It is commonplace in this tough economy for corporations to run mean and lean. Many are not investing in the future, but are simply maintaining the status quo until the tides turn. However, corporate legal teams remain responsible for managing liability in today’s challenging legal climate. New government regulations, evolving rules of procedure, and the increasing complexity and impact of technology make risk management ever more difficult.

One area of escalating risk and cost to the enterprise is unmanaged information. Whether resident on seemingly self-propagating data archives, forgotten shared drives or mounting stores of legacy backup tapes, unmanaged information not only accounts for an increasingly large percentage of a company’s IT budget, it also represents an unknown and seemingly unknowable risk. How can legal teams help their clients proactively manage user data within tight budgets and ensure that corporate information management policies are implemented?

Corporate IT departments consume a large portion of the corporate budget, and they also are the teams that manage all user data. Finding money in these already strict budgets and delivering the tools to enable IT to implement policy can seem like insurmountable challenges. However, by leveraging available technologies, a large component of typical IT budgets can be freed up and used to manage long-term liability. For example, most companies spend a significant amount of money on offsite storage of legacy backup tapes. These legacy tapes are, in fact, a considerable liability as they contain years—and even decades—of unmanaged corporate data.

Just about every company uses backup tapes for disaster recovery, business continuity and even archival purposes. These tapes are routinely shipped offsite for long-term storage. Storage costs can run anywhere from $35 to $50 annually just for a single tape. If your organization stores 20,000 legacy tapes, a surprisingly common number, this adds up to $700,000 to $2.5 million annually! This comprises a significant percentage of any IT budget simply to store legacy data that, in most cases, is not really needed for any business purpose and, in fact, can become a liability down the road.

The bulk of the user data on these legacy tapes can be purged pursuant to your information management policy. Moreover, separating the wheat from the chaff, finding the content that must be retained for legal reasons, is not expensive. In fact, for the annual cost to store these offsite tapes, the tapes can be processed according to policy, needed information identified and recovered, and then destroyed.

Using technology that can scan legacy tapes and index the information on them, it is possible to identify data relevant to an existing legal preservation obligation and quickly extract that data into a more suitable archive for long-term storage. The balance of the data, typically 90 percent or more, can be quickly and permanently purged, eliminating a hidden source of potential future liability. The cost for the technology and labor required to remediate a store of backup tapes and manage long-term liability is less than the cost to store the tapes annually. In other words, eliminating the hidden risk resident on legacy backup tapes generally will pay for itself—sometimes in a matter of months.

For example, imagine a company paying $90,000 per month to store 20,000 legacy backup tapes ($54/tape/year). The total cost of hardware, software and labor to execute a defensible tape remediation project would be in the $1 million range. This sounds expensive, until one realizes that the annual cost of keeping the tapes is as much, or more. That means a backup tape remediation project will actually result in a positive return on investment.

It is not often that the legal department can reduce corporate risk while contributing positively to the bottom line.