This is part two of an article providing an e-discovery industry insiders view of the possible purchase of Equivio by Microsoft. Please read Part One first. So far the acquisition by Microsoft is still just a rumor, but do not be surprised if it is officially announced soon.
Another e-discovery insider has agreed to go public with his comments, and three more anonymous submissions were received. Let’s begin with these quotes, and then I will move onto some analysis and opinions on this deal and the likely impact on our industry.
More Industry Insider Comments
Jon Kerry-Tyerman (VP, Business Development, Everlaw): “If you think about this potential acquisition in the context of the EDRM, it makes a lot of sense. The technological issues on the left-hand side—from Information Governance through Preservation and Collection—are primarily search-related, rather than discovery-related. And the technology behind search is largely a problem that’s been solved. That’s why we see these tasks being commoditized by the providers of the systems on which these data reside, entrenched players like Microsoft and Google. Microsoft has already shown a willingness to wade deeper here (see, e.g., Matter Center for Office 365), so the acquisition of Equivio’s expertise to improve document search and organization within the enterprise is a logical extension of that strategy.
I don’t think, however, that this heralds an expansion by Microsoft into the wider “ediscovery” space. The tasks on the right-hand side of the EDRM—particularly Review through Presentation—depend on expert legal judgment. While technology cannot supplant that judgment, it can be used to augment it. Doing so effectively, however, requires a nuanced understanding of the unique legal and technological problems underlying these tasks, and the resulting solutions are not easily applicable to other domains. For a big fish like Microsoft, that’s simply too small a pond in which to swim. It happens to be the perfect environment for a technology startup, however, which is why we’re focusing exclusively on applying cutting-edge computer science to the right-hand side of the EDRM—including our proprietary (read: non-Equivio!) predictive coding system.”
Anonymous One (a tech commentator not in e-discovery world provides an interesting outsider view): “I read the commentary and found it to be fairly eDiscovery introspective. What I think is:
- I don’t know the Equivio markets as well as I should. I thought Equivio was/is a classification engine that did a wonderful job of deduplication of email threads. They played in the eDiscovery markets and we don’t focus on these markets except for their relevance to information governance.
- Equivio lacked a coherent strategy to integrate to the Microsoft stack, at the level of managed metadata, content types, and site provisioning, which doomed them to bit player status unless someone acquired them or they committed to tight integration with the hybrid SharePoint/Office 365/Exchange/OneDrive/Yammer/Delve/File Share stack for unified content governance. Now someone has. Hats off to Warwick & Co. for $200MM for this.
- My expectation is that Equivio will be added into Office 365 and Delve to crawl through everything you own and classify it, launching whatever processes you want. This is not good news for Content Analyst, dataglobal, Nuix, HP Autonomy, or Google, except that Google and HP are able to stand on their own. It is also not good news, but less bad news for Concept Searching, Smart Logic and BA Insight, in that they leverage SharePoint and Office 365 Search and extend it with integration points and connectors to other systems.
- Microsoft is launching Matter Center at LegalTech in NYC in February after announcing it at ILTA. This is the first of the vertical solutions that begin the long journey of companies to adopt either the Microsoft or Google cloud solution stacks and abandon the isolated silos of information like Box, Dropbox, etc., for the corporate side of information management.”
Anonymous Two: “It’s an interesting move for Microsoft. $200M is a little high for tools in our industry, but is peanuts for them. They make dozens of these types of moves and spend billions each year acquiring various companies and technologies. I agree with Craig Ball regarding how many times have we seen formidable competitors go the way of the Dodo after they were purchased by a bigger company. I highly doubt they are planning to jump into our industry to lock horns with all of us. It is more likely that they may be developing some sort of Information Governance & Analysis offering for businesses, which could have some downstream effects on eDiscovery.”
Anonymous Three: “The acquisition of Equivio by Microsoft and the price paid are not a complete surprise. I agree with others who do not see this as a sign of Microsoft entering the ediscovery business. If Microsoft wanted to do that it could acquire any of the big ediscovery players out there. Rather, the Equivo acquisition allows Microsoft to offer a service that other big data companies cannot. Putting aside HP’s acquisition of Autonomy, I think Microsoft’s acquisition of Equivo is only the first of what will be a series of technology acquisitions by big data companies. These companies, that handle terabytes upon terabytes of data for major corporations around the world, can one day provide ediscovery as an additional service offering. That day isn’t today, but it is coming.”
