ARMA Austin Spring Education Seminar: Connecting the Dots Between Records Management and E-Discovery

This is the second of a two-part recap of the 2013 ARMA Austin Spring Education Seminar, where we learned about the relationship between records management and electronic discovery.

Joe Venturella, Solutions Team Consultant at Advanced Discovery, was our afternoon speaker at the seminar. He will also be a guest presenter at our eDiscovery webinar that is scheduled for May 29th, so it was great to get a little preview of his ideas! His presentation, “Connecting the Dots between Records Management and E-Discovery,” focused on data retention in the context of eDiscovery. Interestingly, Venturella is a vocal critic of the EDRM model that we had learned about in the morning from Dr. Eugenia Brumm. The problems with the EDRM model, he feels, are that it represents a linear process, and it addresses a single litigation or eDiscovery project. In contrast, Venturella declared, the eDiscovery process is more like dropping spaghetti on the floor and trying to follow a piece of spaghetti from one end to the other. In other words: it’s messy.

Stick to Your Role

One of Venturella’s key points was that employees should stick to what they know. When eDiscovery begins, people tend to panic, and everyone thinks they’re a lawyer. But it’s important for each department to keep to its own responsibilities – let legal do their job, let IT do theirs, and then you, the records manager, should stick to your own role. When it comes to data, all the relevant stakeholders – RM, Legal, Management, IT, and Users – have conflicting rules, guidelines, and results while handling data. Your overall job, as a records manager, is to know where data goes, who has it, and where it is in the retention period. During the discovery process, your role is to use that knowledge to identify relevant documents.

Policy is Key

However, this is impossible if there is no policy in place for data retention. For example, it is essential to know – preferably in an official policy – who has the authority to create, keep, alter, and/or destroy certain records. This will go a long way in helping you identify the location of data during the discovery process. That, in turn, will make the discovery process go much more smoothly.

Venturella then spoke about the need to identify the who, what, when, and how of data preservation. Some questions to consider are: Who creates documents? What is the organizational structure? What is the workflow? What kind of information/data do you have? What format is the data in? When should data be preserved? And how do you preserve data? Data retention, Venturella emphasized, is a function of records management. It is supported by IT and, in turn, supports the legal department – yet it has an organization-wide impact. It is one of the most cost-effective, efficient, and legally defensible methods of mitigating future litigation costs.

Making Your Case

Of course, it’s important to implement a records management program before litigation, not as a reaction to it. Doing so will often require upper management support, which can be difficult to come by. However, money talks, and presenting hard numbers can help make your case. To demonstrate this, Venturella explained that he charges companies about $325 to process 1 GB of data during eDiscovery. A typical backup tape holds about 400 GB. That’s $130,000 to have one tape examined. If you are not managing data effectively, or if you forget about tapes you might have, then eDiscovery can get very expensive very quickly. It would probably be even more expensive if you wanted a lawyer to review those tapes. So while implementing official policies now may seem like a long and arduous process, it will likely save your organization money down the road if you are ever subject to discovery.

Venturella provided some additional tips for making your case to upper management:

  • Plan your progress with small goals, step-by-step.
  • Get people in IT to support you. This will help you get organization-wide and high-level support.
  • Pitch ideas now (springtime), before the start of the fiscal year (usually in September or October).
  • For governments and state agencies, figure out how long you spend responding to FOIA requests – it’s probably far more time than you would like it to be. Using these numbers can help build your case.
  • Start with an embarrassing problem that your organization has had or might have in the future that is the result of poor recordkeeping. Nobody wants to be caught having bad policies and practices!

Other Points

Venturella told us some other things to remember:

  • Data is an asset but is not always treated like one. You wouldn’t let someone leave work with a filing cabinet, so you also shouldn’t let someone leave with DVDs, flash drives, or backup tapes. (The cloud complicates things even further!)
  • Examine and determine your information needs BEFORE you implement a system.
  • Discovery is not meant to cripple or shut down an organization. Having a data retention policy in place will make sure that business can continue as usual during discovery, because it will make the identification and retrieval of relevant data go much more smoothly.

In closing…

This concludes our recap of the ARMA Austin Spring Education Seminar. I really enjoyed these presentations, and I hope that you were able to take away something useful from these summaries! We live in a litigious society, and we all hope that we will never have to take part in a lawsuit. However, if your organization is ever subject to discovery, you can feel secure knowing that your records management program will help your organization handle it as smoothly as possible.