What eDiscovery solutions are available in SA?

A very simple answer is “All of them”! I say that because, of course, there are providers across the world who would happily host a case emanating from SA and there are so many different solutions to choose from. However, that is not a practical answer for a number of reasons. Firstly, and this a big reason, there is the question of cost. The vast majority of solutions are born in USA but there are providers of those solutions in various other countries. However, cost in SA becomes a real issue as the processing of data and hosting costs are sourced e.g. in USD or GBP or Australian dollars yet the services need to be sold in SA Rand. It does not take a genius to work out that that is a big problem because what is reasonable in these other countries is simply not affordable in SA. Further, it is difficult for providers in these countries to reduce their rates to affordable SA levels and one could also ask the question, “Why should they when they can sell in their own countries”? Secondly, there are practical issues such as technical support especially with different time zones and thirdly there could be Data Protection and Privacy issues.

Given the above how are these issues resolved in SA, and what does the future hold when the Rules of Discovery change to embrace eDiscovery? As we stand at the moment in SA there are very few providers and therefore, very few solutions. When the Rules change I would not be at all surprised to see some movement from outside SA as I have previously mentioned. Indeed some US and UK providers are already in communication with me on the subject. 

Let us look at what is available now and begin with Relativity which is the current global market leader in the eDiscovery space. I say “current” because, having been in this industry for a long time I have seen many, many solutions come and go and they are “flavour of the month” only to be replaced by the next. Some disappear altogether, some disappear as the company’s owners sell the business and the solution is either “scrapped”, changed or not developed in line with the market. New solutions appear which have more features or faster speed or lower costs and then they become “flavour of the month”. That said, Relativity has not only lasted but has continued to develop which is no mean feat. It is also quite unique in that it encourages partners/providers to develop their own applications which can then work in a complementary way with Relativity. So is Relativity good; is it available in SA; how do providers overcome the “cost” issue mentioned above; and what is its future here?

Yes, of course it is good - if it wasn’t, it would not be flavour of the month across the globe. I had Relativity when I ran a litigation support company in the UK but I had a number of other solutions in addition and I always tried to offer a solution to fit the case rather than simply say that I had one solution which the case must fit. It is fair to say that Relativity has developed to a point that it is difficult to find a circumstance in a case that Relativity cannot handle. As to providers of Relativity in SA they tend to be members of the Big 4 or US/UK companies with a presence here and the reason is that that these global organisations enjoy a better “deal” than smaller private companies which, of course means they can sell the services at rates applicable to the market in each country. As ever, I will not use names in these posts but lawyers and their clients may find it important to ascertain if their proposed provider actually hosts Relativity here or is it hosted in their main country. If it is the latter, does it matter? Well, it could matter if there are insufficient or no technical skills here in SA to support and even run the case within the solution. I have been told by some lawyers in SA that they become very frustrated with this scenario as they then have to wait until e.g. USA or UK wakes up before they can get responses. Another reason it could matter is the question of Data Protection and Privacy as I mentioned earlier. As we all know PoPIA is not yet implemented but it is moving forward and when it is implemented then there could be some issues about data being hosted outside SA. Again, in typical lawyer fashion, I say “could” because there is not a definitive answer on this topic. It may be that the solution is hosted in a country which has strong DP laws and is acceptable to SA or the wider Africa, as a hosting country for African data or, of course it may not! Imagine, for example, a large Government investigation in SA and the offered solution is hosted in the USA??? This of course would also apply to “cloud” solutions and for sure, it is possible to comply with individual DP laws within cloud based solutions but there are questions to be asked and satisfactorily answered.

Mention of the word “cloud” brings me back to Relativity because the owners, kCura, have announced the launch of Relativity One which offers Relativity as a SaaS (Software as a Service) in the cloud via kCura's partnership with Microsoft using MS Azure and integrating with Office 365. I will not go into all the “why’s and wherefore’s” of this save that it is fair to say that many service providers who are Partners of kCura selling Relativity, are extremely unhappy with this development. They see it as a method of denting their revenue streams because corporate clients and law firms can “sign up” for Relativity One without the need of a hosting provider. Phew! - so where does this leave SA as far as Relativity is concerned? The answer is I do not really know. I can only guess that those major global providers who offer Relativity here will already be working on some solution with kCura on a global basis to the benefit of each member country and its clients. However, if the only solution is one whereby the "cloud" hosting is not in a location acceptable to SA under PoPIA then there would be DP and Privacy issues. Meanwhile, the simple current message is that Relativity is available here in SA at the moment and hosted here.

Another solution is Clearwell and this was one that I also had in the UK. No doubt it has changed and developed since I had it but there are some things it does really well and it lends itself to particular types of cases or investigations. When I had it, there were certain things it did not do quite so well. I know of one provider in SA that offers Clearwell.

When I first entered this industry some 17 years ago the two solutions that were “flavour of the month” (in the USA as there was hardly anyone else using anything!) were products called Concordance and Summation.  I had Concordance and loved it! Whilst I did not have Summation I was involved in cases where it was used and again it was very very popular. Both products are still around and being used but by new owners. Lexis Nexis acquired the company owning Concordance and Access Data acquired Summation. It is fair to say that they both suffered from a lack of R&D after the acquisitions, for a while but both appear to be back in the game now. Summation is here in SA through two local providers. 

Just as Concordance and Summation were hugely popular in the USA, so was and is, a solution called Ringtail in Australia. This is not surprising as it was founded there but was eventually acquired by FTI Technology Inc,. It was certainly very popular in the UK for a while but suffered a little through lack of development when other solutions came on to the market. Now it is very much back in the game with up to date features. It is still very big in Australia and New Zealand (I am told that 80% of Australian law firms have or use Ringtail) but also popular in USA and UK. Ringtail is available in SA. 

There is also a solution called ShareBrief, developed and supported by a local company. This solution and company works very very well in certain cases. Cleverly, it does not see itself in competition with the likes of Relativity and therefore, without doubt, fills a niche in SA.

It is quite difficult (and at times impossible) writing a piece such as this without referring to specific companies and therefore showing some bias one way or the other. Suffice to say that I know these solutions and I know their providers. This is just one area in which using an independent Consultant such as myself can add value because I come to this aspect with “clean hands” as it were. Of course it is difficult, especially if you have not used any of these solutions in the past, but there are a number of ways in which I can help to choose or eliminate solutions and/or providers. Email me for further information or advice at ediscovery@terryharrison.co

What does the future hold for SA in terms of eDiscovery solutions? It depends upon if and when the Rules are changed to incorporate eDiscovery (see my recent posts!). I say that because, when the Rules do change there will be far more opportunities here for providers and individuals and I can only see the industry growing, exactly as I saw it grow in the UK.