What Microsoft Will Do With Equivio
The consensus view is that after the purchase Microsoft will essentially disband Equivio and absorb its technology, its software designs, and some of its experts. Then, as Craig Ball predicts, they will wander the halls of Redmond like the great cynic Diogenes. No one seems to think that Microsoft will continue Equivio’s business. For that reason it would make no sense for Microsoft to continue to license the Equivio search technologies to e-discovery companies. That in turn means a large part of the e-discovery industry that now depends on Equivio search components, and licenses with Equivio, will soon be out of luck. Zoom will go boom! More on that later.
If Microsoft did not buy Equivio to continue its business, why did it want its technology? As the scientists I talked to all told me, Microsoft already has plenty of artificial intelligence based text search capabilities, software, and patents. But maybe they are not designed for searching through large disorganized corporate datasets, such as email? Maybe their software in this area is not nearly as good as Equivio’s. As smart and talented as my scientist friends seem to think Microsoft is, the company seems to have a black hole of incompetence when its comes to email search and other aspects of information management.
The consensus view is that Microsoft wants Equivio to grab its technology and patents (at least one commentator also thought they were also after Equivio’s customers). The Microsoft plan is probably to incorporate its software code into various existing Microsoft products and new products under development. Almost no one expects those new products to be e-discovery specific. They might, however, help provide a discovery search overlay to existing software. Outlook, for instance, has pathetic search capacities that frustrate millions daily. Maybe they will add better e-discovery aspects to that. I personally expect (hope) they will do that.
Information Governance Is Now King
I also agree with the consensus view in our industry, a view that is now preoccupied with Information Governance, that Microsoft’s new products using Equivio technology will be information governance products. I expect Microsoft to once again follow IBM and focus on the left side of EDRM. I expect Microsoft to come out with new Governance type products and software module add-ons. I do not think that Microsoft will go into litigation support specific products, such as document review software, nor litigation search oriented products. Like IBM, they think it is still too small a market and too specialized a market.
Bottom line, Microsoft is not interested in entering the e-discovery specific market at this time, any more than IBM is. Instead, like most (but not all, especially Google) of the smart creatives of the technology world, Microsoft has bought into the belief that information is something that can be governed, can be managed. They think that Information Governance is like paper records management, just with more zeros after the number of records involved. The file-everything librarian mentality lives on, or tries to.
The Inherent Impossibility, in the Long Run, of Information Governance
Most of the e-discovery world now believes that Information Governance is not only possible, but it is the savior to the information deluge that floods us all. I disagree, especially in the long run. I appear to be a lone dissenting voice on this in e-discovery. I think the establishment majority in our industry is deluding themselves into thinking that information is like paper, only there is more of it. They delude themselves into thinking that Information is capable of being governed, just like so many little paper soldiers in an army. I say the Emperor has no clothes. That information cannot be governed.
Electronic Information is a totally new kind of force, something Mankind has never seen before. Digital Information is a Genie out of the bottle. It cannot be captured. It cannot be managed. It certainly cannot be governed. It cannot even be killed. Forget about trying to put it back in the bottle. It is breeding faster than even Star Trek’s Tribbles could imagine. Like Baron and Paul discussed in their important 2007 law review, ESI is like a new Universe, and we are living just moments after the Big Bang. George L. Paul and Jason R. Baron, Information Inflation: Can the Legal System Adapt? 13 RICH. J.L. & TECH. 10 (2007).
What few outside of Google, Baron, and Paul seem to grasp is that Information has a life of its own. Id. at FN 30 (quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein (a 20th Century Austrian philosopher whom I was forced to study while in college in Vienna): “[T]o imagine a language is to imagine a form of life.”) Electronic information is a new and unique life form that defies all attempts of limitation, much less governance. As James Gleick observed in his book on information science, everything is a form of information. The Universe itself is a giant computer and we are all self-evolving algorithms. Gleick, The Information: a history, a theory, a flood.
