Whether it be new technologies like cloud computing, new accounting standards like IFRS, or regulation like Sarbanes-Oxley, all these changes arrive at the CIO’s office door to drive major decisions, as their effects on processes and systems have to be taken into account.

In many organisations, new ideas around transparency, such as the effects of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act (2000), translate into a new approach to information architectures.

But the ability of the IT system to handle FOI requests, given their pan-organisational possibilities, is a tame challenge by comparison with e-discovery.

About five years ago it became clear that the electronic age was challenging basic legal principles. The default interpretation was to look for a few emails and little else, and often it would take years to get the information to court. As one analyst put it, the defence was ‘the computer ate my homework’. In this environment, the scoundrel just had to use IM rather than email and the system was evaded and undermined.


Federal rules
This led the Americans to come up with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), a piece of legislation that made it clear that electronic information such as emails, IMs and voicemails could reasonably be anticipated to be the subject of discovery.

In the event of notification of an action, companies have to investigate all their electronically stored information (ESI) and instead of a year, they have to put their house in order in 99 days.

ESI can often run into terabytes and comes in over 300 or 400 formats including text, audio and even video. The process of finding this information is called e-discovery and used to be a post-event, often outsourced process. With the change in the rules, the amount of information growing exponentially, and timescales shrinking, e-discovery is now becoming an architectural issue. Crucially, a firm’s e-discovery systems have to be ready to go before the issue arises, not after.