Do you buy a car or do you build your own car? Why then build your own eDiscovery System from Individual Point Solutions?

Posted on February 18, 2010

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Understand the risks of home-grown point solutions in eDiscovery and Information Management

Although the opinion on the exact number differs, it is fair to say that according to a good estimate there are about 600 million cars on the planet.  Very few people build their own cars, although you can easily buy an engine, tires, doors, a frame, some seats and a steering wheel at scratch prices. Some people buy old frames and restore them to their old glory. This is very time consuming, expensive and most of the time this is work of fanatic hobbyists.

Cars have been around now for more than 100 years (if you count steam-driven couches then one can claim 200 years). Since Henry Ford began mass producing cars it has become more expensive to build your own – and realistically who has the time to do that? In addition, price, safety regulations, reliability and manufacturer guarantees are all reasons why we buy “ready to use” cars.

So, why do organizations still insist on building their own eDiscovery and Enterprise Information Management Systems from point solutions? Why do they not purchase and implement “out-of-the-box” or Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) platforms and systems backed with skilled professional services, warrantees, technology indemnification and future maintenance and expansion?

Yes, you can buy a database, scanning tools, optical character recognition, search, speech recognition, text-analytics and a few other components at scratch prices or in some cases even free (open source). But putting them together into a reliable and maintainable eDiscovery or Information Management system is just as hard as building your own car. Although, there are always people that want us to believe otherwise.

When developing software, the devil is always in the details: it will take you 20% of the total time to implement the core functionality, but all the other nitty-gritty detailed functionality such as printing, importing, reporting, stability, security, third-party integration, will take you 80%. This last set of functionality is often forgotten or at least highly underestimated!

Let’s take a look at just a few of the facts:

  • Guarantees and Warrantees: there will be no guarantee or warranty from the manufacturer for any such system, unless it is from an external system integrator who will charge you by the hour or by at a premium service level agreement.  This tends not to be very cost-effective.
  • Ease of Deployment: scalable enterprise software is easy to deploy and setup. Take a look at Microsoft SharePoint, although it does not do everything you may need, it is very easy to setup, deploy and use.
  • Availability of Documentation: enterprise software solutions have more than sufficient documentation available and if you have a problem, you will probably find the solution within minutes by just searching the Web.
  • Professional Services and Support: enterprise vendors should be able to help you with skilled professional services and support. Leading vendors will provide such services as reasonable prices. And after all, the value of software is often completely determined by the value of the services and development you’ll get in the future: if there is no service available, why train your employees and rely on strategic internal processes on a tool that cannot be supported or innovated in the future!
  • Cost of development: Just like the T-Ford, when there is a large user base, a vendor can distribute development efforts over many customers: so, you pay less.
  • Innovation: you may have great ideas, but so do other people in your market. Leading vendors listen to their customers and improve their products constantly. Therefore, you will also benefit from the innovations and requirements other organizations demand! These are not just random updates; these are updates and improvements focused on your industry. Many organizations buy these leading products, including well documented methodologies and documented quality control, which allows them to deploy a fully operational system including defendable procedures at record speed.
  • Intellectual Property Indemnification: in the U.S. alone, every year approximately 450,000 patents are filed. Odds are high that your organization is in violation with at least some of them. Leading vendors with significant development history and therefore technical prior art do not suffer from many of the more recent trivial patent filings. Especially vendors that were around before 1998, when software patents were first issued, have a very strong defense against such patents because they can show that they often already had certain technology in place, especially with respect to the very trivial patents.  Their indemnifications will be worth a lot to your organization.

  • Dependency on internal IT resources: if your organization does not outsource the integration of the point solutions, you will most likely have to depend on internal IT resources. Right now, in the middle of the credit crisis, it is easy to get skilled employees, but remember 2000, when IT employees were worth their own weight in gold? These times will return, also because of the coming population aging and the early retirement of the baby-boomer.  From a strategic point of view, too much dependency on such internal resources is not in the best interest of your organization.
  • Open Source can be a long term risk: open source software is made by volunteers who (in most cases) do not get paid for it. After a few years, the source code of many open source projects becomes legacy code: hard to maintain, complex to understand, and often based on older technology. No developer likes to maintain legacy code, certainly not when they do not get paid for it! As a result, there are more dead open source projects than ones that are alive and well maintained. If you depend on open source code that is no longer maintained by the community, you are in trouble. The cost of supporting or replacing it will be very high. Enterprise software vendors (if they want to stay in business) will provide you with a roadmap and backwards compatibility guarantees and a migration plan to a new version of the platform, if that is needed. Also, they will provide support for older versions as well!

There are of course other things to take into consideration: you have to watch out for vendors that require you to store all data in a proprietary database or (even worse) storage device. Many of them have done that in the past and many corporations suffered from expensive of sometimes even impossible migration paths. I remember an old imaging system which used a special optical storage device. When the company went out of business, the only solution was to print and scan all documents all over again! You do not want to be in that situation.

But these days, XML and other open standards provide more than enough non-proprietary solutions that allow you to integrate whatever back-office system (MS SharePoint, SAP, Oracle, Siebe, Navision, Open Text…) with these open Information Management and eDiscovery solutions.

There are many case studies that show that the overall cost of ownership of enterprise eDiscovery and Information Management platform solutions are much lower than (open-source based) in-house development or the integration of individual point solutions.

Leading eDiscovery and Enterprise Information Management vendors will also make sure that you can share certain key features over all components: for instance, if your platform is able to support 700 different electronic file formats, paper and recursive extraction of email components, you can bet that you can also use all the text in all the components for records management, automatic translation, text-extraction, and full-text indexing. If you buy point solutions, you will have to implement these basic features again and again for all the new technology you integrate in your home-grown solution.

Now, if you want to have that very special Bugatti and all you can afford is one that has been on the bottom of a lake for more than 70 years and if you have another 70 years, than doing it all yourself may be a solution, but with the current maturity of our industry and the many threads out there and need for mission-critical solutions, you should really consider a “ready to use” enterprise solution that is made to help you solve your problems, now and in the future!

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