Essentially information is free, and wants to be free. It does not want to be governed, or charged for. Information is more useful when free and when it is not subject to transitory restraints.
Regardless of the economic aspects, and whether information really wants to be free or not, as a practical matter Information cannot be governed, even if some of it can be commoditized. Information is moving and growing far too fast for governance.
Digitized information is like a nuclear reaction that has passed the point of no return. The chain reaction has been triggered. This is what exponential growth really means. In time such fission vision will be obvious. Even people without Google glasses will be able to see it.
In the meantime we have a new breed of information governance experts running around who serve like heroic bomb squads. Some know that it is just a noble quest, doomed to failure. Most do not. They helicopter into corporate worlds attempting to defuse ticking information bombs. They build walls around it. They confidently set policies and promulgate rules. They talk sternly about enforcement of rules. They automate filing. They automate deletion. Some are even starting to make robot file clerks.
Information governance experts, just like the records managers before them, are all working diligently to try to solve today’s problems of information management. But, all the while, ever new problems encroach upon their walls. They cannot keep up with this growth, the new forms of information. The next generation of exponential growth builds faster than anyone can possibly govern. Do they not know that the bomb has already exploded? The tipping point has already past?
Information governance policies that are being created today are like sand castles built at low tide. Can you hear the next wave of data generated by the Internet of Things? It will surely wash away all of today’s efforts. There will always be more data, more unexpected new forms of information. Governance of information is a dream, a Don Quixote quest.
Information can not be governed. It can only be searched.
In my view we should focus on search technologies, and give up on governance. Or at least realize it is a mere stop-gap measure. In the world I see, search is king, not governance. Do not waste your valuable time and effort trying to file information. Just search for it, when and if you need it. You will not need most of it anyway.
I do not really think Microsoft has the fission vision, but I could be wrong. They may well see the world like I do, and like Google does, and realize that it is all search now. Microsoft may already understand that information governance is just a subset of search, not visa versa. Maybe Microsoft is already focused on creating great new search software that will help us transition from governance to search. Maybe they hope to remain relevant in the future and to compete with Google. No one knows for sure the full thinking behind Microsoft’s decision to buy Equivio.
The majority of experts are probably right, Microsoft probably does have information governance software in mind when buying Equivio. Microsoft probable still hangs onto the governance world view, and does not see it my way, or Google’s way, that it is all about search. Still, by buying good search code from Equivio, Microsoft cannot go wrong. Eventually, after the governance approach fails, which I predict will happen in ten years, or less, and Microsoft and the governance experts finally see the world like Google and me, it will help to have Equivio’s code as a foundation.
What Happens If Zoom Goes Boom?
In the short-term what companies may be adversely affected by the exit of Equivio from the e-discovery market? I had first thought that K-Cura would be adversely impacted, but apparently that’s wrong. You can see how I would be confused because when you look at Equivio’s installed base web page, Equivio features K-Cura and its Relativity review platform. Equivio even includes a page on its website that promotes the Equivio Zoom tab on Relativity’s software. Nevertheless, K-Cura insists that it does not have anything built on Equivio’s technology. K-Cura states that its analytics engine is OEM from another company, Content Analyst. For that reason, it says its products will not be affected that much if Zoom is no longer a plug-in.
K-Cura says that its relationship with Equivio is simply that of a Relativity developer partner. It allows Equivio to develop an integration that allows users of Relativity to access Zoom from within the Relativity platform. Those users still need to license Zoom separately and get the plug-in from Equivio. Relativity itself has a Content Analyst’s engine fully baked-in for the same kind of text analytics, predictive coding, etc. K-Cura states that functionality will still all be there, no matter what happens with Equivio. So I stand corrected on my original comments to the contrary.
