Asking the Right Questions: Evaluating Ediscovery Vendors [Part II]
After years with a shortage of choices, those seeking to procure an ediscovery solution now have a wide variety of options. Although many solutions now exist in the market, evaluating ediscovery vendors is a challenge. The dramatic increase in new vendors and a surge in new feature development make it difficult to compare the relative strengths and weaknesses. Asking the right questions helps not only differentiate between vendors but can also help tailor the overall approach to vendor evaluation.
Asking the Right Questions When Evaluating Ediscovery Vendors
In this second installment in this blog series, we share three more hard questions every legal professional should ask when evaluating ediscovery vendors, looking beyond a comparison of individual features and diving deeper into the value and importance of how the products are actually developed.
What is the Pace of Innovation?
Technology is constantly changing and advancing, so ediscovery software vendors must always be innovating in order to stay ahead of the curve. This means regularly developing new product features or enhancements to address the growing amount of data volumes, variety of data sources, evolving technologies, and bugs. The rate of innovation should be a differentiator that influences your evaluation of them. But not all ediscovery vendors innovate at the same rate.
The ones that do have the ability to improve their offerings at a rapid rate should be regarded more highly since they will continuously reward customers with incremental benefits for months and years to come. A frequent release cycle coupled with insights into the product roadmap for the months (and maybe years) ahead will indicate that a vendor is committed to both your short-term and long-term success. As an added bonus, this also typically means that pesky bugs get addressed quicker.
New data sources and file types regularly emerge, which is another reason that ediscovery software vendors must innovate rapidly. At a minimum, it’s expected that ediscovery solutions seamlessly integrate with popular data sources and handle modern file formats like chat, audio, or video. Ediscovery vendors can take rapid innovation one step further by handling esoteric formats that fit hyper-specific needs, such as Primavera files for construction litigation or DICOM imaging files for medical litigation.
Lastly, it is critical to assess whether an ediscovery vendor’s solution is largely dependent on third-party tools for core functionality, such as advanced analytics visualizations. Reliance on third-party tools can expose an organization to additional risk. When an ediscovery vendor builds its own proprietary tools, that may be an indicator for rapid innovation as they are less reliant on the industry to innovate on their behalf.
To further evaluate whether a vendor rapidly innovates, here are some further questions to ask:
When software updates are issued, do all users get them at once
What is the development release cycle?
What proprietary technology is available for users to leverage?
Is There an Affinity for Speed?
An organization’s commitment to rapid product innovation may translate into a high frequency of new features rolling off the software factory floor, but the pace of software development is not the only area where speed matters. Unique to the world of ediscovery, where a single case can present terabytes of information that must be quickly processed, searched, analyzed, and organized, the speed of the platform itself is paramount.
Infrastructure setup and implementation can take a significant portion of time, especially if on-premise solutions are utilized. There can be more waiting for data to finish processing, including error-handling, deduping, deNISTing, OCR, and imaging all documents. Complex searches that involve more operators may take longer to run. The inability for teams to collaborate on matters can have long-lasting consequences, such as additional time and cost, duplicative efforts, and failure to communicate critical facts. All the little delays can add up to significant delays and even higher costs.
Infrastructure chosen by the vendor can be a big determining factor when it comes to speed. Cloud computing can accelerate the ediscovery process by removing time-intensive and costly infrastructure setup and maintenance, allowing teams to quickly scale up or down to meet fluctuating demands.
Beyond the vendor’s selection of infrastructure, solutions that are architected to work quickly and automate redundant tasks — even in the face of very large data volumes — should help ensure that the ediscovery process goes quickly as it progresses from data ingestion to production. An exploration into a few key areas of an ediscovery solution’s capabilities will help indicate the vendor’s overall commitment to speed.
And while the speed of doc-to-doc page load time and ability to automate manual document review with artificial intelligence are critically important, another often overlooked element of speed is the efficiency that stems from coordination across the entire review team. Collaboration is integral to the process of discovery and litigation because it involves communicating with many people cross-functionally, whether it is within your team, managing a review team, or working with in-house or outside counsel. In-platform collaboration capabilities enable more efficient and faster reviews since teams can communicate in real-time while cutting down on email, phone conversations, and physical document transfers.
When asking about a vendor’s affinity for speed, it is also beneficial to ask the following:
How long will it take to get the new system up and running?
Are there any AI capabilities? Is predictive coding available?
What collaborative tools currently exist in the platform?
In 2020, legal professionals had to learn how to adapt to new circumstances, both professionally and personally. To help make sense of all these changes, we created a report that provides an in-depth analysis of user trends and behaviors on the Everlaw platform.
Are Users Respected?
Clunky, complicated enterprise software features should be a thing of the past. It’s not uncommon for modern SaaS vendors to believe that superior user experience (UX) design actually leads to better business outcomes. Conversely, it’s believed that inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, or low satisfaction with software are frustrations born out of poor UX design.
The more obvious impact on an organization that results from poor design is unhappy users. And while even the most mercenary of organizations may not think that addressing user satisfaction is a top priority, the broader downstream effects on the business are worth noting, especially when those user issues start to hit the bottom line in the form of more delays, more support tickets, more endless user training modules, and overall longer time to value.
It’s uncontroversial to suggest that ediscovery vendors should constantly strive to delight users with how easy their solutions are to use — taking care of the thorny, technical processes and details in an elegant way so that lawyers can focus on practicing law and improve their odds of winning the case. Being easy to use translates to users being able to ramp up quickly and get work done faster or higher review efficiency.
The assessment of UX alone, however, is subjective, and several vendors may receive compliments from customers, solid product reviews, and high NPS scores. Determining whether or not the organization is committed to the long-term respect for users on its software requires a bit more investigation. In particular, it’s worth making sure that vendors pursue feature development that prioritizes solving real-world problems (i.e., substance) over gimmicks. It’s worth understanding whether or not the sales organization acts as a trusted advisor during the selection process or is just trying to close the deal. It’s worth understanding whether or not support teams are focused on customer success or generating support fees.
Here are some more questions to ask when evaluating a vendor’s position towards usability and user experience:
Is the product a legitimate substitute for the solution currently in use?
Is the solution a good fit for all types of users?
Are advanced features, like predictive coding, straightforward to use, flexible, and defensible?
Does your company conduct usability testing? If so, how often?
What processes exist for customer input or other feedback channels?
Moving Forward: Evaluating Ediscovery Vendors
When forming a long-term partnership with an ediscovery software vendor, legal professionals can maximize the chance of a successful outcome by focusing on five key principles: security, transparency, pace of product innovation, speed, and respect for users. Vendors that focus on these areas are the ones most likely to put client interests above all else. Asking the hard questions will help ensure that there’s great alignment between parties.
Interested in learning more about evaluating ediscovery vendors? Check out our ebook, “A Critical Evaluation of Ediscovery Vendors.”