Big data

In the first in a series of articles exploring the challenges and opportunities of managing and exploiting data, Hayley Pizzey provides guidance for individuals seeking to make sense of it all.

9 February 2015

Data pours into organisations from all directions and in such volumes, speeds and complexity that it is impossible for traditional database tools to make sense of or manage. The term given to such data is Big Data.

Big Data has become a daily part of our lives. Whether it involves Google monitoring the search terms which will help it predict the next flu outbreak, or President Obama’s data-driven election campaign, Big Data’s increasing prevalence will not diminish any time soon.

A small business employing 150 people, for example, has a tremendous capacity, through its reliance on emails, file sharing systems, backups, mobiles, laptops and desktops, to generate and store vast amounts of electronic information.  This could total almost 20 terabytes of electronic information—the equivalent of 1,250 16GB iPhones or two copies of the printed collection of the US Library of Congress. So the challenge for even smaller organisations is on how to contextualise and make the best use of this valuable data flow.

The enormous value presented by analyses of Big Data is undoubtedly in the historical data which can be harvested. This can be used to generate predictive analytics for use in shaping and evaluating what-if scenarios, key to informed decision making. Furthermore, data can often, through the methodologies and judgment of e-discovery experts, yield valuable information during the course of investigations, compliance, governance and regulatory reviews as well as during disputes.

In the course of a dispute or investigation, huge amounts of data will routinely have to be sifted, evaluated and recorded, and this means that those reviewing the data, particularly lawyers, must fully understand the e-discovery process and have the tools at their disposal to make light work of some of this heavy lifting.  Furthermore, they must be able to work closely with the client’s IT departments and external forensic experts.

The value of experienced lawyers who are able to understand and master the data landscape, and who have the ability to extract only the most specific and essential items from Big Data, cannot be overstated.

Some organisations do, however,  attempt to manage the e-discovery process themselves, but such DIY attempts can turn out to be more expensive, as failure first time round will necessitate repeating the exercise and incur further costs.  Importantly, failure to identify and extract crucial information through e-discovery may well have a detrimental impact on the outcome of the case or investigation.

The lawyer’s expertise in e-discovery, together with technology assisted review goes a long way towards an analysis of  Big Data  which is both economic to conduct and sufficiently robust to ensure that nothing  important to a case slips through the net. That is why, as the data landscape continues to evolve, lawyers and forensic experts will seek to make use of the emerging technologies to help them help their clients make sense of Big Data.

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