So what does happen if Zoom goes boom? Companies that depend on Equivio may be in trouble, or may simply move to Content Analysts or someone else. Are they as good as Equivio? I do not know. But I do know there are huge differences in analytics quality and how well one company’s predictive coding features work as compared to another. That is exactly why Equivio existed, to license technologies to fill the gap. Apparently Content Analyst and others do the same. They do the research and code development on search so that most other vendors in the industry do not have to. The trade-off is dependency and the chance they may close shop or be bought out.
Only a few vendors have taken the time, and very considerable expense, to develop their own active machine learning software features, instead of licensing it from Equivio or Content Analysts. These vendors will now reap the rewards of having the rugs pulled out from under some of their competitors. Eventually even lawyers will realize that search quality does matter, that all predictive coding software programs are not alike.
There is a long list of other key users of Equivio products, some of whom may be concerned about losing Equivio’s prodcuts. They include, according to the list on Equivio’s own website:
- Concordance by Lexis Nexis
- DT Search
- Xera iConnect
- Law PreDiscovery by Lexis Nexis
- Thomson Reuters
In addition, Equivio’s installed base web page lists the following companies and law firms as users of their technology. It is a very long list, including many prominent vendors in the space, and many small frys that I have never heard of. They may all be somewhat concerned about the Microsoft move, to one degree or another, according to how dependent they are on Equivio software or software components.
- BDO Consulting
- Bowman & Brooke
- CDCI research
- Commonwealth Legal
- Crown Castle
- Discover Ready
- Envision Discovery
- Epiq Systems
- Ernst & Young
- eTera Consulting
- Evidence Exchange
- Foley & Lardner
- FTI Consulting
- Gibson Dunn
- Guidance Software
- ILS Innovative Litigation Services
- USIS Labat
- Law In Order
- Lighthouse eDiscovery
- Logic Force Consulting
- Morgan Lewis
- Night Owl Discovery
- ProSearch Strategies
- Reed Smith
- Renew Data
- Responsive Data Solutions
- Shepherd Data Services
- Squire Sanders
- TechLaw Solutions
- Winston & Strawn
This is Equivio’s list, and it may not be current, nor even accurate (some of the links were broken), but it is what is shown on Equivo’s website as of October 14, 2014. Do not blame me if Equivio has you on the list, and you should not be, but feel free to leave a comment below to set the record straight. Hopefully, many of you have already moved on, and no longer use Equivio anymore anyway, like K-Cura. I happen to know that is true for a few of the other companies on that list. If not, if you still rely on Equivio, well, maybe Microsoft will still do business with you when it is time to renew, but most think that is very unlikely.
It is hubris to think that a force as mysterious and exponential as Information can be governed. Yet it appears that is why Microsoft wants to buy Equivio. Like most of establishment IT, including the vast majority of pundits in our own e-discovery world, Microsoft thinks that Information Governance is the next big thing. They think that predictive coding was just a passing fad that is now over. If these assumptions are correct, then we can expect to see fragments of Equivio’s code appear in Microsoft’s future software as part of general information governance functions. We will not see Microsoft come out with predictive coding software for e-discovery.
Once again, Microsoft is missing the big picture here. Like most IT experts today outside of Google, they do not understand that Search is king, and governance is just a jester. The last big thing, Search, especially AI enhanced active machine learning, iw – predictive coding, is still the next big thing. Information governance is just a reactive, Don Quixote thing. Not big at all, and certainly not long-lasting. If anything, it is the dying gasp of last century’s records managers and librarians. Nice people all, I’m sure, but then so was John Henry.
Microsoft’s absorption of Equivo is a setback for search, for legal e-discovery. But at the same time it is a boon for the few e-discovery vendors who chose not to rely on Equivio, and chose instead to build their own search. It is also a boon for Google, as, once again, Microsoft shows that it still does not get search. You will not see Google fall for a governance dream.
Search is and will remain the dominant problem of our age for generations. Information cannot be governed. It cannot be catalogued. It can only be searched. Everyone needs to get over the whole archaic notion of governance. King George died long ago.
Google has it right. We should focus our AI development on search, not governance. Spend your time learning to search, forget about filing. It is a hopeless waste of time. It is just like the little Dutch boy putting his finger in the dyke. Learn to swim instead. Better yet, build a search boat like Noah and leave the governor behind.