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The eDiscovery Paradigm Shift

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

eDiscovery Single Source Solutions

Over the past twelve (12) months months I have spent what seems like eighteen (18) months meetings with litigators from law firms, General Counsels from the Fortune 5000, owners and operators of litigation services providers, visionaries from the litigation technology vendors and investors that are either in the litigation technology services space or interested in taking a position in the space.

And although the opinions vary widely regarding the most important issues that the industry faces and the direction that the industry will take, the one common theme that has bubbled to the top in every discussion is the debate over "single source" solutions as opposed to "best of breed" solutions.

Having spent twenty five (25) years in the enterprise class software market selling multi-million dollar solutions to the Fortune 5000, this is a very familiar debate and therefore I recognize and understand the issues on both sides of the argument.

The Users Perspective and General Observations
From the users perspective in any market, they want solutions that addresses their requirements for a fair price. At this very high level of requirement, the ultimate solution could be either a "best of breed" solution or a "single source" solution. However, when users start to investigate the details, the differences begin to become very real.

Working with "best of breed" solutions requires users to spend lots of resources building customer solutions that ties them into old technology. In addition, as time goes on and market requirements change, these solutions require expensive maintenance and in some cases don't enable users to keep pace with demand.

Working with any of the newer solutions requires patience and reliance upon either poorly integrated older technologies or unproven leading edge technolgy. So, in both cases their are pros and cons, sacrefices and trade offs that will have to be made.

In the end, users in the eDiscovery market will pay for repeatable and stable results. In some cases this will come from "best of breed" solutions and in some cases this will come from "single source" solutions. It just depends upon what the user is willing to sacrifice for the required outcome.

The Vendors Perspective and General Observations
Vendors in this debate usually fall into one of two categories. Those vendors that can provide single source solution and those that cannot.

The vendors that can provide or are attempting to provide a "single source" solution will be tauting the financial and operating benefits of only having to deal with one vendor from both a procurement and service standpoint. Historically, the first vendors to offer the "single source" solution in any market, started with a strong technical foundation in that market with a leading product and then acquire and integrate the peripheral technologies or solutions required to complete a "single source" solution.

The benefits of this initial entrants into the "single source" fray is that they do have a solution (no matter how clumsy), they will normally have the financial resources to make it work (i.e. lots of engineers and field service personnel) and they usually have referenceable clients.

The shortcomings with these initial "single source" solutions are that they are usually built on older technology (i.e. client/server or worse), the integrations are not particularly well done, the are usually not easy to use and they are expensive to maintain (i.e. and therefore expensive for the users). Common traits will be the requirement to store data in multiple disparate databases, the requirement for lots of manual operations and user interfaces that are trying to appear to be something that they are not (i.e. Citrix based emulations vs. true SaaS based HTML GUIs).

Examples of this group in eDiscovery would be vendors such as FTI and Autonomy that are currently trying to assemble a "single source" solution through MA activities.

Shortly after the emergence of this first vendor group, true "single source" solutions will begin to appear that were designed and built specifically to provide a truly seamless single source solutions. These vendors are normally start ups relying on very leading edge technology (e.g. SaaS), possibly venture backed (i.e. not as many in today's economy), have immature sales organizations and very few if any real referenceable clients. They are the prototypical study in Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm.

The benefits of this second group is that they usually have very elegant solutions, they are normally much less expensive then the first vendor group, they are willing to provide lots of perks for using their technology and users will usually be dealing with the founders and developers of the technology.

The shortcomings of this second group is that they are offering new and unproven technology, they may not have the capital to sustain themselves (i.e. unless they have venture funding), they may in fact not have the best solution in every category and the technology may go through some growing pains as it matures under the rigors of the real world.

An example of this type of vendor in the eDiscovery market would be CaseCentral.

The vendors that cannot provide a single source solution are easy to spot as they will use terms such as "pure play" and "best of breed" and discuss the ramifications of not having the very best solution in any of the required sub components. These vendors are normally very large and established and are usually very good at one specific component of the entire requirement. This vendor group will normally also have a very large, active and expensive custom integration consulting team that will be able to integrate their technology with just about anything that you are willing to pay for.

The benefits of working with these vendors is that users will in fact get the best, most widely tested solution for whatever component that vendor provides. And, for the larger Fortune 100 clients, they may in fact be able to assist in assembling a true "best of breed" custom system.

Other Opinions
As evidence that this issue is becoming "ripe", we are starting to see a variety of opinions appear. A good example is a recent post by Barry Murphy on his "Blogging at the intersection of archiving and eDiscovery" Blog titled, "Best-of-Breed or All-in-One Solution for eDiscovery? ". Barry isn't completely sold on the concept of "single source" solutions. However, he seems to be warming up to the idea.

In summary, I have purposely not come to any conclusion regarding this debate in eDiscovery because I want to continue to study the market. However, in case it wasn't obvious, based upon my experiences in the enterprise class software markets, I am a big proponent of "single source" solutions. I understand the inherent limitations and risks for users but also understand the tremendous rewards.

So, send me you comments and opinions and stay tuned for my next update on this topic.

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