Why we hate lawyers in IT: Reason No. 1,997

As if IT weren't hard enough, now you can't boot your laptop without a lawyer getting in the middle

There was a trade show a few weeks ago in New York -- LegalTech. There were 10,000 people there, mostly lawyers -- tech heads on the sides, lawyers in the isles. The big focus was e-discovery and accelerated electronic evidence production, which represents a small amount of "law" but a big amount of money. Now that the laws say "keep," the scramble is on to "find" and "use."

You can't find what you can't see. If you don't know what to look for or where it is, it's difficult to find. Most legal discovery requests are not completely satisfied. It's systemic in the way we do things. That has to change.

This is why the whole classification/categorization of data has become a hot area. We spent 40 years worrying about how to store stuff but didn't think about how to find things until three years ago. There are numerous approaches to the problem, but they seem to be lumped into these basic categories.

1. Let someone else deal with it. Iron Mountain has all the tapes anyhow, so they have been providing enormously profitable services to companies that need stuff by taking all the tapes and turning them back into "data" and giving the data back to the company, or more likely to another service provider who can sort through the data to find the relevant stuff. The Mountain has recently flexed some muscle by partnering with Stratify and OnSite3 to provide a total solution. Specialized companies are providing integrated services like Zantaz, which does e-mail archiving and e-discovery/litigation support for those e-mails. Outsourcing this stuff is hugely expensive, but most companies don't have the ability to do it internally even if they wanted to.

2. Firms such as Mimosa Systems, Symantec and Xiotech are trying to bring technologies inside, where the data is created, to categorize and classify things up front so that no matter where you put them, you can find them. Scentric wants to classify it at creation and apply policy to the data itself and enforce those policies, trying to keep you from causing yourself problems later on. (I'm not sure the lawyers like the idea of people become forward thinkers, though. They may try to legislate against such things.)

3. I like the idea of index engines, which perform the indexing of stuff in the backup stream. The theory behind them is that you're going to move the data through the backup process anyway, so why not perform the function there instead or duplicate the activity or crawl around looking for things? Everything goes through the backup stream, plus even if the backup tapes are at Iron Mountain, by doing the indexing during the backup process, your company knows exactly what tapes it needs back. That alone will save a ton of time and money compared with how it's typically done. It's always better to extend a process that exists vs. create a new one.

4. Internal search technologies, such as Fast Search & Transfer ASA's products, are enabling companies to find things they didn't know they had. There have been huge advancements in this area in a very short time. Google has worked with Kazeon Systems to build an appliance to try to penetrate this market -- to index it and then search it. With years and years of data, being able to sort through everything you have ever created was an impossible task not long ago.

This is just a small sample of what's now available or coming soon. Millions of dollars have been invested over the past few years because lawyers have decided to encroach on our little tech world. In the '90s, the CIO moved from being a techie to being a finance guy. Tomorrow, he might be a finance guy with a law degree. So we'll have geeks managed by folks who first care about reducing cost and then applying stricter and stricter requirements -- and, oh yeah, in case you do something wrong, you will be held responsible. No wonder no one wants to be in IT anymore, since it has none of the money and all the responsibility. And you thought it was hard to meet girls now. ...

Steve Duplessie founded Enterprise Strategy Group in 1999 and has become one of the most recognized voices in the IT world. He is a regularly featured speaker at shows such as Storage Networking World, where he takes on what's good, bad -- and more importantly -- what's next. For more of Steve's insights, read his blogs.

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