Any executive who's ever been involved in litigation -- or at least watches Law and Order on a regular basis -- knows that the process of discovery calls for all information related to that litigation to be disclosed. No matter how big the company, that's a tall order, given the number of ways such information can be created using the plethora of high-tech tools, from BlackBerry handhelds to voice mail, available to workers.

Say hello, then, to information governance Relevant Products/Services. "It's a unified view of your information and what you need to do with that information for compliance purposes, legal-hold purposes, and also overall for deletion purposes," explained Nicole Eagan, chief marketing officer for Autonomy. Her company creates server-based software that helps companies identify and hold information. The company's newest product, Autonomy Information Governance, takes the task of identifying data Relevant Products/Services that could be relevant to litigation or compliance efforts to a new level by making "human-friendly" information understandable to computers.

Human-Friendly, Computer-Hostile

Eagan defined human-friendly data as "the type of information that people create and consume." It can be contained in the e-mails or instant messages we send, conference calls we participate in, and the PowerPoint presentations we read. Computers have a hard time understanding that information, she told us, compared to structured data that "can be put in rows and columns [that] the computer can process and understand." Most organizations have massive amounts of this unstructured data, since every employee has the tools to create it.

So when a company wants to ensure it's in compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley or other regulations, or is facing litigation, it's important that there be a way to locate and hold information in a way that is legally sound. That, Eagan said, is what Autonomy Information Governance does. "This system will automate that [process] for them because we allow the computer to in effect read e-mails, listen to voice mails, and find information that's relevant to any litigation case or to compliance."

Disposing of Data

Compliance rules regulate the type of data that must be saved, as well as the term for which data should be conserved. Autonomy's product helps organizations to dispose of data that is no longer required to be stored, Eagan said.

"One of the big trends we're seeing is companies thinking twice about keeping information forever, so the idea is that when information is no longer needed for business Relevant Products/Services or compliance purposes, delete it," she said. "As much as 80 percent of e-mail should be deleted, and keeping it is just putting the company at an unnecessary risk."

The server-based software runs on Windows, Linux and Unix servers. Extending search capabilities to remote devices such as BlackBerry handhelds requires installing a small software agent on those devices. For smaller enterprises, a hosted version of the service is available. The average price for the system is about $350,000, though that's scalable depending on the number of employees, the amount of data, and the types of media that need to be searched.