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3 Crucial Steps to Streamline Internal Investigations

Dylan Salisbury

Editor's Note: First published in November 2020, this post features some excellent tips on how to best manage a modern internal investigation. We thought we'd share it again in case you missed it the first time.

When legal and compliance challenges threaten the stability of your organization, every minute counts. You need to be quick—and smart—in how you respond. 

Internal investigations pose significant risks to corporations, whether it’s reputational harm, disruption of business, costs from fines or settlements, or potential litigation. These investigations are often time sensitive and can present a major drain on operations while opening some of your most sensitive data to risk.

Now—truly, right this moment—is a great time to gut-check your internal investigations processes and identify where you have room for improvement. Take each of the following steps into consideration as you’re up-leveling your team’s capabilities in this space.

#1: Evangelize the Importance of Well-conducted Investigations

No organization wants litigation or an investigation to come knocking. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it invites criticism from all directions. And the risk of investigations is poised to become even more burdensome.

Still, these “keep the lights on” projects don’t always get the investment they need to iterate as your business and industry evolve.

In advocating for the need to devote time and attention to this function, be sure to emphasize what’s at stake. These are a few of the factors contributing to this rising challenge for in-house teams:

  • Increasing frequency of investigations

According to a report from H5, a Relativity Certified Partner, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents expect the number of investigations they face to increase over the next three years. Already, nearly half of respondents said their companies face more than 50 investigations annually, with 14 percent handling more than 250.

  • Enterprise growth

There is a perennial need to grow your business and generate greater revenue. As organizations expand in opportunity, geography, and headcount, there is no escaping the increased potential for wrongdoing—which will need investigating. 

  • Growing data volumes

According to IDC, data volumes are exploding—particularly in the enterprise environment. Over the next three years, they expect more data to be created than in the last 30 years. In 2025, worldwide data is expected to hit 175 zettabytes (that’s 175 billion terabytes). Finding the relevant facts of a matter quickly in a mountain of data can feel a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack that keeps growing, and it’s even trickier if you’re using manual processes instead of analytics.

  • Rising cyber vulnerabilities

The ever-evolving technologies and techniques of cyber criminals ensure that no organization is ever totally safe from vulnerability. The rise in remote work environments will likely compound this exposure. According to IBM’s Cost of Data Breach report, the average time to identify and contain a breach is 280 days, costing on average $8.64 million. However, companies who detect and contain a breach in less than 200 days spend $1 million less per incident.

  • Increasing regulation

Intensifying obligations to compliance and oversight agencies are contributing to a rise in investigations. The broadening scope of agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and regulations like the GDPR will invite more scrutiny. As businesses globalize, the complexity of remaining in compliance across all jurisdictions will lead to exponentially more complexity.

  • Growing complexity and disparate systems

When multiple teams are coordinating on an investigation, disparate workflows can result in confusion, slowdowns, and troves of uncategorized or duplicated data. This is compounded by the growth of discoverable data from channels like instant messages, texts, and more.

High-volume investigations involving numerous custodians require a focused approach to identify, collect, and review data. Legacy or manual workflows won’t cut it, and a centralized process is especially helpful if you’re working with an outside vendor.

A stale internal investigations strategy leaves the door open to more wrongdoing and invites continued risk. Remind stakeholders of this importance as you make your case for a better approach.

#2: Identify What Makes Every Matter Unique

The fundamental goal of any internal or employer investigation is simple: confirm or refute suspected wrongdoing within the company. In other words, your primary mission is to build a straightforward view of the facts. Additionally, quality internal investigations can play an important role in responding to third parties, such as judges, jurors, regulators, or even the press, who react negatively to an accusation made against you.

While any investigation brings a sense of urgency, it is important to move thoughtfully and strategically to avoid missteps and build a clear record of what happened. Document collection and review are critical components of accomplishing this quickly, discreetly, and defensibly.

Naturally, you’ll want to establish some best practices, go-to resources, and familiar tech (see the next section) to support every matter that comes across your team’s proverbial desk. After all, if you intend to be able to manage these types of projects at scale, you shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel every time.

Still, you must consider the specifics of each matter to find its unique resolution—and act justly in the process.

Building that case strategy starts by asking fundamental questions, including: 

  • What has allegedly happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • Who is involved?
  • What harm has been or might be done by the alleged actions?
  • What do we hope to achieve with the investigation?
  • What information will we need?
  • How will we get it?
  • Is evidence vulnerable to being destroyed?
  • Should a third party be involved from the outset?

Next, keep in mind that it’s important to strike a proportional balance in your efforts to uncover key facts. Over-collecting and under-collecting each pose unique and potentially detrimental setbacks. A finely tuned, right-sized, and timely collection and review can put your investigations team on strong footing.

#3: Leverage the Right Technology

Even the best plan can be useless without the right tools to execute on it. Leveraging the right technology during an internal investigation will reduce time to review and reveal the truth more quickly—especially at scale—saving costs and mitigating risks as swiftly as possible.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every investigation, and techniques will vary from matter to matter, businesses should choose flexible and scalable technology to ensure quality investigations. Implementing the right SaaS solution will offer longevity, ensuring that your capabilities are always up to date and scalable.

Consider this list of additional factors when selecting the tool that will support your internal investigation workflows.

  • Targeted collections and quick searching capability

Identifying the right individuals in an investigation—and quickly finding other actors who may require attention—is critical. Investigations are primarily about people, not just their data, so knowing who you’re looking at is foundational to your strategy. This is made easier by advanced search functionality and laser-focused collection options. You should also consider discrete preserve-in-place capabilities, as these can prevent spoliation and ensure you don’t tip your hand.

  • Quick elimination of non-relevant data

Data analytics are essential to focus your resources and eliminate non-relevant data expediently. You’ll want to cut through noise and filter out date ranges, file types, and custodians you know are irrelevant, simplifying what will be pushed downstream. Analytics can also speed up the time to contain factors surrounding an allegation, reducing potential damages.

  • Approachable usability

Software is only as valuable as your ability to use it. A simple user interface and easy-to-read visualizations of sophisticated analytics will help users of all proficiency levels spot patterns and identify red flags. This can help you empower any member of your legal, investigations, or HR teams to identify facts and cull down data sets. Using the full force of your in-house talent is a great way to do more with less.

  • Seamless integration

Further increase efficiencies by integrating directly with data sources such as Microsoft 365 and OneDrive, streamlining preservation and collection from laptops and other devices. Should you need to bring in outside counsel or a service provider, centralized and secure login access to your existing platform can also eliminate risky data transfers and speed up your time to review. 

  • Control access to your most sensitive data

Every time data is transferred between locations or devices, it is exposed to risk, which is the last thing you need in the midst of an investigation. You can reduce your company’s risk profile by maintaining control of your most sensitive data in-house as you collaborate with third parties. It is important to keep a handle on the chain of custody of your data—know who has access, get it back when needed, revoke access, and account for it post-investigation.

Having the right technology in place is critical to a strong and robust internal investigations capability, providing benefits beyond greater efficiency—from preventing reoccurrence of past issues to deterring potential bad actors in the future. It can also help your team identify areas of potential risk or vulnerability to maleficence, which you can then decide to monitor or eliminate.

From there, real success in the face of investigations and litigation depends on a well-managed and credible team, and a company that takes these issues seriously.

Investigations Report: Benchmarks & Insights to Inspire Your Team

Dylan Salisbury is a product marketing manager at Relativity, where he specializes in understanding and serving the corporate community.