The pace of corporate migrations to Microsoft 365 (the new name for Office 365) has accelerated over the last nine years (2011 launch). I have supported these migrations of most of my long term clients with policy reviews, preservation audits, workflow adaptions and more. Two to five years post-migration my health checks and annual discovery metrics reports tell a universal tale of bloated mailboxes. Despite a wide variety of retention approaches, policies and tools, users seemed to only hear “unlimited mailbox”. A small portion of compulsive filers leverage folder/item retention labels while most users found inventive ways to create infinite retention folders for incoming (and sometimes Sent) email. These ‘finders’ are happy that Microsoft has lifted onerous mailbox size limits by shoveling 24+ month email into their Archive mailboxes. What does this do to your discovery bills?

For corporations with a minimal litigation profile or very large litigation support department, the Microsoft model of in-place preservation and narrowly selective retrievals may throttle back the downstream cost of data hoarding. Remember that Microsoft has a massive legal department (1,500+) and unparalleled technical resources. Despite Microsoft ‘checking all the eDiscovery boxes’ in sales cycles, most enterprise customers still rely on a mix of third party tech and providers to boil the custodial data ocean. The rising tide of unlimited email has been driving up those costs fast than the falling prices of processing, hosting and analytics.

More importantly, I am seeing client environments where the average size of perpetual hold custodians has exceeded M365’s ability to export in a timely fashion. A discovery request for 10+ custodial mailboxes/OneDrives that takes days-weeks to create/download/upload thru Core eDiscovery makes it almost impossible to meet the default 30 day Federal deadline. Mature legal departments have equipped counsel with firm thresholds and SLA’s for interrogatory responses and discovery plan negotiations. Microsoft seems to assume that customers will test and negotiate agreed upon relevance criteria on every matter. This requires a level of search expertise and support that is uncommon. Managed service providers are happy to jump on large cases with tight deadlines. They have the search SMEs and project managers to burn the midnight oil along with your case budget.

So how does Legal control M365 data growth of enterprise users? Frankly, that is a Records/IT challenge with lots of service/tech providers eager to help. Legal can empower Records/IT by better understanding the record designation approaches and clearly, narrowly defining Legal’s preservation, investigation and collection requirements. First off, Legal already has deep insight into the rough composition of recent custodial collections. The team should be able to quantify important metrics like:

  • Average volume growth rate
  • Portion of held vs. live items (DiscoveryHolds mailbox folder or Recoverable Items)
  • Type and volume of business, sensitive, etc. categories from prior reviews
  • Type and volume of non-business, junk, non-record filters
  • User metric variations on department/division/location/role/level (management vs. non-exempt)

These prior discovery metrics can enhance IT’s M365 reports to clearly define the scope and nature of user retention behavior. You need to factor in selection bias for execs and managers, but your IT admins should be able to generate equivalent metrics on appropriate non-held employees for comparison. I frequently encounter IT managers who have had difficulty justifying the time/cost investment in enterprise wide classification systems. Legal, Compliance, HR and Security are key consumers of enhanced data classifications. Microsoft has rolled out their new M365 Records Management modules supporting Retention/Sensitive data labels that can be automatically placed by rule or even user-trained classification engine  that somewhat resembles TAR. How useful would it be to have a large portion of your unstructured collections already tagged with business usage, PII, confidentiality and privilege classifications? These kinds of projects are neither simple nor easy. However, between Microsoft and integrated partner advancements it is becoming practical. The goal is not perfection, rather a reasonable solution that tames rampant data growth without unreasonable expectations that users will manually tag or folder every item. Love to hear your stories of data hoarding and success stories tackling ever larger mailbox exports.

Greg Buckles wants your feedback, questions or project inquiries at Contact him directly for a free 15 minute ‘Good Karma’ call. He solves problems and creates eDiscovery solutions for enterprise and law firm clients.

Greg’s blog perspectives are personal opinions and should not be interpreted as a professional judgment or advice. Greg is no longer a journalist and all perspectives are based on best public information. Blog content is neither approved nor reviewed by any providers prior to being posted. Do you want to share your own perspective? Greg is looking for practical, professional informative perspectives free of marketing fluff, hidden agendas or personal/product bias. Outside blogs will clearly indicate the author, company and any relevant affiliations. 

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