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Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery goes beyond search basics

Microsoft streamlines the efforts to find pertinent documents and other data with help from the artificial intelligence embedded in the platform's analytics technology.

Advanced eDiscovery in Microsoft 365 -- or Office 365, depending on your subscription -- is a powerful tool that can index data sets and make it easily searchable.

This tool also supports the import and analysis of external data. This is a useful feature for legal and human resources positions or any other job in which you need to search through data for keywords and use the AI features of the platform to weed out undesirable information. Before we look at Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery, let's start with some basics.

The standard eDiscovery feature is available to any Business or Enterprise licensed customer of the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 suite. It provides several functions, including:

  • create a case (essentially, fencing off the eDiscovery data and settings);
  • place a hold on the data so it can't be deleted (some license requirements apply to this step);
  • define the data the hold applies to, such as a user's Exchange data or data between certain dates; and
  • setting conditions on what should be discoverable in that hold, such as the word "fraud."

Once you configure the data set, the data will be indexed for review. More searches, known as queries, can be run and the results exported for use outside of eDiscovery.

What is Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery?

Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery is more of an end-to-end product for eDiscovery requirements. Advanced eDiscovery follows the Electronic Discovery Reference Model framework, which provides more granularity to the settings you can control over a case.

Advanced eDiscovery requires licensing above the common Microsoft/Office 365 E3 license such as the E5 compliance add-on, the eDiscovery and Audit add-on or just a switch to the Microsoft/Office 365 E5 tier.

Some of the Advanced eDiscovery highlights include:

  • search and analytics functionality thread emails, rather than dealing with each email separately;
  • optical character recognition to convert images to text-searchable documents;
  • built-in ability to analyze, query, review, tag and export content as a group, rather than individual files;
  • better visibility of long-running tasks to check progress;
  • predictive coding allows you to train the system to determine which data is relevant; and
  • detecting files that are the same or almost the same to avoid a review of the same content.

Organizations can benefit from the import feature

Another key feature for Advanced eDiscovery is the ability to import non-Microsoft 365 content.

To start, create a review set which is only available in Advanced eDiscovery. A review set is a defined group of data sets, which can be used with the group functionality listed above.

You can add external data to a review set with the Manage review set option. Clicking the View uploads link in the Non-Office 365 data section takes you to a page with an Upload files button, which starts a wizard after it is clicked.

The wizard asks you to prepare the files you want to upload. You'll need to create a top-level folder with a subfolder for each custodian you have data for in User Principal Name UPN format for the account, such as [email protected]. Upload the data in those user-named folders.

Click on this link to see the file types you can import into Advanced eDiscovery. Microsoft supports several archive and container formats such as PST mailbox files that you can upload in a batch and run searches against.

To upload the files, you will need to install the AzCopy utility. When you have all the files ready, input the path in the wizard to the user folders, which will generate a command to paste into a command prompt that will trigger the upload using AzCopy. The utility will show statistics, such as the progress, time elapsed and the upload speed during the transfer process.

Once finished, you can go back to the webpage and click the Next: Process files button. Do not click this button until the upload completes or you'll start a one-time processing of the incomplete data that you can't cancel or run again.

The time it takes to process depends on the amount of data uploaded. When the transfer completes, the Manage review sets page will show a summary report of the data, allow you to train the system for relevant information, and manage tags to help identify and discover data based on your search criteria.

You need to apply the license to the account(s) you are searching; administrators and staff reviewing the data do not need this extra license, so for occasional ad-hoc Advanced eDiscovery requirements, your organization might only need a few licenses that you can move as required -- assuming you don't want the other benefits that come with each license.

Advanced eDiscovery takes some time to understand from both the administrator's point of view and from the perspective of the user with access to a case. But it's a powerful -- and relatively inexpensive -- tool for an organization that might have access as part of the E5 license. It's still very cost-effective if you only need a few add-on licenses compared to any other eDiscovery product on the market.

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