Data Mapping Back in the E-Discovery Spotlight

Created on October 1, 2012

The concept of data mapping was all the rage in e-discovery four or five years ago. However, recent years have seen it relegated to the proverbial sidelines in favor of newer buzz terms like early case assessment (ECA) and predictive coding.

Evidence of the often-cyclical nature of e-discovery trends, experts are once again beginning to regard data mapping as a focal point of a proactive e-discovery strategy. As the E-Discovery Beat noted last December, data mapping crept into the discourse at Georgetown Law's Advanced eDiscovery Institute, where a panel of judges addressed how e-discovery cooperation can be advanced when each party understands their respective data infrastructures early in the litigation process.

Before diving into specifics, it's important that we define a data map, since the term can mean different things to different people. In the e-discovery context, a data map is an organized list of the many places where an organization stores its data. A good data map provides much more than just the location of the data. It includes any number of attributes about each specific data source, such as risk level and retention schedule.

In a recap of one of the sessions at the recent ARMA International conference, Sean Doherty of Law Technology News observed that the value of data mapping extends to different areas of an organization, including legal, IT and records management. “The technology helps organizations understand data relationships that provide contextual depth and understanding to content," he wrote. Echoing the judge's panel at Georgetown, Doherty concluded, “A data map is nice to see before a meet and confer."

Even Gartner has hopped back on the data mapping bandwagon. After referring to it as a non-essential in the 2011 Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software, the analyst firm actually lauded vendors who offered data mapping functionality in its 2012 report.

Why the reemergence? One obvious reason is the explosive growth and increasing complexity of electronically stored information (ESI). The average e-discovery project today involves far more ESI than the average project 10 years ago. Plus, ESI is everywhere now. Today's e-discovery requests often involve cloud-based email systems, social media sites and mobile smart phones. Data mapping gives organizations a sense of structure over an increasingly chaotic data universe. Moreover, legal teams are coming to recognize the futility of conducting e-discovery in the “dark" without knowing where key data resides within the organization.

Another factor is the growing interconnectedness of e-discovery and information governance. ESI can certainly be an asset to an organization, but, as a number of e-discovery sanction cases have shown, it can also be a curse if not properly managed. The inherent complexities and risks of e-discovery have compelled many organizations to reassess how business-critical information is managed. A data map can help identify those high risk data sources and put organizations on the right path toward an effective data management strategy.

A final consideration is the availability of user-friendly data mapping technology. Many companies interested in pursuing a data map end up balking at the sheer number of resources and man-hours it takes to sit down and map out the organization's data infrastructure. You can't really blame the average IT or records professional, faced with a mountain of spreadsheets and arcane technical documents, for gladly abandoning a data mapping plan long before completion. Of course, the task can always be outsourced. But it's hard to get budget approval for something that isn't considered an absolute necessity.

While there will always be a lot of time required to construct an effective data map, newer technology can greatly improve how that work is organized, managed and presented. The construction of a data map is best supported by a comprehensive workflow that helps to guide the project from beginning to end. Gathering all the information that goes into a data map can be an exhaustive and meticulous process. For this reason, it is best to utilize an application that automates as many of the steps as possible.

One of the challenges in constructing a data map is that it must be accessible to a multitude of stakeholders, such as legal, IT and records management. For example, IT and records management are primarily going to be interested in where to find the data and how to efficiently access it, whereas legal may be more interested in the granular details, including who created the data and when. Effective data mapping tools can help relay all this information in intuitive and dynamic ways, delivering the right information to the right people.

A data map is only as useful as it is current and things can change very swiftly within large organizations. Advanced data mapping technologies have the ability to integrate with other enterprise investments, such as HR and asset management systems, ensuring that the map is kept up to date and potential changes to the company's data infrastructure are immediately flagged and addressed.

Learn more about Exterro Fusion's unique data mapping capabilities here.