The e-discovery industry is no stranger to transformation. If our field had been given a crystal ball 20 years ago, most would have been shocked at the volume and variety of data types that have emerged. Back then, our work centered on interviews and paper documents, with an eventual shift to email, attachments and mobile phone data. Today, we’re dealing with exotic data sources, countless communications channels, ephemeral messaging and applications that encrypt information. All of these advancements create new barriers for e-discovery. As they continue to proliferate, they will increasingly replacing the data formats and access points around which our current e-discovery tools and workflows are designed.

Throughout e-discovery’s evolution, technology developers have differentiated by offering the most automation or best analytics for common data sources. Service providers competed through mastery of the leading e-discovery tools and creating unique, cost-effective processes and workflows within them. I believe e-discovery is now reaching a plateau, where certain tools and processes are commoditized and the proliferation of data types is quickly rising beyond the capacity of current solutions.

Looking forward, the pace of innovation around specific tools and data sources will be unable to keep up with the speed at which the data landscape will diversify. No single platform will be able to provide connectors and solutions for every data type. No provider will master every technology application available across each phase of e-discovery. Additionally, no single e-discovery vendor can be expected to keep pace with rapid advancements in data analytics and AI that is now powering the next generation of solutions. A provider may launch a connector for Telegram, but it won’t work for Yammer. Another connector is needed for WhatsApp data. A unique workflow required analyzing messages from Slack. And so on. Each and every data source will need a unique technology solution, workflow and process for collecting evidence from it, processing the data and making it reviewable in context with a matter’s overall pool of electronic evidence.

This dynamic will have a major impact on the e-discovery provider landscape of the future. Effectiveness in e-discovery will be driven by the ability to be nimble and create workarounds on the fly. Rather than chasing the evolution of data with technology development alone, the e-discovery industry will need to look ahead to answer difficult questions. Providers that can use the technology they have on hand to quickly handle data generated from new tools, and residing in encrypted and novel systems—without losing the logic of the communication—will pull ahead as the industry leaders. Expertise with a specific tool will become far less important than agility and critical problem solving.

E-discovery experts are facing new questions every day. Our clients are already dealing with complex challenges relating to new data types and the myriad of tools available. At FTI, we’re investing in understanding the future of e-discovery, and building a team of technologists, developers and data scientists that will help keep our clients up-to-speed with big changes.

As an industry, e-discovery providers need to stay ahead of the game, and proactively prepare for analyzing data from a variety of connected devices and applications. This also means being prepared for situations where data and messages are encrypted, or deleted to the point they are unrecoverable—and understanding how to quickly and cost-effectively tackle any challenges that arise.