees off or just discourage them. Daley notes that proper e-discovery compliance and records management will become a yardstick that will ultimately make or break an enterprise's public persona. "Companies will be measured in this space, just as [it is] in the business space," he says somberly. Learn more about e-discovery from a legal perspective with JOLT's online e-discovery publication. Or catch up on other goings-on at the Microsoft website.