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How Much E-Discovery Can You Do with Microsoft Office 365?

Created on May 3, 2019

Legal GRC Market Analyst at Exterro

If you’re working in e-discovery today, then it’s highly likely you’re dealing with Microsoft Office 365® data. Microsoft Office 365 is the most popular enterprise cloud service in the market today, with over 90% of enterprises having at least 100 users. And the data stored there is important and relevant to litigation, as well, with a recent McAfee report estimating that over 58% of sensitive information stored in the cloud is in Office documents.'

It's not like Microsoft is doing nothing about this. It's clearly investing in improving the e-discovery capabilities in its E3 and E5 enterprise offerings. For some organizations, they may be enough--if your data is stored almost exclusively in a Microsoft environment. But if you're operating in an enterprise, there are several considerations you have to weigh before you can answer the question for yourself.

Evaluate existing policies and procedures for document preservation.

As technology evolves, so too do the expectations of the courts. With in-place preservation tools in the hands of many enterprises (through O365's features), most organizations have the ability to preserve data at all stages of the information governance life cycle. If you operate in a highly litigious field, you need to be prepared to preserve data proactively. 

Understand the e-discovery implications of your preservation strategy.

Office 365 gives you the option of preserving search results or preserving all custodian data. While the industry standard is “over-preserve but under-collect,” there are certain situations where choosing a different strategy may make more sense.  The key to defensibility is having a consistent strategy. If you have and follow a consistent, documented process, the courts will be more inclined to see your efforts as good faith attempts to preserve relevant data.

Account for data in non-Office 365 sources.

This is a huge consideration. Make sure your processes and technology account for the 42% of business-critical data in the cloud that’s not in Microsoft Office documents—as well as workstations, servers, and mobile devices, for starters. All those sources hold potentially responsive data, as well, and your e-discovery processes must account for them. Unfortunately, if you're storing relevant data in these places, Microsoft Office 365 is not going to help you find or preserve them.

Make an informed decision about Office 365's advanced e-discovery features.

Microsoft’s E3 offering gives you the ability to preserve Office documents and  emails in place. More advanced e-discovery features, like identifying near-duplicate content, consolidating email threads, predictive coding, and more are available in E5 or as an add-on to an E3 license.

However, these features are not a substitute for dedicated e-discovery technology. They don't create, issue, and manage legal holds; analyze documents prior to collection; and manage e-discovery workflows across team members and departments. Dedicated e-discovery platforms can do these things. If you’re using dedicated software, then the advanced features in Office 365 E5 may be redundant.

Will you need multiple e-discovery processes?

Given that you're likely to have data in both Office 365 and non-Office 365 sources, you'll need to have separate processes to identify and preserve that ESI. If you have infrequent legal matters or investigations, or the number and type of data sources are limited, this might be sustainable. But if you have many data sources, or large numbers of custodians, or many concurrent matters... You get the picture. It can quickly become overwhelming. 

 As always, the keys to successful e-discovery are having defensible, repeatable processes and understanding your data sources, whether or not they include Microsoft Office 365. One way to make an informed decision on the best way for you to meet your e-discovery obligations is to download and complete Exterro's new Office 365 E-Discovery Needs Assessment today.