In the past couple of posts I have talked about how much information is out there and the challenges of sorting through and making sense of it. And now that we’ve taken a look at the issue from 30,000 feet up, I thought we should spend some time discussing practical, “on the ground” methodologies that will actually help manage the information we develop during an investigation.
One way to approach a giant pile of information is to set a goal of finding the “source” – that is, the one event, trigger, fact, statement or document from which the rest of the pile springs. If you make this your goal, you’re going to get less distracted by ancillary information and isolate the most important details.
Let’s say you find yourself just overwhelmed with ten years worth of news articles, journals, public records and transcripts.
The first step toward finding the “source” is some basic sorting. Put all the media and news in one pile, official documents in another, and toss documents that may be interesting but just don’t have any relevance to the core issue or subject. You are going to find some duplication, i.e. several news articles discussing the same event or issue, overlapping public records, intersecting blogs. Don’t discard redundant documents without a quick review. News coverage in particular is local and the focus and level of detail can vary quite a bit. (Remember the old joke headline “Area man dies in nuclear explosion”.)
Locating the “source” is easier if you establish a chronology for the case or the subject. You need to establish if what you are investigating is a one-off event or action or if it’s the product of a gradual buildup of smaller events leading up to a tipping point. A chronology is often the best way to determine if all of the information flows from the source event, or if smaller events contributed a steady stream of information leading up to the tipping point, and then continued to provide more information as the issue unfolded over time.
For example, consider President Obama’s recent surprise visit to Afghanistan versus the war in Afghanistan itself. Of course many things lead to President Obama traveling to Afghanistan, but by and large we can consider it a one-off event. He will only make this particular trip once, and just about everything that will be written about it will begin with his surprise landing at Bagram Air Base. The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, has a much longer narrative. Certainly, there’s a day when it started, but to really understand why it happened you’d need to look back at a number of events over many, many years or possibly even centuries.
By now you’re really getting a clear picture of what kind of case you have and, by keeping your eye on the source, you can focus your efforts and scope of research correctly. Then you can better assess what documents are directly tied to your investigative goals. And you will also be better able to find the persons, media articles, research, investigation and actions by other parties that either corresponds to a distinct event or to a broader event horizon. You’ll also get a sense of which documentation and information is original, and which is building on what has been written, said, reported or investigated before.
And, of course, you are likely to learn that, in the end, there’s not really a single “source” document at all, but you will find a focal point that suits your particular investigation. Keep in mind that despite finding your own suitable “event date”, there are people and organizations that have conducted their own investigations to develop information before and after your event date. But by discovering your “source”, you force yourself to become aware of the different perspectives and interpretations.
The point here is that there are many different approaches to managing an often-bewildering array of information. Going after the source is just one tool to help you begin to make sense of it all. Of course, the best tool in any investigator’s kit is his or her judgment, and you should use yours to determine what other tools will get you where you need to be.
In my next post I will talk about sorting information by evaluating the source, which can take us to some interesting places.
¿Qué hace exactamente K2?
Me gusta que me hagan esa pregunta, pero es difícil responderla en pocas palabras.
Suelo decir que recopilamos información para ayudar a nuestros clientes a tomar decisiones informadas sobre sus empresas. Y dentro de eso, entra todo, desde realizar una inversión, hasta cerrar una operación o, incluso, lanzar un nuevo producto. Podría hablar de lo importante que es, a la hora de tomar decisiones, disponer de información correcta, precisa, completa y fiable, pero la mayor parte de quienes la solicitan ya conocen los fundamentos de la investigación.
Lo más complejo, y lo que supone un reto diario para nosotros, es administrar toda la información que recopilamos.
Cuando empecé en el negocio, no teníamos internet.
Sí, lo sé.
Aunque a la nueva generación de investigadores le pueda parecer increíble, nosotros no nos precipitábamos a internet cuando empezábamos con un caso. En mis comienzos, ni siquiera disponíamos de ordenador. Teníamos procesadores de textos de escritorio. El simple brillo verde de sus pantallas ya supuso un avance para nosotros, pero incluso la mayor parte de las pantallas ATM de hoy día son más complejas. Por lo general, lo más que podías hacer era teclear. Se podían realizar algunas búsquedas limitadas en medios de comunicación, había registros y bibliotecas corporativos, un montón de índices en papel para revisar, todo ello recopilado laboriosamente a mano.
Todo ha avanzado muy rápido y ahora todos nosotros tenemos acceso a ingentes volúmenes de información de un sinnúmero de fuentes y perspectivas. Prácticamente todo y todos están en la red en alguna parte, y el crecimiento dinámico de la cantidad de información disponible solo complica aún más las cosas.
Casi cualquier cosa que se publique hoy está inmediatamente disponible en internet, y lo publicado en el pasado se está escaneando y subiendo a la red muy deprisa. Dentro de muy poco, la expresión “descatalogado” o “fuera de imprenta” significará que el impresor no está online, y poco más.
