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Collaboration Apps Create E-Discovery Challenges

With workforces becoming more mobile and dispersed, businesses have increased their use of team collaboration applications that enable employees to talk, text, video conference and share files with colleagues. Synergy Research Group predicts that spending on these apps will grow to $45 billion this year, with steady growth for the next five years.

Because these apps make it easy to share and discuss documents, videos and other digital resources, they can quickly become repositories for massive amounts of data — much of it sensitive and business-critical. That makes them an increasingly important target during any legal process requiring e-discovery.

Discovery is a part of the pretrial phase of litigation in which parties in a dispute are required to produce and share relevant information, documents and other evidence related to the case. E-discovery, or electronic discovery, refers to the discovery of relevant electronically stored information (ESI).

For years, e-discovery primarily focused on ESI contained in on-premises file systems, email systems and cloud storage. Extending discovery requirements to team collaboration applications creates significant challenges.

Too Much Information

One issue is that most organizations use a variety of these apps. Some surveys find that knowledge workers use six or more different collaboration apps on a daily basis. That means documents, files and conversations related to discovery requests are likely to be scattered and disjointed, making them difficult to collect and preserve. Additionally, apps use different data formats and protocols, making it hard to identify all the different threads related to a single topic.

IT organizations and data governance teams may not even know that some data and conversations exist. Many cloud-based collaboration apps are run through web browsers or mobile devices without any local installation, meaning requested data could be beyond corporate control. That doesn’t relieve the company of its e-discovery obligations, however. Multiple rulings have upheld the idea that data stored on non-corporate devices remains subject to discovery.

The challenges are difficult, but not insurmountable. Preparation is probably the most important first step in addressing e-discovery in collaboration apps. Before you’re faced with an actual e-discovery request, you need to find out exactly which collaboration apps your organization uses. Survey employees to discover which apps they use for business, even if they access them from personal computers or mobile devices. You also need to know if these are installed apps or browser-based versions.

Keep It Simple

One way to simplify the process is to limit the amount of information these apps hold. Collaboration apps have multiple communication channels that generate data, but not all of it has much business value. A number of court cases have upheld an organization’s right to configure apps so that they don’t retain instant messages. As such, organizations may want to work with their legal advisors to establish different retention periods for different data types.

Perhaps the easiest way to address these challenges is by standardizing on a single collaboration platform. That will ensure consistent data formats and eliminate fragmented data sources. It also makes it simpler to collect and preserve all necessary information when required. Some collaboration apps even have built-in tools for managing e-discovery requests.

Collaboration tools are supposed to foster teamwork and improve workflows, but a fragmented environment comprising too many disconnected tools can also create potential legal headaches. IPC Technologies can help you address these issues by implementing e-discovery tools or helping you shift to a single, unified platform.

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