Microsoft’s messaging on e-discovery hasn't changed much since it first launched the service two years ago, but some recent notable changes give it a better position for luring in new customers. If you've never seen the e-discovery platform on the Microsoft stack, start with my first article on the topic as a primer -- it provides the necessary background for understanding what's happened in the last two years. During a session at SharePoint Conference 2014, Quentin Christensen, program manager at Microsoft, provided details on the overall e-discovery story in Office and Office 365.
The e-discovery core features still focus on In-place hold, query and review and export. In this light, nothing has changed to the overall offering. However, Microsoft has added more features to enhance those initially available. Although Christensen offered no specifics during the session, the general sense at this year's conference was that all new functionality will first be available in Office 365, so any new features for e-discovery won’t be readily available for on premises.
Unified View in the Compliance Center
One of the new features demoed in the session was the Compliance Center. The Compliance Center is an administrative dashboard for compliance professionals to manage and access Data Loss Prevention, Archiving, Auditing, e-discovery and Encryption -- areas related to Microsoft’s overall compliance offering for SharePoint, Exchange and Office. In regards to e-discovery, you can now manage legal holds from the Compliance Center. If you’re on Office 365, you’ll need an E3 or E4 license to access it or Enterprise for on premises deployments. If you want legal hold to work properly with Exchange mailboxes, users will need the premium licenses. Although not specific to e-discovery, the unified view for compliance is a nice feature to have.
Yammer and e-Discovery
Microsoft purchased Yammer after my last e-discovery update. This raises questions of whether Yammer social interactions will be available for e-discovery searches just as Lync conversations are. The answer is unfortunately “no” -- at least at this point. Yammer has its own e-discovery capabilities, but there are no current plans to bake these into the SharePoint Compliance Center or as a source to run e-discovery searches in a case site. Christensen indicated that Microsoft and the Yammer team are working on how they might solve this in the future. But for the time being you won’t be able to federate a search to Yammer through an e-discovery Case Site.
Moving Forward with e-Discovery
When the e-discovery features were first released, the general reaction from the market was positive. However, it wasn’t entirely understood how far Microsoft felt you should use their e-discovery tools on a real case. The market is saturated with advanced e-discovery tools that go far beyond what Microsoft can do when it comes to review. But Christensen made it very clear during this session the intended application to the e-discovery process.
Microsoft’s vision is that with content already stored in SharePoint, Exchange, Lync and file shares, it should at the very least offer a method for initial discovery during early case assessment (ECA) and an eventual output for production. Since the export process uses the EDRM standard, it can be imported into other e-discovery tools for further processing, culling and review. So it appears that Microsoft is not interested in cornering a piece of the e-discovery market. Use e-discovery case sites during ECA and for eventually exporting content for further review into other tools. If no further review is needed, use the EDRM-compliant export for production. Message read loud and clear, Microsoft!
For organizations who want to start streamlining some of their e-discovery processes, Microsoft made a strong case to go forward with its e-discovery platform. There really isn’t any other tool available that can quickly federate complex searches across multiple Microsoft platforms -- that typically requires expensive third party tools or integration. Being able to perform in-place holds in the same process is also unique. Furthermore, Microsoft announced at the conference that SharePoint site collections will have a maximum limit of 1TB of content with unlimited sized tenancy. This means you can liberally mass import PSTs, file shares or other external content sources into SharePoint and Exchange Online to further simplify content search. The value is there if you’re looking for it.
Editor's Note: Read more coverage of SharePoint Conference 2014