Evolving Enterprise Standards for Early Case Assessment Software

As a follow-up to my Article titled, “2012 Early Case Assessment Buyer’s Guide” in which I announced and discussed the results of eDSG’s and DCIG’s analysis and ranking of the top 30 Early Case Assessment (ECA) vendors and their technologies, this article provides more insight into what I believe are the criteria for defining a leading ECA platform in today’s evolving eDiscovery tools market.

Considering the speed at which technology introduction, vendor consolidation and user assimilation is moving within the eDiscovery market, the term “Early Case Assessment” has become a nebulous term. Expansion of features to almost every software component throughout the entire eDiscovery life cycle has further served to blur the lines of what constitutes “Early Case Assessment.”

Historically, the task of eDiscovery was accomplished by litigation service providers and law firms through a combination of manual data collection, computer forensics and a variety of different best-in-class software programs at different phases of the eDiscovery life cycle. As an example, most litigation service providers and law firms utilized legacy Electronic Data Discovery (EDD) software to process and normalize ESI so that it could be loaded onto document review software.

The problem with this approach was that users did not really know what ESI was relevant until after the data was collected, processed and reviewed. Service providers simply processed all ESI based on simple criteria such as custodi­ans and date ranges. Processing ESI based on two criteria lacked analytics required to identify relevant content.

It was this lack of analytics before document review that drove the demand for ECA software to perform additional culling, rudimentary search and analytics after EDD processing and before document review. Over time, ECA software added the functionality of EDD processing and simple document review. Now ECA software occupies a much larger footprint within the entire eDiscovery life cycle.

Currently responsibility for eDiscovery is naturally migrating to the enterprise due to ESI volume and complexity. Complexity and volume drive sophisticated enterprise IT users in to the buying process. They are requiring ECA software vendors to include tighter integration with enterprise systems. Buyers require a single-holistic-platform addressing information governance, improved search and support for a larger percentage of the eDiscovery life cycle.

I am not indicating that litigation service providers and law firms are no longer buying ECA software. In fact, research conducted by eDiscovery Solutions Group (eDSG) indicates some vendors consider the litigation service providers and law firms to be their target customer. What I am indicating is ECA software requirements are evolving. Sophisticated enterprise IT buyers are driving ECA soft­ware requirements along with litigation service providers. Following are my thoughts and comments regarding some of these evolving requirements:

Data Mapping

With the increased volume and complexities of ESI combined with the distributed IT infrastructure of most enterprises, Data Mapping has quickly become an ECA software requirement for enterprise buyers. In pursuit of fulfilling the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), data preservation and Legal Hold Management, eDSG research indicates that buyers are looking for ECA software that can easily integrate with enterprise HR and Asset Management systems to create and manage independent evergreen maps of enterprise IT assets and employee data sets.

Analysis of Enterprise ESI before Collections

eDSG research indicates that ECA buyers are now requir­ing ECA software to analyze ESI before it is collected and provide information about the volume and potential cost of proceeding through the eDiscovery life cycle. It is important to note that it was not that many years ago that this type of analysis was not available until the document review phase.

Integration with Enterprise Archiving Systems

Many enterprises today have installed and are utilizing one of the well known ESI archiving systems such as Commvault Simpana, EMC SourceOne, HP Integrated Archive Platform, IBM Common Store or Symantec Enterprise Vault. With the mission to integrate enterprise systems, eDSG research indicates that ECA buyers are now requiring ECA software to integrate and exchange ESI with these archiving systems.

Ability to Process Social Media ESI

Corporate users are now increasingly relying upon social media ESI from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and various other social media platforms. As a result, social media ESI is now potentially relevant evidence is almost any matter both civil and criminal and therefore must be considered as part of the eDiscovery ECA process. With this requirement in mind, eDSG research indicates that ECA buyers are now requiring ECA software to support the identification, collection and processing of social media ESI.

Legal Hold

Legal Hold has historically been managed by the enterprise legal department through email and Excel spreadsheets. Over the past 5 years there have been several stand-alone Legal Hold software solutions available. However, driven by the increase in volume and complexity of ESI, enterprise buyers are now requiring ECA software to provide integrated native support for ESI preservation and Legal Hold.

Workflow Management

ECA is basically a business process and benefits from operational and productivity increases afforded by work­flow management. Workflow management like software is not a stranger to the eDiscovery process as some basic workflow is now incumbent in many of the document review software platforms. As an example, many document review software platforms have workflow management that queue documents, automatically assigns them to specific reviewers based upon defined criteria and then tracks the productivity of those reviewers.

Because enterprise IT management understands and has reaped the benefits of workflow management, they expect the same workflow management for ECA software.

