I wrote this article before setting off on my recent trip to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. By the time I returned, the UK had voted to leave the EU – something which, like most people, I had not expected.
I have since written separately about the likely effect of Brexit (if it happens) on the global eDiscovery market, concluding that, if eDiscovery is affected at all, it will be in a positive way. I have therefore left this (optimistic) article as it stands.
How do you measure business confidence? Sometimes the answer appears to lie in projections by the likes of Gartner, although analysts have an interest in focusing on the sunny uplands allegedly ahead; sometimes it lies in the responses to surveys, though these, for me, depend on black-and-white questions in what is usually a grey world. I prefer the whites-of-their-eyes anecdote, the subliminal collation of feeling which comes from talking to a lot of people and drawing conclusions not just from what they say but from how they say it.
Anecdotal observation can be powerful. Like others who have been around that long, I remember the Legaltech of 2009, of conversations in a grey snowy New York of layoffs, deferred decisions and cash-flow problems. The event turned into a giant job market, with sad-looking people pressing CVs on companies who had problems enough of their own. I still have a photograph of a Supersession notice; a scribbled note records that “This session has been cancelled. We apologise”. The company had gone down that morning. We needed no surveys to tell us that times were hard.
Times move on and the market changes. Rob Robinson’s periodic eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey is called Onward and Upward for Discovery? The headline figure is that 57.9% of respondents anticipate that “revenue in [their] segment of the discovery ecosystem” will be higher six months from now. This, it seems, reflects optimism about “current general business conditions for eDiscovery”.
This is not, of course, the same as business conditions generally. eDiscovery, by its nature, is largely driven by things which businesses generally consider to be burdens – they are suing or being sued, being oppressed (or so they say) by regulators or forced to comply with ever-tighter compliance burdens, hobbled by restraints on privacy and data protection, or threatened by external threats such as cyber attacks.
Their bad news is potentially good news for those who offer software and services to deal with these problems, and it is unsurprising to find optimism among them.
For what it is worth, my anecdote-based “survey” bears out Rob Robinson’s figures. Pretty well everyone I speak to on the provider side is optimistic and that optimism is based on the work in hand and the work which it is definitely in prospect.
The biggest problem faced by most of them is the shortage of people with the relevant skills.