Enterprise search company Autonomy hopes to solve this problem with software released Monday that it claims can track and trace the lifecycle of all the data within an organization generated by telephone calls, voice mail, e-mail, instant messaging, documents, and videos. The software, called Idol Echo, is built on top of the company's Idol (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) 7 enterprise search platform.
Does it sound complex, advanced, and expensive? It is. Autonomy says a typical implementation of Idol 7, with or without the Echo module, costs around $350,000. While that may not be a lot in the world of enterprise software, compare it to some of the free or considerably cheaper search alternatives on the market, and suddenly it sounds like a lot of money.
But for a legal firm or a large company that often finds itself in litigation, the software offers what a Google-like search couldn't come close to. The payback would come through reduced time and labor needed to sift through reams of data. Consider that attorneys conducting electronic discovery might bill $500 or more an hour, while Idol is designed to index all the content it searches in a very short time. Electronic discovery is expected to become more challenging for businesses following changes last December to the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that require a company to provide electronically stored information within 99 days of request.
There are Autonomy partners that offer Idol 7 or Idol Echo, which focuses specifically on tracking the lifecycle of data, in a services model, eliminating a potentially costly or complex integration with a company's IT infrastructure. DOAR Litigation Consulting has offered Idol for two years, and more recently, the Echo module, to assist legal firms and corporations with electronic discovery. After 20 years in business, DOAR president Nick Croce said in an interview he's witnessing a legal industry that has hit a "brick wall" in terms of trying to get access to data, and that because of the impact of electronic communications.
What's more, data storage has become so inexpensive that companies use it more and more, creating that much more data to comb through. "It used to be that investigation lawyers would go to your office and make photo copies of file content cabinets. It was a manageable process," Croce said. "Human beings can no longer use that same process. Technology created the problem, and only technology can solve the problem."
But Autonomy CEO Stouffer Egan said companies can benefit from Idol 7 and Echo in ways other than electronic discovery. Echo follows a traffic pattern of data, such as the path of an e-mail attachment or voice mail, according to Autonomy. It will track who has read, heard, forwarded, and retained a message, and can follow information as it jumps from one form to another, such as from a phone call to a document. That means the influence of individuals or programs can be measured across electronic boundaries, so confidential information or even just great ideas can be detected, stopped, or encouraged, Autonomy says.
Instead of keyword searches, Idol 7 looks for patterns and relationships in content. In can detect related content, Egan said in an interview, even if different yet relevant words are used. If someone is looking for information on a White House press conference, for example, Idol 7 would pull content related to a press conference with the president in the Rose Garden, even if the words "White House" weren't used, yet would ignore any stored data related to gardening and roses.
While DOAR is finding an audience for Idol 7 and Echo, it's unclear just how many companies will be clamoring for these offerings because of the new federal ruling. In a March report, Gartner analyst Deb Logan wrote that various types of software vendors are stoking the hype and fear around electronic discovery requirements, "reminiscent of that which surrounded Y2K." Yet vendors may ultimately be disappointed by their efforts to sell software based on the new legislation, she wrote, predicting that the "market will not take off fully until there is a clear understanding of definitions and procedures based on case law decisions."
What's more, the need for such sophisticated and costly search offerings from Autonomy, Endeca, Fast, and others has been questioned with the rise of free and simple search alternatives. Yet Autonomy's success indicates it has found plenty of need: For its third quarter ended March 31, Autonomy reported a net profit of $13.3 million, up 90% for the same period last year, and revenue of $65.5 million, up 17%.
The company is often cited as a prime acquisition target by a larger IT vendor, too. The U.S. Department of Defense is one of its biggest customers -- it uses Idol to track sensitive information exchanged between departments because of heightened security and intelligence requirements, for example -- yet customers are as varied as Best Buy, Boeing, and Mercedes Benz. It goes to show that the demand for enterprise search -- whether free and simple or costly and sophisticated -- is growing.