Project Management

ECA is essentially a business process that would benefit from the operational and productivity increases afforded by project management. As an example, ECA software users could benefit from integrated calendars that listed milestones for the ECA project along with task assign­ments, collaboration tools, and Gantt charts to project relationships between tasks, project completion dates and resource allocation. However, with the exception of some rudimentary project sizing and cost projections, the ECA market has been a stranger to the benefits of ECA software with project management.

Enterprise. Because ECA is migrat­ing to the enterprise and IT management understand and has experience with mature project management systems, IT managers expect ECA software to include project management.

Next Generation Search

Searching ESI to identify potentially relevant ESI has always been at the forefront of what the market expected ECA soft­ware to accomplish. Historically, standard Boolean keyword search technology has dominated the ECA software market.

Concept search techniques were developed because of limitations imposed by classical Boolean keyword search technologies when dealing with large, unstructured collections of text as commonly found in ESI during ECA. Keyword searches often return results that include many non-relevant items (false positives) or that exclude too many relevant items (false negatives) because of the effects of synonymy and polysemy. Synonymy means that one of two or more words have the same meaning, and polysemy means that many individual words have more than one meaning.

Polysemy is a major obstacle to effective identification of relevant keywords and associated documents for ECA software. For example, ECA software utilizing keyword search that was looking for documents with the word fire in the context of terminating employment, would also find documents about burning “fires” and documents about launching or “firing” a rocket.

In addition to the problems of polysemous and synonymy, keyword searches can exclude inadvertently misspelled words as well as the variations on the stems (or roots) of words (for example, strike vs. striking). Keyword searches are also susceptible to errors introduced by optical char­acter recognition (OCR) scanning processes, which can introduce random errors into the text of documents (often referred to as noisy text) during the scanning process.

Concept search can overcome these challenges by employing word sense disambiguation (WSD), and other techniques, to help it derive the actual meanings of the words, and their underlying concepts, rather than by simply matching character strings like keyword search technologies.

As the legal community has taken pause to completely understand the effects of utilizing concept search technology, adoption has been slow. And, the debates continue to this day regarding the appropriate algorithms and methodologies. Regardless, conceptual search has become a major buyer requirement for ECA software.

First Pass Review

The eDiscovery life cycle calls for EDD software to pass the processed ESI to document review software to enable lawyers and paralegals to quickly and easily “review” the ESI in preparation for their case.

However, with the emergence and maturation of ECA software, buyers now want to perform a “first pass review” of the ESI before it is passed to document review software.  And, improved functionality of “first pass review” is now blurring the lines between expectations for document review from ECA software and traditional document review software.  Over time, I believe that first pass review and full blown document review will be integrated into a single function that users can utilize throughout the eDiscovery lifecycle.

Information Dashboards

Driven by the explosion of web based applications and now mobile applications residing on smart phones and iPads, ECA software buyers have quickly developed an expectation for information dashboard with graphically presented infor­mation about literally every aspect of the application that they are using.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is changing the entire IT industry. The ECA software market is no exception as ECA software buyers now expect vendors to offer a SaaS delivery model option. Led by online document review software, SaaS applications are no longer a stranger to the eDiscovery market.  As such, some SaaS based ECA vendors have moved the processing engine components of its ECA software to centralized servers and in some cases to public cloud service providers such as Amazon AWS and are providing SaaS based access to users for the entire eDiscovery lifecycle. I predict that within 18 months that users will require all ECA software to run in the cloud.


Considering the speed at which technology introduction, vendor consolidation and user assimilation is moving within the eDiscovery market, the term “Early Case Assessment” has become a nebulous term. Expansion of features to almost every software component throughout the entire eDiscovery life cycle has further served to blur the lines of what constitutes “Early Case Assessment.”  However, I believe that the list of ECA technology features and functionality in this article now constitutes the new standard by which ECA buyers will evaluation ECA vendors and their technology.

2012 Early Case Assessment (ECA) Interactive Buyer’s Guide

DCIG has taken the results of the 2012 Early Case Assessment Buyer’s Guide and made them available online through an Interactive Buyer’s Guide (IBG).  The IBG enables users, consultants and vendors to interactively compare the top 29 ECA vendors against 300 data points and produce/print commercial quality reports.  For more information about the IBG please visit:  http://www.dcig.com/interactive-buyers-guide.html.



About Charles Skamser
Charles Skamser is an internationally recognized technology sales, marketing and product management leader with over 25 years of experience in Information Governance, eDiscovery, Machine Learning, Computer Assisted Analytics, Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics, IT Automation and ITOA. Charles is the founder and Senior Analyst for eDiscovery Solutions Group, a global provider of information management consulting, market intelligence and advisory services specializing in information governance, eDiscovery, Big Data analytics and cloud computing solutions. Previously, Charles served in various executive roles with disruptive technology start ups and well known industry technology providers. Charles is a prolific author and a regular speaker on the technology that the Global 2000 require to manage the accelerating increase in Electronically Stored Information (ESI). Charles holds a BA in Political Science and Economics from Macalester College.