Si antes los analistas y los gestores de casos tenían que vérselas con un pequeño goteo de datos procedentes de los ordenadores, ahora debemos lidiar con un auténtico torrente de información. Debemos seleccionarlo todo, evaluarlo, decidir qué información es buena y creíble, qué intereses puede haber detrás de cada información, cuál es el contexto, cuándo debemos seguir buscando y cuándo hay que decir “se acabó, ya tengo bastante”. La gestión de la información es lo más importante a la hora de planificar el volumen de nuestros casos.
En los próximos números abordaré la forma de explorar esa explosión de información y de gestionarla. Comentaré los problemas y los retos que se nos presentan, examinando las técnicas y los enfoques que estamos probando y señalando algunas de las tendencias que vemos en el sector.
Information, information everywhere and not a drop to…
In my previous post, I touched on the evolution of the investigations industry, specifically the ways in which the Internet, by making so much information readily available, presents a certain kind of challenge to investigative professionals. Pre-Internet, the challenge was finding information; now, the challenge is sorting through it, deciding when you have enough, and determining what is good, bad, useful or distracting. We in the investigative and business intelligence sector are great at discovering information about people, companies, groups and organizations, but what separates good investigators from the pack is the ability to filter, focus, and stay on track.
My years of investigative experience have taught me that one of the most important ways to start a case is to set concrete goals. It seems obvious, but sitting down with your team and defining what you’re really looking for up front is vital to the success of a case. This discipline is particularly important nowadays, when search engines are so important to our process but inevitably suggest words and phrases that threaten to send investigators off in different directions and on unpredictable tangents. (It’s about to get harder, too: Google’s latest “real-time”search technology, while impressive and useful, has the potential to be hazardously distracting. Every letter you type reveals a new set of results, so by the time you’ve typed “John Smith”, you’ve had to avoid clicking on links about Jet Blue, Jones Beach, John Mayer, Jon Stewart, and Captain John Smith.)
Ok, I know — exploring those tangents and wandering off in different directions does get interesting at times, but we will talk about that in another post. Bottom line: if you don’t spend some time talking and thinking about search parameters and investigative goals, you may be unpleasantly surprised with the results.
The first filter we apply as results start to flood in is an analysis of sources – for example, we might glean some information about a subject’s business from Facebook, but it probably won’t be as reliable (hence as valuable) as a set of online SEC filings. In other cases, the opposite might be true.
We also need to question the information provider’s motivation. Who provided the data, and when? What was the ostensible purpose? This is not to say that you should discount apparently biased or distorted information — you just need to look at it more closely because it adds to the context of your search.
Even authoritative sources can lead to “false positives”, or complementary results that create the illusion of substantiation. In many cases, several independent sources will seem to separately confirm a piece of information, when in fact they have both relied on a single primary source. (Think about two news sites that base breaking news articles on the same erroneous wire report.) That’s why we at K2 Global spend so much time on deep analysis — it’s the only way to turn an ever-increasing abundance of raw information into useful knowledge.
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It’s a question I like to be asked, bu
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t one that is difficult to answer succinctly.
I often say that we gather information to help our clients make informed decisions about their business. That could cover anything from making an investment, to completing a transaction or even to launching a new product. I
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could talk about how the information to make a decision needs to be good, accurate, complete, reliable, and so on, but most people who ask already understand the basics of investigation.
What is more complex, and what challenges us daily, is managing all the information that we gather.
When I first started out in the business, we did not have the internet.
Gasp, I know.
While it may come as a shock to the younger generation of investigators, we didn’t just hop online when we used to start cases. In my early days, we didn’t even have computers. We had desktop word processors. The simple green glow of their screens was an upgrade for us, but even most ATM screens now are more complex.
For the most part, all you could do was type. We could do some limited media searches, there were corporate registries and libraries, a lot of paper indexes to review, all of which had been laboriously compiled by hand.
Fast forward to now and each of us now has access to huge volumes of information from an endless number of sources and perspectives. Just about everything and everybody is online somewhere, and the dynamic growth in the amount of information available only complicates things further.
Just about anything published now is instantly available online, and what has been published in the past is rapidly being scanned and uploaded. Soon enough the term “out of print” will mean the printer is off-line and little else.
Where analysts and case managers used to have to deal with a small trickle from computers, we are now dealing with a fire hose of information. We need to sort through it all, evaluate it, decide what is good, credible information, what the interests are behind the information, what the context is, when to keep looking and when to say “Stop, I have enough”. Information management is a major part of how we plan out our case load.
In the next couple of posts I will be exploring the information explosion and how we manage it. I’ll be discussing the problems and challenges we face, examining techniques and approaches that we are trying and pointing out some of the trends that we are seeing in the industry.