Recommendations For Implementing A Firm-Wide Data Storage And Accessibility Policy

Editor: Would you tell our readers about the services that The Oliver Group offers?

Felicetti: We work with companies during the pre-discovery period, from forensic analytics, media restoration and conversion to assisting with the implementation of a retention and accessibility policy all the way through the management of the process itself. We help organizations get a handle on the universe of data that they have. This includes an analysis of the information to determine its accessibility and whether the policies that are in place make sense. For instance, a company with several business units may have distinct policies and systems for each of those units. We will work with that organization to develop a policy that makes sense and assist with the conversion of data from an inaccessible format into a readable one.

Editor: What is the biggest mistake you have seen companies make with respect to their retention policies?

Felicetti: We can sit with a company and help them draft a corporate IT policy but the implementation of that procedure may be different. For example, suppose the company develops a policy where backup tapes need to be sent to a storage facility every day. While this may be a good policy for the company, an untrained employee may remove those tapes while the backup system is running which would corrupt the information. This is why a company must build proper auditing and testing around its policies. The IT department, records managers and general counsel need to agree on the policy and ensure that it transcends throughout the organization.

Editor: Have the amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) changed the approach you take with clients?

Felicetti: It has made the need for companies to work with consultants like The Oliver Group more directly. Ten years ago companies would contact us when they received a discovery request in connection with litigation. They would send us backup systems for us to restore their data so they could produce it. Where the information had been corrupted we would offer our expertise on the recovery and restoration of the information.

This approach has remained the same. However, companies must now analyze their policies to ensure that they have systems in place that will maintain data in an accessible format because companies and even their outside counsel may be held liable for the way they handle the collection and production of data. The amendments to the FRCP have emphasized the need for companies to work with consultants who can navigate them through this process.

Editor: Are there particular issues that may arise with native format storage which would make conversion to a uniform format more appropriate?

Felicetti: There are two approaches to this issue. The benefit to native storage is that it allows you to check the consistency of the data when it is restored. If a company stores the information in a database without ensuring that all the native environments or transaction logs were included, it will be harder to ensure that the information has not been corrupted. Native storage mitigates this risk because the information is stored in its entirety.

On the other hand, there are some applications which need to be converted. For instance, a GroupWise archive is structured in a way that prevents native storage because you cannot review those files without the native application ingestion. GroupWise archives are stored in a file structure where different folders house particular aspects of an email message. So while one folder may contain the email messages, another will contain any attachments that were associated with those messages. This makes the conversion into a readable format arduous. In this instance it makes more sense to convert the data before it is stored.

Custom applications such as proprietary databases or financial systems require more planning. You need to have the wherewithal to determine whether the information can be stored natively or whether such storage will lead to restoration, accessibility and production problems down the line. Where native storage would cause problems, we can come in and convert the information into a format that can be processed or reviewed. Because certain metadata needs to remain intact, the conversion process will maintain that metadata.

Editor: What advice do you have for companies so that they make the proper distinction between accessible information and that which is "not reasonably accessible?"

Felicetti: That has changed over time. If you look at a project that may have cost $100,000 a few years ago, it may now cost $10,000 due to the advances in technology. As the parties involved become more sophisticated with the technology, it becomes harder to argue that there is an undue burden on the company. This argument may be more successful when working with proprietary data or databases that are difficult to produce. You need to work with experts who can analyze the database and help you to retrieve what is relevant.

Published April 1, 2007.