Is your company – gasp – an “e-hoarder”? by Beth Rauker and Sean Dunn

21 Apr 2014 11:44 AM | Chere Estrin (Administrator)

Is this you?

You keep a clean house. You regularly throw away stale food and regularly take your garbage out to the curb. Newspapers rarely stay in your house for more than a couple days. Every time you run into a free hand out or a bargain when shopping, you don’t compulsively seize said opportunities; instead you pause to think “Do I really need this? Won’t this just clutter up my house?”

And whenever you see shows like TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, whether your primary reaction is snarkish delight at the outlandish circumstance or heartfelt pity for the afflicted participants, at some level you have that twinge of relief, that “There but for the grace of God go I” feeling.

Then, each morning, you commute to work where your company’s departmental shares are overflowing with a decade plus of stale data. The combined volume of your company’s email - if printed out - would vastly overflow the housing space of all compulsive hoarders combined. To make matters worse, employees are given – and take advantage of - free reign to download any and all data they can find on social media and other internet sites.

And let’s not even get into all those backup tapes your company is accumulating . . .

Do you have a problem? Is your company – gasp – an “e-hoarder”?

We’re not psychiatrists, never played one on TV, heck we've never even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. That said, we've been around a few ediscovery blocks so we’re willing to offer up a dime store diagnosis of whether your company may be guilty of e-hoarding.

Will stricter data retention policies and practices allow your company to realize significant infrastructure cost savings? Network space costs money. Even in the era of “cheap storage”, , you would be surprised how expensive it can be. Eliminating stale data from your network shares and tightening up your email retention practices may allow your IT department to forego or delay significant expenditures for new servers and/or network space. Think of that next time you are browsing thru your department shares and are reminded they seem remarkably similar to kitchen cupboards overflowing with and buried in stale food.

Will stricter data retention policies and practices increase employee efficiency? Here’s a clue: If you spend as much time at work finding data as you do working on data, the answer is “Yes”. And ask this question from the perspective of a new employee. Long time employees likely know where all the goodies are hidden, but can new employees quickly and, with minimal training, find the key data they need to perform their work?

Will stricter data retention policies and practices reduce unnecessary downstream ediscovery cost risk? OK, time to break out the legalese: “Unnecessary downstream ediscovery risk” refers to stale data not linked to any reasonable anticipation of litigation. Any stale data that is not linked to such anticipation per se represents unnecessary downstream ediscovery cost risk. The degree of risk is quantified by the amount of said data. At some point, at some volume, this risk should be viewed as not only unnecessary, but unacceptable.

Kudos to you and your employer if you answered “no” to all of the above questions. But if you answered “Yes” to any or all of them, well, cue the creepy theme music for “Hoarding: Buried Alive” . . . and get therapy!

What will this therapy look like? Well, as with any behavior based problem, the first step is convincing the patient that they have a problem:

Build a Business Case & Get Buy In From Senior Management: Infrastructure cost savings are likely the best way to develop concrete business case statistics. Pick an age point at which data can be presumed to be stale. The number will depend upon your company’s business and product lines, for our purposes let’s just say it’s 5 years. Have IT run a report on the volume of data on your departmental shares that have Create Dates and Last Modified Dates that exceed 5 years. Then talk to IT and see whether elimination of that data can eliminate or forestall the need for any significant infrastructure investments. Arguments for increasing employee efficiency likely will not involve concrete numbers. The level of receptiveness to your arguments for eliminating unnecessary downstream ediscovery cost risk will likely hinge upon your company’s litigation profile. Has your company felt the sting of soaring ediscovery costs? Is it something they properly fear? If that fear does not currently exist, can you find a highly placed member of the Legal Department to advocate for such fear?

Once your business case is articulated, buy in from senior management is crucial. You will be affecting user behavior. You will run into resistance that will be much easier to navigate if you can present your project as a fait accompli dictated by the higher ups.

Work with Legal, Records Retention, IT and your Various Business Units to Define Your New Records Retention Policy: Here’s the real therapy. And just like real therapy, there will be no easy buttons or quick fixes. This takes extensive dialogue and a “give and take” willingness by all participants. To circle back to our “Hoarding: Buried Alive” analogy: Each episode reaches a point where the afflicted individual has agreed to clean up their house, but when cleanup day arrives they refuse to throw anything away. Yup, you will encounter that behavior. Having buy in from senior management makes it much easier to curb that behavior.

Policy without Practice is an Empty Shell: The best written policy goes for naught if not enforced. To the extent possible, set up automated solutions that enforce your new retention policies. If automated solutions are not feasible, have IT run regular reports that are distributed to Legal, Records retention and other involved departments to identify areas where practice defies policy.

As stated above, there are no easy button fixes if your company is e-hoarding. But by following the above strategy, with hard work and persistence you can cure this problem.

Authored by Beth Rauker, Principal eDiscovery Analyst, Medtronic, Inc., and Sean Dunn, Co-Founder and Primary Consultant, Orrey Consulting


  • 23 Apr 2014 11:57 AM | Smitha281
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