Basic e-discovery practices are being avoided, study finds

Electronic records still aren’t taken as seriously as paper-based records in most organizations, with many firms failing to grasp basic electronic records management concepts, according to a new AIIM report.

The non-profit association, which provides research and best practices targeted to enterprise content management users and vendors, found that electronic records were twice as likely to be unmanaged compared to paper records among survey respondents, with 26 per cent of companies indicating that no records management policies were applied to the bulk of their electronic data.

AIIM surveyed 768 of its global members, which include record management, IT and project management staff, across organizations of all sizes. The study was conducted independently, but sponsored by Autonomy Corp., EMC Corp., FCS Information Governance LLC, Hewlett-Packard Co., Mimosa Systems Inc. and StoredIQ Inc.

Doug Miles, the managing director at AIIM’s U.K. offices and the author of the report, while he was encouraged that a third of respondents are looking to go to an all electronic records-keeping approach, most companies still have a long way to go.

“Document management and scanning is often used as a file cabinet replacement,” he said, adding that while half of respondents are scanning paper items and filing them electronically, the other half admit to routinely printing Microsoft Office and e-mail data and filing them as paper records.

The study also found that while records management or line-of-business staff take care of paper-based discovery, there is a reliance on IT staff to conduct legal discovery on electronic-based records.

Even more troubling for Miles is that many fundamental e-discovery best practices are largely being avoided across these IT shops. About 55 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they set no guidance on dealing with important e-mails as records, and another 38 per cent said they conduct little or no enforcement of their management policies.

“People aren’t even realizing the difference between backup and archiving,” Miles said, adding that 70 per cent of those polled said they have made no plans for long-term archiving of electronic records.

These organizations have also failed to implement new policies to migrate to new media and formats or deal with virtualization of applications. Many of these companies are simply storing their documents in Word or Excel formats without taking into consideration the need to retain documents for years and years down the road.

“I’d also generally advise these companies to place their problem in the hands of their storage provider,” he said. “Companies like HP, EMC or others will offer you a storage farm set, (and) you can say to them, ‘Make sure I can always access this stuff.’ If they have to move everything to a different media, then so be it.”

Miles was impressed, however, with the one-third of responding companies who planned to transfer their documents to the PDF-A format over the next three years.

And not everything discovered in the survey was bad news. The biggest positive, according to Miles, was that 22 per cent of respondents indicated that the volume of their paper records was beginning to decrease.

Additionally, roughly 35 per cent of respondents were using or planned to implement a dedicated e-discovery tool.

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