Innovation in APAC – An Interview with Georgia Foster, Managing Director of Relativity APAC

MK: Today on ESI Survival Guide we are sitting down with Georgia Foster, the Managing Director for Relativity APAC covering Australia, New Zealand and Asia.  We are together virtually via Zoom, oceans apart and 14 hours between us.  Georgia, thank you so much for joining us today.  Let’s jump right in.  Can you tell us a bit more about your role at Relativity, your professional background and what led you to a career in technology and, specifically, the world of eDiscovery?

GF: I’ve been in the Managing Director APAC role for about seven months now.  I’m charged with running the team, which at this stage is primarily sales, marketing, service delivery – really, anything that drives growth.  I was at Uber prior to Relativity running the corporate division in Australia/New Zealand, and before then I was at LinkedIn on Mike Gamson’s global team (Mike is now Relativity’s CEO).

Like many in eDiscovery, I didn’t start my career in this industry.  My dad believed that his kids were going to be a doctor, a lawyer and an architect.  I was at architecture school and in my third year on, technology was introduced to architecture.  Before it was a level playing field, but when the technology came in, it widened the gap between the best, the good and the mediocre.  If you didn’t have access to the best software program, it set you back. 

MK: In your experience as an architect, did you need to have that talent for the basics of drafting and drawing or was technology something that essentially could uncover and expand a talent for architecture in someone that didn’t possess the underlying fundamentals?

GF: Technology made the talented designers better.  You have to possess the basic ability, the creativity and the designer’s mind to be an architect.  However, with the right technology you could push barriers and enhance your efforts.  It also breaks down the barriers to entry for people that want to join an industry but might not want to be architects.  Draftsmen, for example, don’t necessarily need to be good designers.  If they’re a good technologist, they transfer an architect’s sketch into workable plans. Today, the Architect has either had to become great at the technology or have great technologists they work with. Either way technology is key.

This led me to think about business, and how customers expect excellence. Not having the right program or technology in place today can be the difference between working with that customer or not.  I decided to leave architecture and pursued a career in technology as it has changed almost all industries

MK: That’s very interesting because the whole notion of technology breaking down barriers to entry also plays out in the eDiscovery world.  You have this platform where all these diverse professional layers co-exist: technologists, data analysts, forensic technicians, investigators, and legal professionals with varying levels of proficiency with technology.  Users can jump into the tool and review and analyze the documents they need using the most basic functionality, or the real tech-savvy lawyers can supercharge their abilities in numerous ways.  As Relativity expands into new areas of the APAC region, how do you take into consideration the needs of different types of users with regards to how the platform evolves?  How do any legal or regulatory considerations also impact the expansion and development roadmap?

GF: I wouldn’t say that Asia Pacific is necessarily any different from the processes that we’ve had to follow over the last decade or so in comparison to our expansion from the U.S. to Europe and then into Australia.  There are two layers here.  First, we do a lot of work when we decide on an expansion plan.  These efforts involve advice from external counsel, internal knowledge, review and analysis of the region, understanding what’s required from a regulatory standpoint and from an industry standpoint.  But then it initially comes down to the following question: What is the product that you can get out into the market that will satisfy, at a general level, the users in that market?  Once we get it into the hands of people in that market, then we engage them to address several key questions: What might we be missing here?  What can be better tweaked?  Lessons learned from a specific effort in one country can be applied globally in different ways.  Through continuing to expand into different markets, we ultimately make our product better, regardless of whether developments are directly applicable to that specific market.  The key takeaway is that it’s 100% about listening to the customers. 

MK: I completely understand.  You may expand your physical resource footprint, but have you integrated with the region in a meaningful way?  That is the real hallmark of expansion in my opinion.

GF: Right, exactly.  And I think that’s something we’ve demonstrated.  For example, when we launched the Mayapple release, addressing a number of specific requirements for Australian customers, that development came through a 24/7 product feedback loop, as well as our executives and our product team hearing firsthand what exactly Australian users need.  Then we delivered on those needs.  I see the same thing occurring in in Asia.

MK: APAC is much more diverse in terms of the varying legal and regulatory regimes than other regions, Australia is very different from South Korea is very different from Singapore is very different from China, and the list goes on.  Do you anticipate that as new releases come out, and as you engage with user communities in different countries, that your efforts are going to be much more siloed than say working with the Relativity user community across the U.S. or various European countries? 

