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How Moving From eDiscovery Software to Services Changed My Views on Value-Creation

Published on September 4, 2019

Keith Wilson

As a transplant from eDiscovery software to eDiscovery service, Keith brings a deep understanding of automation to eDiscovery process design. He has worked with Fortune 500 and AmLaw 100 clients to gain efficiencies in the redaction process and alternative eDiscovery workflows.

I started my eDiscovery career at Milyli, selling Relativity-compatible redaction software to service providers. Being value-focused in general, a point of real curiosity for me was understanding how my clients, eDiscovery service providers, created value for their clients relative to their competitors. Overwhelmingly, the most common answer I got to the question was “because our people are the best.” Some vendors had also developed proprietary software as a basis for differentiation.

For years I thought that the only reasons that people bought from specific vendors were proprietary software and because of relationships. But if every vendor has amazing people and some have even crafted specific technologies, why do only 34% of the people buying eDiscovery software think their eDiscovery service providers understand their challenges? (Source: Baretz+Brunelle )

Since coming over to the service side, I do have a few observations about why so many buyers feel misunderstood by their vendors – and how I see value-creation in eDiscovery as more than just people or technology.

Defining the Organization’s Challenge Is Hard – And Beneficial

When I was at Milyli, an executive at a service provider explained that they went out of their way to try to develop a great relationship with prospects, so the prospects would believe their people were better than others. As a salesperson, this makes sense because someone who buys services typically won’t be convinced that your people are better than your competitors unless they have worked with your team before, or someone that they trust has.

Salespeople, who I would expect to ask the most questions in order to surface business challenges, are mainly selling on relationships. Learning about business challenges in something as complex as eDiscovery is not an easy task. There are a lot of technical, legal and inter-personal nuances to understanding eDiscovery challenges. The challenges are spread across multiple stakeholders in an organization at many different levels. It’s very rare that a single person can fully define their organization’s challenge and even more rare to expect them to be able to define the root causes of the challenge.

At Acorn, my success is measured on how much I learn about my key accounts – and how well I define the next most pressing questions to get further insight into my clients’ challenges. It is a collaborative process – but critical for me to be able to tailor a unique solution for every one of my clients.

Standard Process Is Important – Agile Process is Paramount

Most service-delivery processes have been designed for cost-efficiency or service-standardization—with less thought given to designing a process to uncover and respond to evolving needs. Standard workflows, layouts and communications protocols are important. They create consistency and drive efficiency. However, standard workflows fall apart when they are applied to an “outside-the-box” project. The team may be less sophisticated than the standard work assumes; the project may need a tighter turn-around time than the standard process was designed for; or the data types might be more diverse than the standard work considered.

Agile service process is designed to capture these evolutions in needs and adapt. My colleague Zef Deda has written articles about KickOff Calls and Project Estimates   – both of which surface evolving needs at the outset of the project. Neither are ground-breaking ideas, but when used with fanatical discipline, often they solve the challenges of eDiscovery. Things such as unpredictable costs, lack of communication between all parties and defined roles can be solved with the correct process, if good people are a part of the process.

“The team may be less sophisticated than the standard work assumes; the project may need a tighter turn-around time than the standard process was designed for; or the data types might be more diverse than the standard work considered.”


For software to be valuable, not only does it need to fulfill a need for a firm or case, but it also needs to have experienced people using it. How big of a difference people make while using the exact same software came to light for me over this past Labor Day Weekend. My 75-year-old father and my 13-year-old niece both have the exact same phones and decided to take pictures. My niece had multiple pictures posted on Instagram and a video added to her SnapChat Story before my father figured out how to switch the camera from the front facing camera to back facing. While some of you may think that is an extreme example, it really isn’t when you have had a great project manager and one less experienced with applying the software.

Talking About New Technology Is Great – Applying It to A Specific Challenge Is Valuable

There are different industry views about whether proprietary technology is best developed under the same roof as service delivery or under a different roof. Coming from the software side of the business, I feel that decoupling software and service keeps people focused on understanding customer challenges rather than pushing an in-house technology. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When a vendor has 3 different eDiscovery platforms, 4 different applications that do TAR, and many other software options, it makes them learn more about a law firms’ needs, challenges, and goals for a case so that they can suggest which option(s) to use.

When new technology is being pushed purely on the basis of feature-innovation, the technology falls short of creating value. When new technology is coupled with a team experienced in applying it to client needs, that solution is valuable.

Conclusion

Overall my view on how people buy in this industry has changed dramatically from when I was on the software side of eDiscovery. Quality people are critical to providing quality service. This is true for eDiscovery just like it is for any other industry. Relationships still matter, because without them clients will never open up and share details about their business needs and challenges. But neither of those are value creating solutions.

30% of eDiscovery buyers resent contact from salespeople. (Source: Baretz+Brunelle ) As an industry participant, vested in understanding eDiscovery challenges and in working collaboratively to develop better solutions, I find that disheartening. By focusing on creating value, I hope that I can engage with the community and fully understand eDiscovery challenges before I propose solutions.

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About Acorn 

Acorn is a legal data consulting firm that specializes in AI and Advanced Analytics for litigation applications, while providing rigorous customer service to the eDiscovery industry. Acorn primarily works with large regional, midsize national and boutique litigation firms. Acorn provides a high-touch, customized litigation support services with a heavy emphasis on seamless communications. For more information, please visit www.acornls.com.