Highlights from our recent webinar with members of FTI Consulting and Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the business landscape has shifted in dramatic and unalterable ways, and those changes are likely to keep apace, or even accelerate, as technology continues to advance. In order to do the best work for their clients, it is imperative that lawyers and others in the legal profession stay up-to-date with the latest technological trends, both in terms of the way people work and how companies manage the massive amounts of data that are generated and stored via the modern workplace.

With that in mind, Corporate Counsel Business Journal recently hosted a webinar, “Data Privacy Implications of Cloud-Based Social Collaboration Apps,” with T. Sean Kelly, senior director at FTI Consulting, and Jason Ward, counsel at Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

As anyone who works in corporate America can attest, and Kelly points out, cloud-based applications are becoming increasingly prevalent, proliferating within the business enterprise and business network system with rapid frequency. It has become clear that simply having a well-developed IT policy and a white list/black list–type of approach isn’t enough anymore.

These days, employees often use a combination of computer devices (desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones) equipped with an array of office software, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, various PDF programs, etc. And businesses themselves usually use some kind of legacy network and/or rack storage locations, as they have for some years now. But even this “new” way of working is rapidly being supplanted by even more cutting-edge technologies that promise further increases in connectivity and efficiency.

To meet these demands – whether from clients, customers or employees themselves – more and more companies continue to adopt bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, in an attempt to facilitate more flexibility, creativity and efficiency. This has led to the development and proliferation of an incredible number of applications, often with a cloud-based component, which workers are using to increase their own efficiency and/or take advantage of new ways of collaborating that eliminate unnecessary or undesirable steps, such as repeated emails or phone calls.

“These applications are being developed and downloaded faster than corporate legal departments and corporate governance departments are able to keep up with,” Kelly says.

However, despite this rapid proliferation of new apps overall, there are a few dominant players within the cloud-for-work space. In the last 12 months, about 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have purchased or are adopting Microsoft Office 365. Google Apps for Work also has large share of the market, with 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies using its products. Kelly points out that one of the most appealing things about Google Apps for Work is that it allows IT departments to internally build bespoke applications that they can safely push out to managed devices. In the records storage and management space, Dropbox continues to enjoy a massive share of the market; it is used by 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies and is home to approximately 140 billion files.

For IT departments, who are trying to manage their companies’ data, as well as for legal teams, who often need that data for discovery purposes, this creates a new paradigm. “You have to make sure that you have directives in place for your staff, and for IT to use with folks that may be using these applications,” Ward says. “Because if you don’t … you’re going to have to, on the back end, figure out how to preserve the information and provide it as part of discovery.”

As more members of Gen Z enter the workforce and more millennials move up to management and C-suite roles, there has been a dramatic move away from desktop- and/or browser-based modes of working, in favor of smartphone- and app-based methods. Among these age groups, as well as with other workers younger than 65, Kelly says, “an overwhelming majority of time is being spent on their smartphone … predominantly within an application.”

It would behoove legal departments to stay well informed about these demographic changes and the technical shifts that come with them, Ward says: “It’s a pretty clear indication as to the manner in which folks are working and communicating. [It should] get the folks that are working on these systems, as it relates to litigation, going and thinking about how we’re going to capture this, how we’re going to preserve it, how we’re going to comply with discovery requests.”

Popular apps of the moment include those that are primarily used for internal communications, like Slack; efficiency and list-making apps like Evernote and Trello; and customer-relationship management (CRM) apps like those in the Salesforce suite.

“One of the challenges … is that the way a lot of these third parties work with hosted data is proprietary,” says Ward, “so you get into a situation where you’re collecting from those third-party-hosted databases and you need a specific export, and in order to have that export you have to work with … [those] third-party providers. Having that discussion up front and knowing what that’s going to take, in order to export information on the back end, is critical.”