by John Burchfield

One of the greatest challenges facing corporations and firms that try to evaluate eDiscovery services is the lack of consistent pricing language. Without this, it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare proposals from multiple eDiscovery service providers.

If I don’t really understand what you’re selling me, or even how much of a certain service I’ll need, how can I have predictability? What one provider charges per GB for, another quotes per page. This spawns a speculative calculation on the number of docs per GB… or was that pages? Does Provider A’s ‘Advancedlook ECA’ service provide the same filtering options as Vendor B’s ‘Tranparent Analytics’ service? Frustrating!

  1.  An Industry in Middle School – How many people can say what they deal with every day wasn’t even a word in the mid 1990’s? I love trying to explain what we do when speaking to friends and family at a Christmas party. It’s a great way to clear a room.A new industry lacking any true oversight or governing authority to scrawl standards on stone tablets and pass them down from the mountaintop will naturally lack consistency in its early stages. We’ll give this one a bit of a pass, as all adolescents eventually grow up. At least we parents hope so!
  2. What’s Your USP? – For those of you unfamiliar with marketing lingo (be thankful), this is not the company that delivers your packages: it’s your Unique Selling Proposition. The foundation of branding, the USP is the one thing that sets your company apart in the marketplace. It is the Holy Grail of every marketing guru: to build branding with such appeal and uniqueness that the consumer feels inexplicably compelled to buy, and maybe even put the company’s logo on the bumper of their car (see: NASDAQ: AAPL). It is the fundamental effort of every eDiscovery provider, just like any business in any industry, to attempt to stand out from the crowd. As a result, they are likely to call something as simple as file-type filtering by a much grander appellation like, “Advanced Operating System Extension Categorization Sieve”. Unfortunately, this is not likely to change any time soon. Let’s look for help on point 3.
  3. The Shell Game – The coconut shells being vigorously whisked about on the table are the eDiscovery services. The ball underneath one of the shells is where you’re really going to get hammered on billing. Many of you have seen it: clients purposefully misled by the salesperson from eDiscovery vendor ‘Y’ to make wrong assumptions based on confusing language. The result is often financially tragic. Is this a foolish long-term strategy? Surely. Does that stop the unscrupulous that can see no further than the next invoice? Nope.

Even worse than the financial implications of this shell game, is that it often results in poor choices about the process and technology to be used, compounding a financial error with issues of efficiency or even defensibility. As DSi VP of Operations Mark Walker said in his Digital Advantage blog earlier this year:

“The biggest mistake made today is to get so caught up in technology cost, because that cost is seen first. This in many cases drives a decision to choose the wrong technology, process or people.”

This mistake is often driven by purposefully confusing pricing models. Fortunately, this problem also subsides (though never vanishes completely) in an industry as it matures and as clients become more empowered with knowledge.

The best news in all of this is that this clarity can be accelerated. We can get to more transparent and predictable eDiscovery pricing in 2013, and it won’t require regulatory intervention. It also probably won’t be through all-in or fixed fee pricing that is currently a popular topic. Such structures may be part of the answer, but they also create their own set of challenges and unintended consequences.

Here’s the cliffhanger: tune in to my next blog to hear our thoughts on how we can get this kid to college and see through the coconut shells.

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