E-discovery Capabilities in Office 365 

Doculabs gets a lot of questions from clients about the various functional capabilities of Microsoft Office 365. With concerns about information governance getting more attention, e-discovery capabilities are increasingly top of mind.

So how good are the e-discovery capabilities in Office 365?

My verdict is that while the e-discovery capabilities are quite good, I have exactly zero examples of a Doculabs client that’s using it—especially in a high-profile case, or for a matter with high-volume, expansive search-and-hold requirements. In its current state, the Office 365 e-discovery offering is quite useful for smaller organizations, or for large organizations with low volumes of cases.

Currently, the e-discovery offering is actually a collection of five or so applications that are not yet integrated. I suspect that Microsoft intends to bring them together under a unified interface at some future date. At present, it requires some “swivel-chair” skills, but nothing too dramatic.

For example, a Legal team can use e-discovery in Office 365 to search for content in Office 365 Exchange mailboxes, Groups, Teams, SharePoint sites, and Skype conversations. If all you need to search is mailboxes, there’s an e-discovery search in the Exchange Administration console.

If you need to search mailboxes and sites at the same time, for the same legal case, there is a separate search function in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center.

You can see how it's quite distributed. But the good news is that in both scenarios you can find, hold, and export content found in mailboxes and sites. You can also do in place holds/preservation, which is obviously a must-have for many organizations.

Note that you get different capabilities with each license level. The standard E3 license includes basic searches, previews, etc., but does not do duplication detection, email thread consolidation, cluster analysis, and other capabilities that the E5 license provides. The potential issue here is that the E5 license costs more, but that it also includes all of the telecommunications nonsense that many companies don't need Microsoft to provide.

It would seem natural to want to (unfairly) compare the current Microsoft capabilities to purpose-built e-discovery platform solutions. Microsoft does not claim to have a solution for large organizations with multiple caseloads, where large teams of Legal and IT forensic activities are an everyday occurrence. Its tools cannot yet provide the sophisticated case management capabilities that other vendors can (Exterro, Capterra, etc.), e.g. sending out hold notices to content custodians or tracking responses or even producing a report of who is currently on hold.

Again, I can’t cite many examples of large organizations making use of the e-discovery capabilities of Office 365. Remember, though: We’re still in the early days of Office 365 adoption—especially at the enterprise level, where most of the clients I work with are focused on getting the fundamentals in place (Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint.) If I were the CIO or IT Manager in an organization, I’d be doing the same: I would focus on driving the adoption of innovative messaging, document management, and collaboration components, while Microsoft continues to bake its records management and e-discovery engines. Eventually they'll have a solution that will serve 80 percent of everyone's needs. (Note: I said, Eventually.)

If you're one of those organizations that's getting the O365 fundamentals in place, and you'd like some guidance in putting together a roadmap for doing so, Doculabs can help. Contact us here and let's talk about how you can streamline the time-to-benefit for your O365 rollout.

Rich Medina
Jeff Phillips
I’m a Principal Consultant, specializing in strategies for using ECM tools such as Microsoft Office 365 for information management.