Hal Marcus, eDiscovery attorney, Recommind

As businesses increasingly find themselves in a vigilant regulatory climate, they need to be prepared for the continued growth of data alongside these pressures. Many governments are stepping up their investigations into enterprise activities and the European Union in particular has become more aggressive in its enforcement posture. Take the recent LIBOR scandal for example, in which a number of global banks ultimately revealed that they had deliberately submitted inaccurate data to boost interest rates, causing repercussions across the globe.

While such enquiries are never a welcome development to begin with, they are particularly troubling for organisations without adequate internal compliance programmes and tools to handle large volumes of company data for eDisclosure and internal investigations. In the face of such enquiries or lawsuits, identifying and presenting key communications is a critical issue. And as the LIBOR scandal shows, instant messaging (IM) conversations are now a substantial component of that need.

For many workers, daily use of IM platforms such as Skype, Google Chat and Instant Bloomberg (currently the dominant messaging solution for the global financial industry, with some 320,000 users) is superseding email for casual exchanges. The IM industry is exploding: In 2015 the number of global IM accounts totals to more than 3.2 billion and is expected to further grow at an annual average rate of 4 percent in the next four years.

As organisations provide their employees with enterprise chat platforms to facilitate rapid business communications, they unwittingly create a growing headache for most eDisclosure platforms and, subsequently, the compliance officers and company lawyers needing to make sense of large volumes of chat data.

The conversation goes on and on and on

Unlike emails, IMs are replete with irregular formatting and extraneous metadata. Chat platforms like Bloomberg typically log and display every time a user enters or exits the platform, or the particular chat room or group. All of these entrances, exits, participant counts, timestamps, and other metadata can complicate the processing and display of IM data, making review more difficult. Again, unlike emails with their comparably convenient subject lines and breaks, IM conversations continue indefinitely and may wind though multiple topics, making reviewing chat data that bit more challenging.

IM conversations also present a unique problem in the highly unstructured data they contain. Once upon a time, email was the frontrunner for informal communication compared to the hardcopy memoranda and letters it supplanted. Yet instant messaging typically defies even email’s lax standards. Successful spelling is hardly expected, grammar barely an afterthought, and quick jargon commonplace. While convenient for conducting business, such informality can leave keyword search relatively toothless as a means of finding what you need in an investigation.

A tool that can translate

Legal teams have routinely struggled to find the information that matters among large volumes of chat communications across financial services organisations. Teams can spend months wading through data, often against the clock. In the case of extracting the information from those conversations that matter, sometimes buried in a mess of IM data, accessing it quickly and cleanly is paramount. For banks and companies in other highly regulated industries, a robust analytical eDisclosure tool that offers clear, rapid insight into every kind of enterprise data can be the difference between creating or damaging a perception that the company is working in good faith to comply with regulatory authorities.

Advanced analytics can help legal teams weed out crucial information faster and with greater accuracy, yet the complex metadata and other peculiarities of chat data have previously confounded such tools. New, intelligent processing of IM data, however, can turn this challenge on its head. After all, metadata is a double-edged sword: for whatever complexity it brings, it also offers valuable clues for fact investigations and useful data points for culling document volumes. EDisclosure platforms can embrace chat metadata, map it as closely as possible to the email fields we’ve all come to know, and make it available for effective filtering and targeted searching.

Know your enemy

Presenting chat communications as clear, easy-to-read documents encompassing entire chat discussions (or parsed into 24 hour increments) can make for far more effective review and analysis. Pictorial visualisations can also help compliance and legal teams focus on the facts that matter faster, enabling them to see networks of communicators more easily (much the way an organisational chart is far easier to comprehend than prose describing a corporate structure). Chat data is a natural fit for such visualisations and, when combined with email, provides a more complete understanding of communication activity for fact finding and data culling.

For tackling the issue of informal prose, phrase analysis can help; misspelled words are less likely to evade your reach when looked at in pairs, with the variations ranked by occurrence. Concept analysis can look beyond individual search terms to the broader context in which they appear, grouping documents based on a broader analysis of their contents. Continuous machine learning can build on what you’ve already found, to suggest likely relevant documents for review from chat, along with email and the rest of your data.

With intelligent processing, clear document rendering, and advanced analytics, it is possible to efficiently cull and comprehend chat data. If financial services companies are going to be ready in the face of increasing regulation and compliance demands, they need to face the growing popularity of IM as a communication method head on. Given the prevalence of enterprise IM platforms today, eDisclosure technology must and can deal with chat data. Only then will legal teams be able to get a handle on the communications that matter, and plan a winning strategy.

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