GF: Though there are some countries that have very similar regulatory environments, product requirements, or customer types, APAC is not one region that can have a standardized model of anything.  For example, a global organization won’t be able to necessarily use the same product or sales collateral or marketing approach in one country as in the next because of the nuances in each region.  We release the product into a particular region and speak with users in the market so that we can uncover those nuances in order to fully understand how to be as effective as possible.

MK: When thinking of tech companies that have a global reach and how they approach different region, social media companies come to mind.  With social media you are trying to reflect the culture of that region in the user experience, whereas, with legal tech you are trying to adapt the user experience within the tool to certain best practices or even specific legal requirements. 

GF: Approaching a new market goes beyond that adaptation.  It is also the maturity of the market, of the specific industry and then its cloud adoption maturity.  You can start by thinking of cloud adoption generally, but there are variances when you drill down into certain industry sectors such as legal or financial services, which are less mature when it comes to moving to the cloud.  Cloud adoption is also very region-specific when it comes to risk.  Consider Australia and New Zealand, where there is a government cloud-first strategy.

MK:  You mentioned the cloud-first approach taken by certain market segments in Australia.  I’ve read a lot of reports that show that the APAC region ahead of the curve with regards to cloud adoption with nine in 10 IT professionals stating that their companies are already in the cloud at some level.  How did such broad adoption in APAC play out during the pandemic? 

GF: We are a region of islands.  We are very used to having to work remotely and therefore require tools that enable us to engage with people overseas.  Even before remote working was the norm, we were forced into adopting certain technologies, such as platforms that support collaboration, which tend to be cloud based so companies can collaborate across borders and jurisdictions.  There’s a lot of cloud adoption already within organizations, but there is still a ways to go with certain industries and with securing these environments.  Recent research conducted by Trend Micro found that 18% of APAC organizations were hit with seven or more cyberattacks in the past few months, and over 80% suffered one or more attacks.

MK:  Why do you things that attack percentage is so high?  Is it the result of the high rates of cloud adoption or this cloud-first approach?  What’s the relationship between the fact that the APAC region is very tech forward, yet there’s a significantly higher number of breach incidents?

GF:  I think that despite having a cloud-first philosophy, the region is not necessarily cloud ready.  I would say that maybe the weakness is that organizations tend to run dual – cloud with on-premise.  Cloud adopters let cloud technology organizations, like Microsoft Azure, run their incredible security for the cloud piece, but perhaps they’re not investing enough into the on-premise part.  Ultimately, cloud adoption with strong and reliable security postures is the solution.

MK: Taking a step back, what makes APAC such a growth market for Relativity? 

GF: First and foremost, Asia Pacific as a region is one of the fastest growing and most diverse regions for eDiscovery and compliance, and we are meeting that research with doubling down on the region.  With our expansion into Singapore and South Korea, APAC now has 36% of the data centers that host RelativityOne for us globally.  Also, the Relativity community in APAC is tremendously engaged and continues to show growth.  There was 46% growth in active community members over the last year, and a 93% increase in attendance at user groups and events during that same time.

MK: As someone who has been a Relativity Server user, partner, reseller and all things in between for well over a decade, RelativityOne is a major development, one that, personally, I have fully embraced.  It’s very interesting to see how fast the rate of adoption is increasing. 

GF: What’s really interesting, from my perspective, is that the adoption of RelativityOne is on the rise globally, but its growth is the fastest in our region.  I think this is a real testament to the nature of how broken up the APAC region is.  The cloud version of our products is playing very nicely into accommodating a region that is so diverse and made up of lots of different countries.

MK: Let’s pivot to the topic of data security.  Historically, and often even now, one of the biggest barriers to using a hosted eDiscovery platform, not to mention a public cloud offering, is this antiquated notion that you’re giving up control of your data at some level and therefore it’s vulnerable.  When you move into a new market, what do you consider when dealing with data security requirements and concerns?     

