Data discovers new frontiers

from IDM July-August 2009

Information flow is changing: collaboration is no longer just with your close colleagues, it can with great ease include an extended global network and even a space shuttle, as ediscovery expert Michelle Mahoney discovered.

Back in May, I was reading tweets on Twitter when I came across Astro_Mike. Astro_Mike aka Mike Massimino of Houston Texas, a NASA astronaut and mission specialist for STS-125. Astro_Mike was one of the team of astronauts selected for Servicing Mission 4, the final astronaut mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 15 day mission my sons and I with close to 690,000 others, followed with interest his live tweets. My young sons accepted the fact that we are able to see communications in realtime, from someone who is not on our planet.

Astro_Mike’s 200 updates or content was being read, circulated and annotated in realtime from beyond our atmosphere. Collaboration has also changed with the worldwide popularity of SMS texting. Texting has provided a platform for a participatory culture and can also bring people together and create a sense of community. Our overwhelming desire to create, connect and share information (or what may appear to some as random character strings), drove the need to use a shorthand language.Initially the devices came with short message lengths, small screens and small phone keypads. These factors encouraged the adaptation of spelling. Some of the shorthand originated in the bulletin board systems and Internet chat rooms.

For those of us who are not familiar with the shorthand phrases, help is at hand from Websites like and that are able to translate English into the most popular or recognised shorthand phrases. The utility of these sites can only grow as texting continues its transition into mainstream business communications. Business generally is experiencing an ongoing specialisation of roles, and these specialists are creating industry specific niche terms. These lexical niches compromise search retrieval accuracy, for those of us not in the know. Unlike the Online SMS dictionaries, I am unaware of any sites or services which track industry-specific lexicons.

One of the key electronic discovery techniques used today to reduce volume and identify potentially relevant items, is keyword searching. The ability to search using traditional words and phrases will be rendered largely ineffective with lexical niches and text messaging.

Business policies, availability of disk storage and ease of creation, all aid in the growth of information and information continues to be duplicated within business. Information is shared through email by CC functionality, replicated in function-specific databases and by use of informal collaboration products. Information creators are increasingly reluctant to purge information, which exacerbates the storage challenge.

Ediscovery requires the ability to successfully search over large heterogeneous databases or servers of data. Corporate technology groups need to be able to respond quickly, with minimal business interruption to the needs of regulatory requests and meeting discovery obligations.

Twitter is increasingly being used by politicians, economists, lawyers and mainstream business professionals to broadcast their initiatives, discuss trends and to gauge public opinion.

Applications like Twitter, FaceBook, Google docs and the growing SaaS offerings all bring the benefits of Web 2.0, with the complications of data ownership and third party collection. Business information is leeching from organisations, increasingly moving off corporate servers onto third party managed servers. This transition is being further complicated by the co-mingling of personal and business information.

Integrating Web 2.0 sites into our current business models inherently risks making an information gap appear. In this age of realtime communication through external Web sites, there is an increasing level of information transfer that is not recorded within organisations. Many web applications allow users to assume multiple and preferred identities. If you do not record any tweets in Twitter, there will not be a record kept of viewing content at a particular point in time. This is further encouraged by a user being able to follow and 'unfollow' information streams or people at will. As cartels get driven further underground, sites like Twitter maybe appealing for covert information sharing.

Most technology groups are designed to meet the organisations day to day information management needs. These needs should not be understated, they are complex and time consuming.

Many are being asked to add to their decreasing technology budgets the ability to quickly and seamlessly collect broad spectrum information for their legal departments with characteristically short deadlines. Meeting this legal challenge can result in interruption to the business and real costs to the organisation.

With the increased complexities raised earlier in this article, the need for the legal and technology departments to work together has never been greater.

Like any living, evolving organism, an organisation has many interrelated parts. Overall survival is dependent on each part doing what is needed. Legal compliance and data management are an example of organisational parts, which have interlocking consequence and dependability.

Every day new technology products are developed. Technology and business groups continue to research, assess and acquire technology products which support their changing operational needs.

Before installation, it is increasingly important to have legal department involvement to consider both the commercial and future data management needs. Routinely organisations seek commercial advice on the software licensing agreements from their legal departments. In addition general counsel need a briefing on the data mapping implications.

The purpose of this briefing is to explore the potential information or future data implications for the organisation. The discussion should include the ability and ease in which to extract a selected stream of information from the new data store. If the product utilises third party managed servers, clauses should be included to ensure timely collection of data, by an agreed professional.

Courts are actively encouraging external counsel and their clients to engage in meaningful dialogue about data sources early in litigation preparation. The information gained on data sources is then used to brief the judge and opposing counsel at meet and confer conferences.

The meaningful dialogue will need to cover any technical issues which may hamper collection efforts. Litigation practitioners are not only adapting to changing rules of civil procedure, they are being questioned on the intricacies of both technology and data management.

Content and collaboration is changing with the human drive to connect and share in realtime and the availability of platforms that support these basic desires. There is a move away from standalone content to a stream of information which is largely about living in the moment. Information which on the surface does not look interrelated, could be intrinsically linked by author, topic, access or situation.

How much of this content transitions into core business use remains a topic of divergent views. It does give pause to ponder, will the ambit of what is discoverable, increasingly rely on access to third party servers? What is not debated is the complexities of managing and extracting slivers of data from production-based technology infrastructures. If or when social networking sites become core business tools is somewhat academic.

We are seeing today changes to the immediacy, volume and brevity of content creation and increased sharing. These very real changes will flow into our future electronic discovery collections.

Michelle Mahoney is director of applied legal technology with Mallesons Stephen Jaques based in Melbourne. Michelle is an internationally recognised industry expert with extensive background in designing, implementing and managing technology driven approaches for some of the largest litigious cases and corporate transactions in the region.