SharePoint and eDiscovery Challenges

Editor’s Note: This post is a featured guest post by one of our IAI University Partners, Barry Murphy from the eDiscoveryJournal.

Microsoft SharePoint has spread like wildfire through organizations of all shapes and sizes.  SharePoint delivers real business benefits by enabling collaboration in efficient ways, providing ways to track versions of documents edited by multiple parties, allowing non-technical business people to apply basic workflow to content-driven processes, and faster access to information (via search and integration with the MS Office suite of apps).

Many laypeople assume that if information is searchable, eDiscovery will be no problem when the time comes.  But as is often the case in life, the devil is in the details.  Because SharePoint allows users to add value to content (e.g. adding workflow tasks), there is the factor of metadata to consider.

We’ve discussed metadata and the challenges it can create in collection in earlier eDiscoveryJournal entries.  This issue will be paramount in SharePoint instances because of the fact that so many organizations use SharePoint and most collection tools are only able to grab SharePoint document libraries (as they are stored on file systems).  It’s only a matter of time before the legal community figures out the value of these other content items.

The solutions for SharePoint eDiscovery are still in the infancy stage (which makes sense when you consider the youth of SharePoint itself).  There are the archiving vendors like Autonomy,AvePointCommVaultEMCIBMIron Mountain (Mimosa), and Symantec.

Search and collection vendors such as Digital Reef and StoredIQ also note an ability to do SharePoint collection, and some vendors have specific SharePoint collection tools like AvePoint DocAve eDiscovery and EMC SourceOne-Kazeon eDiscovery SharePoint Manager.  Another example is the SharePoint governance tool Autonomy ControlPoint, which utilizes Automomy’s IDOL search engine to access SharePoint repositories and make the index available in the IDOL federated search view.

With most of these solutions, the collection is focused on the SharePoint document libraries (the documents that users store within a given SharePoint site).  Some of the archiving vendors combine backup and archiving so that the system captures more than just the document libraries.

However, because SharePoint has a “webpage” interface, it has become common practice to ‘snapshot’ page views using applications like Adobe’s Acrobat Pro and to record the exact URL and time taken when citing that presentation as evidence.  This approach allows for reviewers to have the context of the user interface in addition to the actual content of a given document.

Thus, the solutions on the market today are not full SharePoint eDiscovery solutions at all.  They may help with understanding how much SharePoint content might be responsive (based on keyword searches) or with finding a smoking gun early, but they are not capable of “forensic” collection.

The first product I have heard of that does support forensic SharePoint collection is from MicroForensics.  The solution is a point-in-time collection of SharePoint that captures document libraries, metadata, and snapshots of the UI. MicroForensics collects the document libraries and maintains them as native copies, collects all metadata fields including custom metadata along with the snapshots of each page and stores the snapshots in a MHTML file for ease of review.  Note that this is a point-in-time collection in response to a request (so, this is not an approach that would work for backing up or archiving SharePoint).  Because it’s a forensic collection, it satisfies preservation needs and does so in a way that does not impact the production SharePoint environment.  If there are other products that do this, please let us know by commenting on this Journal Entry.

SharePoint and most modern enterprise applications support custom fields created by the users or at the enterprise level.  As a result, collection systems will have to be nimble to adapt to the changing landscape. The discovery team will need to regularly validate and quality check collections against the originals to be defensible.

Informed customers will make sure that the collection tool can get more than just SharePoint document libraries, but all metadata, as well.  Also look for solutions that will not impact the production environment too heavily; you don’t want to bring SharePoint to its knees when it is a valuable business application.

And finally, get legal and IT together on the same page about how to reasonably prove that your SharePoint preservation and collection methodologies and tools are defensible.

– end article –

Where are you in your eDiscovery Education?

  • Unsure how to best proceed with an eDiscovery strategy?
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The “eDiscovery: From Legal Imperatives to Technical Solutions” course has four modules and includes a 30-minute live call with Barry to discuss the course or any eDiscovery project you have in play.

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  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
  • The Electronic Discovery Reference Model

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  • The State of eDiscovery Today
  • eDiscovery Trends to Consider

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