GF: Security considerations form a major part of our analysis when we decide to move into a region.  We engage external counsel, we speak with our hosting partner, Microsoft, we look to the product team and evaluate any regulatory requirements within a region.  We also talk with research groups about market maturity in terms of cloud adoption, what any blockers may be, and if there are any preconceived notions regarding security in the cloud.  We then start to tackle those issues and address whether they’re legitimate concerns or perceived misconceptions.  

Security is becoming everyone’s problem, and it’s something that needs to be addressed.  The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) reported that out of 518 breach notifications from January to June in 2020, 61% of them were malicious.  The top three industry sectors affected by cyber incidents were health, finance and then legal, accounting and management services.  The expectations for lawyers and their customers to secure information are increasing significantly.  We play a huge role in that effort.  By virtue of moving to the cloud, there are significant additional security measures that are in place, not just by Relativity and our Calder7 security team, but by Microsoft as well.  We have a panel during our upcoming Spotlight APAC event where Seungho Song of Microsoft’s Azure Business Group, will discuss the collaborative effort between Relativity and Microsoft when it comes to our security practices for RelativityOne.

MK: Transitioning from data security to data privacy protections, I wanted to talk briefly about Relativity’s acquisition of a perpetual license to Milyli’s Blackout application for RelativityOne, which is now RelativityOne Redact.  How does RelativityOne Redact play a role in this overall expansion into APAC with RelativityOne?

GF: RelativityOne Redact is just one aspect of the organization’s plans to expand RelativityOne. Now more than ever, redaction capabilities are critical to ensure adherence to evolving regulations and accelerate the speed to produce information in a variety of countries, including those within APAC. Incorporating RelativityOne Redact streamlines the e-discovery, investigations and data request processes with the ability to seamlessly cut time and costs out of reviews and reduce risk associated with human error. The needs for redaction capabilities vary from country to country based on those individual countries’ data privacy regulations.  For example, in February, certain sections of Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act of 2020 went into effect, which address enforcement of penalties for data privacy and protection violations conducted by either individuals or organizations. Similarly, South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act protects its citizens’ data from unnecessary collection, unauthorized use or disclosure, and abuse.  RelativityOne Redact can help those dealing with sensitive data or personally identifiable information (PII) so they can continue to do great work without exposing that data or PII, which would cause them to receive a fine or be charged with criminal activity.

MK: Now I’d like to shine a light on the upcoming Spotlight: APAC 2021 virtual event.  This year the emphasis has shifted from being Australia-specific to the broader APAC region.  What are the goals of Spotlight: APAC and who should attend this event?  Is it for current Relativity APAC users, service providers considering a move into the region, those outside of the Relativity community or all of the above?

GF: All of the above.  This year the topics that we’re covering are applicable to various job titles outside eDiscovery.  The program’s focus on security alone provides value to the CSO/CISO, the IT professional and the cybersecurity expert.  Those in risk and compliance, eDiscovery and legal generally can benefit.  The attacks across APAC have impacted a broad array of organizations and various business units.  Anyone that wants to understand more about cloud security will find the content valuable.  And given the growth we see in APAC, it was important for us to expand Spotlight from Australia to New Zealand and Asia.  We want to bring the entire APAC community together to review and share the content, understand what’s driving the APAC market, and reflect on how these factors might influence decision-making for their particular region.  In addition, the Justice for Change session expands the value of the content out to any legal professional doing pro bono work, as well as to any corporation that has a social responsibility and wants to engage with law firms and organizations that also have a social responsibility.  

MK: I want to focus on Justice for Change, we recently did a piece on Justice for Change here on The Guide with Colleen Costello and Johnathan Hill from your team, and my team at CDS recently got paired with an applicant.  One of the great things about eDiscovery, and Relativity’s Justice for Change, is that we often think of pro bono work in terms of lawyers and their efforts.  Now we’re able to leverage Relativity in a way that professionals from all corners of the Relativity community can contribute their efforts in support of these important pro bono matters.  What is your personal connection to Justice for Change?  Can you describe how this initiative operates in Australia? 

GF: The application process is the same as in the U.S. and the cases that we are seeing come forward here are just as broad as what we’re seeing with the racial injustice cases in the U.S.  We have two local projects confirmed that are onboarding into the Justice for Change program.  Those organizations will be speaking on the Justice for Change panel with me, along with the CEO from the Australian Pro Bono Center at Spotlight APAC. 

