The good news is that such technologies also make it much harder for the bad guys to cover their tracks. In the cloud, there's nowhere for anyone to hide.
At Guidepost Solutions, a team of former detectives from Scotland Yard and other agencies has harnessed big data on a cloud platform to help them track down corporate fraudsters.
This is business transformation applied to law enforcement, using digital technology to slice through a previously long-winded, error-prone process to give professionals the real-time tools they need to produce better, faster results.
Guidepost, part of a larger group led by former New York federal prosecutor Bart Schwartz, is one of the world's top corporate investigation and security firms, helping enterprises, government agencies and lawyers to monitor compliance and combat fraud, corruption and waste.
Guidepost has been using the cloud system, developed in the UK, for more than a year now to streamline its investigations.
"We came to the idea that we needed some technology enhanced investigation," explains John Brennan, the former Scotland Yard detective who heads up Guidepost's EMEA operations as senior managing director. "What used to take weeks or months we can now literally do in hours. That is a significant application of the technology in this field."
Guidepost investigations typically involve analyzing massive amounts of data — in some cases terabytes — collected from sources such as scanned documents, digital files, email archives, databases, systems data, websites, social media, even the contents of seized mobile phones and laptops.
The search may target potential fraud and corruption or may simply be a matter of tracking down hidden assets that have been transferred offshore.
"This system is fantastic for that," says Brennan. "Looking at large-scale litigation, there's a huge amount of data under discovery — that's what they call it in the US, we say disclosure in the UK — that you have to trawl through to find the missing links."
Analysis that used to take weeks or months when done manually can now be completed in days or hours more accurately and for far less cost using the cloud-based system. Called Guidepost Insight, it is built on the 'smart data' platform Anomaly42, developed by UK firm Fusion Experience.
Lines of enquiry
For example, valuable lines of enquiry are often opened up from finding the same telephone number cropping up in different contexts. Fraudsters know they have to cover their tracks by using different names, but forget the other points of reference they use that may give them away.
As Brennan explains: "Where one can see from different data sets the same telephone number appearing but with different identities linked to that number, that opens up lines of enquiry about aliases."
In the past, telephones seized by investigators under a court order may have taken weeks to be analyzed, but the cloud system cuts out those delays, says Brennan: "It all gets instantly uploaded and you can identify the anomalies and the similarities instantly."
That real-time analysis capability makes a huge difference to the effectiveness of investigations — not least because it frees up the investigators' time to apply their expertise to figuring out how to resolve the case.
"It speeds everything up," says Brennan. "It's very much more cost effective therefore because of resource implications. It still allows the traditional gut-feel investigator to test out his theories without altering the data."
"What we're trying to do is make things more proactive. Instantly recognizing lines of enquiry is something that we've been trying to do for years," he adds. "Historically, we're always behind the bad guy. We're always catching up. What this does, it tries to even the playing field."
The Anomaly42 platform has several characteristics that are typical of the advantages frequently seen from adopting cloud solutions to improve business outcomes.
- Flexibility. The system is able to connect to any type of data source without disrupting the underlying system. "This piece of kit literally sits on top of legacy systems and hoovers up all the data," says Brennan. "We're not having to worry about what type of data we're gathering."
- Anywhere, anytime access. Because it's in the cloud, it's easy to access wherever the investigator happens to be. Brennan cites an example when he was in Central America working on one case while watching new material coming into the system in real-time from Russia. "The days of having to call into the office and ask what's going on have gone away. That is a huge advantage," he says.
- On-demand visualization. Investigators can directly access the tools to do their own analysis directly on the information without having to be a data expert. "This big-button stuff, you can drill down into huge amounts of data and be very specific about what you're trying to achieve," says Brennan. It's a big change from the old days as a detective when data visualization was something Brennan had to request from an analyst and would often wait weeks before it came back.
- Security. The cloud system enforces access management rules to keep the data secure. "If you're dealing with pretty sensitive data, you're locked into the security level the owner wants it to be," says Brennan. "It's very much up to the client as to where the data is eventually stored, but we recommend the cloud all the time because of the security."
The business outcomes achieved are summarized in a short case study document published by Anomlay42:
- Significantly reduced case timeframes and the number of investigators and analysts deployed to cases
- Rapidly identified key lines of enquiry
- Provided an instant capability to test fraud theory
- Provided investigators with an instant access to link analysis visualisation that would normally take weeks to prepare.
Guidepost has been named one of the finalists in EuroCloud UK's Best Business Impact Award, which diginomica is supporting as media sponsor. The winner will be announced at an event in London this Thursday evening, July 11th. Brennan is hoping for a win to showcase what he believes is a unique achievement.
"We really think this is a step change in intelligence," he told me. "We're very proud that this is a UK invention that's been developed by [British] police officers. There's nothing we know of anywhere near this in the US — it's the combination of accuracy, brevity and speed of it all that's the gamechanger for us."
Disclosure: As media sponsor of the EuroCloud UK Best Business Impact Award, diginomica is publishing case studies of the three finalists. The author serves unpaid as chair of EuroCloud UK and vice-president of EuroCloud Europe.
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