The Spring 2021 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey May Indicate That the COVID-19 Effect on eDiscovery is Over: eDiscovery Trends

So, that’s why they call it “spring”! What a difference a year makes!  While that’s not quite how the famous song goes, it’s an indication of how much is changed in the past year.  A year ago (in the very first day of this blog, no less), we saw how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the confidence of individuals working in the eDiscovery ecosystem in the business of eDiscovery.  One year later, it’s time for the Spring 2021 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey, published (as always) on Rob Robinson’s terrific Complex Discovery site.  Has the confidence of individuals working in the eDiscovery ecosystem in the business of eDiscovery continued to rebound from the COVID-19 doldrums that have influenced survey results recently?  You tell me!

As always, Rob provides a complete breakdown of the latest survey results, which you can check out here.  I’ve covered every quarterly survey since its inception and, as I’ve done for a couple of years now, I will provide some analysis and I’m continuing to take a look at all surveys conducted to look at trends over time.  But, last time, I decided to change the graphs to a rolling four years’ data for clarity and this is the fifth time the survey has been conducted during the current pandemic.

The Spring 2021 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey response period was initiated on March 28, 2021 and continued until April 11, 2021.  This quarter’s survey experienced a solid response rate with 100 eDiscovery professionals sharing their opinions on the business of eDiscovery.  Here we go!

Back to Provider Influence: After taking a back seat to Law Firm respondents for most of the recent few surveys, Software and/or Services Provider respondents were the top group with 37% of all respondents (1.7% more than the lifetime average).  Law Firm respondents fell to second with 25% of all respondents (5.3% lower than the lifetime average of 30.3%).  Consultancy remained third at 16% (which is 1.8% below the 17.8% lifetime average).  And Corporation respondents were fourth at 9%, slightly higher than the lifetime average of 7.9%. If you count law firms as providers (they’re technically both providers and consumers), providers account for 78% of total respondents, a lower percentage than the last survey by 5.3%.  Here’s a graphical representation of the trend over the last sixteen surveys:

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So, how confident is a provider influenced group of respondents in eDiscovery business confidence in the Spring 2021 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey?  Pretty darn!  See below.

Emergence from the Pandemic Begins: This quarter, we saw a 13.7-point rise to 57% of respondents that considered business to be good, which not only is above the average of all surveys (51.2%) by 5.8%, it’s the highest number not just since the pandemic began, but since Fall 2018!  35% of respondents consider business to be normal, leaving only 8% of respondents that rated business conditions as bad (which is below the lifetime average of 10.3%).  These are numbers not seen since before the pandemic!  Here is the trend over the last sixteen surveys:

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So, do respondents expect business to continue to rise in six months?  See below.

And More Optimism Down the Road as Well: Almost all respondents (97%) expect business conditions will be in their segment to be the same or better six months from now, which caused the percentage of those expecting business to be worse to drop from 5% down to just 3%.   For expected revenues, the number of respondents that expected the same or better on revenues rose (up 5.3 points to 92%), with only 8% of respondents expecting lower revenues (the same as last quarter).  As for profits, respondents expecting higher profits grew to 44% (2.3% higher than last quarter and the highest number since – wait for it – Summer 2018!) and the expectation on lower profits dropped to 13% (right about average for lifetime surveys, but still 22.5% lower than one year ago).  So, it appears that optimism is also up for six months down the road.  Here is the profits trend over the last sixteen surveys:

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Will the optimistic trend continue next quarter?  We’ll see.

Back to a Reasonably Even Distribution: After being selected by an average of half of respondents as the most impactful factor over the next six months, Budgetary Constraints dropped all the way to 25% of the respondents as being most impactful, a 18.3% drop (and now 3.6% below average).  Increasing Types of Data was second at 22% (5.3% above the lifetime average) and Increasing Volumes of Data was third at 19%, 2.6% below the lifetime average of 21.6%. Data Security was fourth at 14% (0.8% above the lifetime average of 13.2%), Lack of Personnel remained fourth at 11.0% (0.9% lower than its lifetime average of 11.9%) and Inadequate Technology (once again) brought up the rear at 9% (but 1.1% higher than the lifetime average of 7.8%).  Budgets?  What budgets?  The graph below illustrates the distribution over the last sixteen surveys:

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Yet another sign that the influence of the pandemic is waning – budgetary constraints are no longer the dominant constraint in this category.

Talk about MANAGING Expectations!: Operational Management respondents emerged this time as the top group at 39% (6.5% over the lifetime average of 32.5% and tied for the highest percentage ever).  Executive Leadership respondents were second at 31% (7.2% below the lifetime average of 38.2%.  And Tactical Execution respondents remained as the lowest group for the second time in a row at 30% (but still 0.7% above than the lifetime average of 29.3%).  Here’s the breakdown over the last sixteen surveys:

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As even as these numbers are, it appears that this level of optimism is felt throughout all levels of the responding organizations!

Again, Rob has published the results for the Spring 2021 eDiscovery Business Confidence Survey on his site here, which shows responses to additional questions not referenced here.  Check them out.

So, what do you think?  Is COVID-19 STILL impacting your confidence in the business of eDiscovery?  Maybe it shouldn’t be!  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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