Recommind tunes into the discovery channel

The legal sector has been one of the most enthusiastic fans of enterprise search. With law firms faced with the age-old, expensive and time-consuming process of legal discovery, the prospect of being able to rapidly and exhaustively sort through terabytes of unstructured data from a diverse range of sources is compelling.

But lawyers see even further potential in adding intelligence to the search facility and linking content to related sources of expertise – for example, identifying individuals in the organisation best-placed to comment on certain documents.

San Francisco-based search technology company Recommind has latched onto this niche with its MindServer platform by combining legal e-discovery with a categorisation engine that automatically organises, manages, and distributes large volumes of information.

Its legal focus and ‘niche appeal’ might appear to limit Recommind’s market, especially given the wide mandate of other high-end search vendors such as Autonomy and Microsoft FAST. But at this stage and in this turbulent economic climate, that market is a fruitful starting point.

“A lot of people look at the enterprise search market as this monolithic thing but it’s not, it really depends on the customer,” explains Craig Carpenter, Recommind’s vice president of marketing and general counsel. “The level of scrutiny of solutions that customers undertake around e-discovery is significantly different from what you find in the enterprise search space, because if an e-discovery process goes wrong, very bad things happen and people get indicted.”

Recommind’s core vertical might be the legal sector, he says, but that also means its products are snapped up not just by law firms but also by corporate legal departments and others such as health care and government agencies who want to do their own e-discovery and early case assessment.

And Recommind sees huge potential in such verticals, where its categorisation-driven search model would be a good fit.

Indeed Carpenter says that “having legal expertise is not tantamount to focusing on the legal market; the majority of deals Recommind has in the pipeline are with enterprises, although many have a legal component”.

In the US, the modernisation of health care, for example, will open up a huge opportunity there. This focus on vertical markets suggests a tacit acceptance that the wider search market is set to be reclaimed by the enterprise content management (ECM) vendors from where it originally sprang.

“Microsoft’s FAST will eventually integrate with the company’s SharePoint [ECM and collaboration] product, and for many customers that’s going to be good enough. That’s not the part of the market we’re focusing on,” Carpenter says.

Recommind’s niche approach looks shrewd given the logic behind the confluence of search and ECM technologies exemplified by Autonomy’s recent acquisition of
ECM company Interwoven.

That move had particular relevance for Recommind given that Autonomy made the move on Interwoven in no small part for the latter’s large legal customer base and their hunger for e-discovery.

“Interwoven has very good credibility in the legal space. Autonomy is attempting to obtain through acquisition what it may not have been able to obtain in the marketplace,” says Carpenter.

But the development also suggests that Recommind should be working closer with remaining ECM partners.

One obvious possibility is a closer relationship with Open Text. Recommind has already developed an e-discovery early case assessment tool with the ECM giant and observers believe that it is not inconceivable that the relationship might develop into a marriage.

Left to its own devices, Carpenter says Recommind will expand its technology focus to develop discovery tools capable of searching video and audio. “In a legal context, there still tends to be a significant human element [with multimedia sources],” he says.

“If you have internal training videos in a corporation and somebody sues the organisation for wrongful termination, then suddenly those videos are important and it’s important to be able to find [the relevant scenes]. Search tools are less than 50% accurate when they search video or audio – we think we’re a few years away from being able to search them [as effectively] as documents.”

All that, of course, assumes that Recommind does not simply become fuel for the ambitions of one of the technology giants of unstructured content. Certainly, that might be unpalatable to some of its legal customers, such as 1,000-lawyer strong corporate counsel Bingham, who simply want a best-of-breed tool for “culling information” and – most critically – ensuring that information’s relevance.

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