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Are Enterprise Content Management failures destroying the American system of justice?

As if dying trees and disgruntled employees aren’t bad enough consequences of poor enterprise content management systems, according to Michael Hickins, lousy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) could be chipping away at the very heart of American justice.

photo: plu.edu

photo: plu.edu

As if dying trees and disgruntled employees aren’t bad enough consequences of poor enterprise content management systems, according to Michael Hickins, lousy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) could be chipping away at the very heart of American justice. This talk of justice and ethics makes me a little lightheaded, so I’m going to let Hickins speak for himself:

The shabby state of most enterprise content management implementations, combined with lady Justice's thirst for electronic documents, has made it so that "only the rich and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) can afford to litigate," in the words of attorney Ralph Losey, who specializes in legal applications of technology.

Losey, whom I met at a conference sponsored by EMC (NYSE: EMC) Corporation, decried what he called "extortion by discovery demands," which forces most defendants to simply settle their lawsuits rather than spend huge sums to defend themselves. It doesn't have to be this way, he said, but "the failure of business to adopt enterprise content management is destroying the American system of justice."

"There's enterprise and there's content but there's no management," he quipped. Most companies, or at least those with a functioning legal department, now realize that courts expect them to make all forms of electronic communication available to their opponents during the pre-trial process called "discovery." That includes not only email but instant messages, blogs and any other relevant documents -- electronic and otherwise (hence the term "e-discovery").

And that's where it starts getting dicey, of course -- what's the definition of relevant, and how do you find it?

Hickins goes on to explain how this problem can be solved:

According to Losey, vendors need to do a better job of explaining text analytics and other sophisticated applications that can do a better job of narrowing the haystack, which could save a lot of money. Currently, he said, "there's a huge disconnect between technology and our dispute resolution system."

The bigger disconnect, of course, is between our expectation of proper corporate citizenship and the shareholder-value-driven culture that permeates most companies, and in many cases creates the incentive for fraud. This isn't something we can cure through legislation--at least not entirely.

We're going to have to start demanding ethical behavior from companies, and using our pocketbooks to punish those that transgress. As a society, never mind an economy, we can't afford to continue throwing litigation dollars down the drain. And imagine how much money could be saved on parsing documents if companies knew they had nothing to hide.

What are your thoughts, Doc readers?