Regarding my personal connection to Justice for Change, I’ve worked at some of the world’s greatest tech companies over the last two decades, LinkedIn and Uber, which have completely transformed people’s lives.  But when you transform people’s lives, it doesn’t matter unless your goal is to transform everyone’s lives.  Your final aim cannot just be for a subset of the community.  When I saw that Justice for Change had been released early on in my tenure at Relativity, I jumped at the chance to launch it here.  The impact so far has been exactly what I’ve experienced in the past and the community has been extremely receptive.  By removing the cost barrier to using the technology, we hope those who are engaging in pro bono work can do more, which means that the communities that previously would not have had as fair an opportunity to seek justice will now be able to take advantage of the justice system.  And hopefully, together we will change the course of the future.

MK: That’s fantastic.  One of the early promises of eDiscovery, which does still exist, was that it would increase access to justice by being able to level the playing field.  Technology could help narrow scope and streamline discovery efforts so that asymmetrical litigations could be tackled by under-resourced parties.  However, that didn’t necessarily play out, and the discovery process became much more expensive and, ultimately, inaccessible.  The fact that Relativity has started Justice for Change is huge. And I absolutely love your earlier quote, “when you transform people’s lives, it doesn’t matter unless your goal is to transform everyone’s lives.” 

GF: You’ve got to have a big mission, right?  With Justice for Change, we’ve engaged many associations in the region, because we need that feedback from the community.  We need their input to tell us what this program needs to look like and what the most important cases are today.  We take that information back and start to ask ourselves if we can start to expand this out.  When I look at other social justice movements happening now, there’s a lot more we could be doing with this program, but we need to do it right in order to achieve our primary goal.

MK: Georgia, what’s on the horizon for Relativity in APAC?  You’ve just kicked off a major launch in Singapore.  What’s next for the region?  Do you focus on the existing regions and really build out Singapore, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand?  Do you envision expanding into new areas quickly?

GF: In Australia and New Zealand, the focus is on growth.  There has been a major trend with organizations converting from Relativity Server to RelativityOne, and we have made some major strides on that front.  Our primary focus in Australia and New Zealand is spending more time focused on our partners and supporting them with our co-selling efforts and amplifying our reach together, likewise, together with Microsoft.  We want to lean into our community and make sure their businesses are successful.   

In Asia, it’s the same as Australia and New Zealand, but we’re at a stage where we need to evangelize cloud technology within the legal and financial services spaces.  We need to work with our partners and Microsoft, and build stronger levels of comfort with moving to the cloud so that we can then go out to market together.  There are other APAC countries that we’ve got our eyes on for expansion.  Part of my efforts this year include laying out that map so that we enter 2022 strong with a clear expansion plan.

MK: Georgia, thank you so much for joining us and giving our readers insight into your story, the factors that make the legal technology market in APAC so unique compared to other parts of the world, and how Relativity is both fostering and supporting the growing, engaged user community in APAC.  We look forward to all the great things we know Relativity will be doing in the region, and hope to have you back soon to discuss emerging eDiscovery, data privacy and cybersecurity trends in APAC.

Thank you to all our subscribers, viewers and readers, we hope you enjoyed our discussion.  This is Matt from ESI Survival Guide telling you to please stay safe out there in the electronic wilderness.    

Written by Matthew Knouff

Matthew F. Knouff, Esq., CIPP/US, CEDS, RCSP, Sr. Solutions Consultant, Legility LLC Matthew has been navigating the ESI and data law wilderness for over fifteen years as an attorney, consultant and academic. He currently serves as a Sr. Solutions Consultant with Legility LLC., an award-winning global provider of eDiscovery and data management services and technology. He is an expert in eDiscovery law and process, global data privacy and the movement of data across borders. In addition to contributing to and holding leadership positions with several organizations dedicated to supporting the legal profession, he has developed numerous CLE programs and assessment tools, and frequently speaks and writes on various topics related to the intersection of data, law and technology. He holds the CIPP/US, CEDS and RCSP certifications, is an avid distance runner, an active board member with Education Through Music, a Tarheel through and through, a life-long musician and an obsessive autodidact. Matthew lives with his son in New York City.

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