Your New Year’s Resolution: Out with the Old (Data), In with the New

January 14, 2013 Sheila Mackay

With lower data storage costs and advanced technology that can rapidly sort through data, many organizations have become data hoarders. This is often the path of least resistance given the immense challenges associated with “cleaning house.”

However, ignorance of the duty to manage information responsibly is no longer an option in the era of Big Data. Skyrocketing e-discovery costs often stem from an organization’s inability—or sometimes refusal—to dispose of information when it is no longer needed. Organizations must strike a balance between keeping everything indefinitely and disposing of it too early. Clients often ask us how they can achieve this balance? Our response: establish a sound information governance system that can help manage data overload, leading to savings downstream when data is collected for e-discovery review purposes.

The start of a new year is the perfect time to audit data policies and fill in any gaps. Here are some proactive steps organizations can take to control their data:

  • Know your data. Knowing your data—including its volume, sources, locations, and format—is critical in the event of litigation. At a minimum, organizations should determine the most efficient and effective way of getting to know, or map, where each business unit’s data is located.
  • Establish a document retention policy. Review the various categories of data and documents that your organization produces and then assign a timeline for their destruction. In establishing policies, invite representatives from legal, IT, and other business units. Those that create and use the data can best assess its value to the business. Likewise, legal counsel must determine the required retention period for compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Finally, IT should be used to ensure that proper and systematic destruction processes are followed, documented and audited.
  • Monitor retention practices. Even with a clear policy, many custodians will store information indefinitely. Train employees to let go of the “keep everything” mind-set and audit users periodically to confirm their compliance with the terms of your organization’s policy.
  • Don’t forget mobile and other unstructured data. Many employees use mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to store work-related data; this information must be covered too in any data governance policies. These policies must also account for any data from cloud-based systems and social media sites.

Following these steps can result in significant benefits when collecting data for e-discovery.

  • Faster conclusions. By limiting the amount of data they store, organizations can target responsive information more rapidly. This is critically important when facing a meet-and-confer deadline or short turnaround in response to an internal investigation or a regulatory agency’s document requests. It can also ease the burden of conducting early case assessment.
  • Improved defensibility. The systematic purging of data under a retention schedule will improve its defensibility, lowering the risk of spoliation sanctions and penalties for destroying evidence.
  • Lower cost. Taking a proactive approach to data can decrease the collection burden by reducing the number of documents stored, which, in turn, will lower the downstream costs of collection, review, and production.

By retaining data only for the time required by business, regulatory and legal obligations, companies can dispose of data defensibly, minimize their data preservation burden, and control the rising costs of discovery. Why not start now?

Sheila Mackay is Senior Director E-Discovery Consulting at Conduent. She can be reached at

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