July 28, 2014

The Best Disinfectant is Sunshine

I never expected my competition to do me any favors. The e-discovery market is fairly cut-throat and I am not looking for anything more than an honest, level playing field – even if the play is rough. That said, I believe my competitive brethren at Clearwell recently stepped over a basic line of honesty and outright lied to a prospective customer. Because I am a strong believer that the best disinfectant is sunshine, I thought it appropriate to expose Clearwell’s behavior to the light of day in the hopes that they might conduct themselves with a greater level of honesty in the future.

To set the stage let me first detail the situation. In the latter half of 2011 both AccessData and Clearwell were competing for the business of a large company in the Pacific Northwest. The company brought in both vendors, ran an extensive proof of concept, and ultimately chose AccessData. The reasons given for the choice were simple; Legal felt our interface was easier to use and IT felt our collection capabilities were more robust and maintained a higher level of data integrity. Both vendors were then informed of the decision. Now, it is not uncommon for a losing vendor to take one last stab at winning the business. This last ditch attempt often takes the form of trying to go in above the decision maker and ‘sell higher’ or to offer an incredibly steep discount. Both strategies generally fail, but you never know so most vendors generally give it a go.

In this situation though, Clearwell tried a third strategy; they attempted to present false information or – if we’re being really generous – misinform. Here is an exact copy of the email they sent to the customer:

Unfortunately for Clearwell none of the claims in their email are true and we quickly responded to all the fanatical misdirection. My responses follow:

First off I would say the accusations are demonstrably false and we will be sending Clearwell a cease and desist immediately. That said, as to the merits of their arguments let’s take their points one at a time:

  1. CW: “Access Data is known for offering a “custom” platform – which takes a number of months to build and implement.” TL: Not only can our product (AD eDiscovery) be installed in a few days, and we can provide references to the fact, and we don’t have a single customer that has customized it in anyway. We are not even sure what they (CW) mean or how they think our solution can be customized? Maybe it is because our solution is flexible and out of the box offers many possible workflows. I can’t be sure but their statement is definitely not correct.
  2. CW: “I would be happy to connect you with a large biotech firm in Chicago who went for the offer and spent $670K on it. After 6 months of fruitless implementation time they brought Clearwell back in.” TL: I am not sure what point they (CW) are making here. The customer they are referring to purchased the product for collection and continues to utilize it. They (our customer) have consistently paid their software maintenance and are in good standing. It is perhaps true that the customer utilizes Clearwell, we aren’t sure, but that seems irrelevant to the value proposition we have provided them.
  3. CW: “Additionally, AD’s architecture dictates that you deal with significantly larger data sets than Clearwell and other ediscovery solutions.” TL: I am not at all sure what they are talking about here, but we there is nothing about our architecture that affects the size of the data collected or processed. I believe Clearwell thinks we can only do full disk imaging but the fact is we have been able to do targeted collection before they could even spell collections. I wrote a blog entry on this very issue: http://ediscoveryinsight.com/2011/08/bit-by-bit-a-reality-check . (AD eDiscovery remains one of a select few that can perform targeted collections en masse, both behind and in-front of firewalls and in a consistent and secure manner.)
  4. CW: “The downstream effect of this is significantly lower filtering/culling rates. Gartner has published a report indicating for each GB of data you collect, process and review for ediscovery costs the typical organization $18K in systems and manpower. Dealing with larger datasets is a costly process and will not likely meet the business requirements of the legal team.” TL: This is too funny because AccessData’s product will process as much data as you shove at it (without incremental per gig fees). The only reason Gartner published numbers like this is because companies like Clearwell charge by the gig. AccessData has never been a company focused on penalizing our customers for heavily utilizing our product and we never will. That model may work for Clearwell but it isn’t how we want to do business.
  5. CW: “I have included the Gartner MQ for ediscovery, published just before the Symantec acquisition in May. None of the other vendors you are looking at in the ‘Leaders’ quadrant. I look forward to further discussion.” TL: Gartner’s magic quadrant, while a useful tool when seeking an overview of a very cluttered market, is not really relevant to how well a certain product or service will solve a specific business problem in a specific company at a specific time. The market survey is a blunt tool to evaluate an extremely broad set of e-discovery solutions, including SaaS models, service providers and software makers. Notwithstanding that, AccessData placed well in the quadrant and anticipates another strong showing in 2012. Moreover, at the time that this email was sent, Symantec had been in possession of Clearwell for more than four months. While four months isn’t enough time to understand the impact to Gartner’s assessment of Clearwell it doesn’t appear that Symantec is in a position to assist (according to Gartner’s relative ranking).

Fortunately the customer’s first thought regarding Clearwell’s tactics was, “really, you guys have to stoop this low? The last thing we want to do is to partner with a company that throws around hearsay.” The fact that the customer saw right through the misrepresentations and AccessData still won the business does not, in my view, mitigate the transgression on Clearwell’s part. A company that claims to be a leader in a space where honor and integrity is paramount shouldn’t peddle in lies and misrepresentations regarding its competitors. Shouldn’t their products and services be strong enough to stand on their own merits…?

Tim Leehealey

Tim Leehealey is Chairman and CEO of AccessData. Prior to joining AccessData he was VP of Corporate Development at Guidance Software. Prior to that he was an investment banking analyst covering the security market at Wedbush Morgan.

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