I recall, years ago, sitting at a hotel bar with Relativity’s founder, Andrew Sieja. It may have been in Dallas, but frankly all those events at similar-looking convention centres blur into one after a decade or so. The conversations similarly merge into an indistinct mass of information and aspiration as eDiscovery company representatives tried to persuade me that their product was different and that it would sweep all before it. For the most part, what they said was interchangeable with what the others had said – the same abstract concepts from whatever was the vogue technology, dressed in the hyperbolic, polysyllabic language devised by the marketing departments.
I can picture everything about this particular conversation though – the bar, the beer, and the immaculate indoor garden under the hotel’s glass roof. In place of the high-flown guff I had come to expect from others, Andrew Sieja had a single and simple assertion: “I want to build the best linear review product in the world”.
The exhibit hall was full of the booths of large, established eDiscovery players. I am not sure that Relativity (kCura then) even had a booth. It might have seemed overly ambitious for a small company to be talking of becoming the world’s best, yet it seemed wholly plausible when you heard Andrew Sieja talking in those terms.
I was reminded of this when I saw Relativity’ latest press release headed Relativity acquires Text IQ to drive leadership in AI for e-Discovery, compliance and privacy. The headline alone shows how things have changed and how far we have come in the 13 or so years since that conversation. Linear review was quickly displaced by rapid developments in more sophisticated form of search and analysis. Mere retrospective review has been overtaken by the demands of compliance and privacy, both requiring not just near-instant management but pre-emptive identification of risk. Data volumes have surged (“sky-rocketed”, as the marketing departments always put it) to levels unimaginable back then. And many of those seemingly unbeatable eDiscovery names have disappeared.
Meanwhile, Relativity keeps on growing, broadening its technology base and its reach as well as its headcount. Text IQ is Relativity’s second acquisition of 2021 (the first was VerQu, which I wrote about here). Both acquisitions focus on the capture of communications and other data – Text IQ’s skill is the extraction of complete social networks from unstructured data, with a focus on individuals and their roles.
The theme recurring through the press release is the performance of an urgent and critical task at speed with minimal human input. A particular example is privilege review, which is both time-consuming and prone to error. Privacy and data protection bring new burdens with short timescales. The obligations to react to cyber breaches, where regulatory requirements, customer satisfaction and, often the survival of the businesses, require a fast, accurate reaction. Rick Lutkus , Partner, Privacy & Cybersecurity at Seyfarth Shaw, is quoted as saying
“The timelines for breach response are oftentimes more challenging to deal with than anything you’d see in litigation. A complete response is a substantial manual effort that’s very prone to error. Text IQ changes that, allowing us to take on more work and deliver better outcomes for our clients.”
If you go back to the time of my conversation with Andrew Sieja all those years ago, a single label “eDiscovery” covered all the activities which concerned us. Relativity and its rivals thought of themselves as eDiscovery companies, and their main concern on their clients’ behalf was litigation and its discovery duties. “eDiscovery” is still the dominant link from Relativity’s home page, but it shares the space with “Compliance”. Both terms now embrace a range of risks and burdens far beyond the (as it seems now) simple obligation to collect past data and produce it to other parties. There is more of it, the obligations have moved to Now!, the penalties for getting it wrong are much higher, and the costs of trying to manage it manually are extravagantly high even if it were possible to do it manually.
Relativity has adapted to meet the challenges or, more importantly, to allow its clients to meet them. The Text IQ acquisition seems a logical part of a toolset, the whole of which enables organisations to meet challenges which multiply yearly. It’s all a long way from linear review of old data.