Information and Data Presentation

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of GIR's co-published content. Read more on Insight

Introduction

Data visualisation is the graphical representation of information and data. By using visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps, data visualisation tools provide an accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data. In the world of big data, data visualisation tools and technologies are essential to analyse massive amounts of information and make data driven decisions. The definition of big data is data that contains greater variety, arriving in increasing volumes and with more velocity. Put simply, big data is larger, more complex data sets, especially from new data sources. Big data helps to identify patterns in data and new insights that may indicate fraud and aggregate large volumes of information to make reporting much faster. All this data in varied formats must be ingested and prepared for users to leverage.

In this chapter, the potential benefits of integrating data visualisation and infographics in the investigation process for both interim and final reporting will be discussed. Legal and non-legal persons each face the challenge of having a full comprehension of such investigation reports, given the complexities of the corrupt or fraudulent schemes involved. In this endeavour, data visualisation like infographics can provide the necessary space to combine data and narrative structure while telling your story in a compelling way, thereby making the most impactful contributions. This chapter will delve into the best way to introduce data visualisation and infographics to review and understand the investigation process.

With an increasingly complex business environment, along with a renewed focus on ethical behaviour, corporates very often require the conduct of investigations into suspected wrongdoing or other breaches, e.g. policy breaches and misconduct. An effective corporate investigation may provide management or the board with the information it needs to make an informed decision on how best to tackle the shortcomings identified. In many cases the investigation will provide the information needed to make strategic decisions on the subjects who caused the misconduct while ensuring that loopholes are plugged in, and future violations are contained. Corporate investigations may cover a range of topics such as accounting fraud, violations of the antitrust and environmental laws, violations of government contracting regulations, violations of trade sanctions and export controls, insider trading, employee theft, suspected kickbacks, violations of the company’s policies and procedures among others. Visualisation, in its broadest sense, is a communicative process that relies on encoded meanings that can be transferred from authors and organisers of information to the users and receivers of the same information[1].

While there is a multitude of reasons why a company may need to undertake a corporate investigation, essentially the purpose of an investigation is to provide a factual account in response to the allegations being made, so that an appropriate action may be taken. It is essential that the information conveyed in the report is fully grasped by the different decision makers. Investigation reports created primarily for use in contemplated adversarial litigation may be subject to litigation privilege. For a document to maintain its privileged status, it should be confidential which means that it should not be shared widely within the company. A privileged document is one which does not have to be disclosed in court.

Depending on the issue under investigation, often it may be helpful also for concerned departments or units to go through the report, albeit a redacted version, e.g. the information technology department, the human resources department, the operation and maintenance department or technical departments. While these reports amongst other matters, delve in the legal intricacies of the offences, the schemes and the loopholes facilitating the wrongdoings, it can be quite challenging for legal and non-legal persons to fully grasp the legal jargons of these reports. Data visualisation and infographics can be powerful tools which can significantly enhance an investigation report. Data visualisation and infographics can provide the solution to making the investigation report more user friendly and comprehensible to both legal and non-legal persons, with the ultimate objective of ensuring that appropriate triggers are actioned by management or at board level.

The data processor must be mindful of data processing laws in the place where the data is stored and processed. In England, for example, the processing must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and privacy laws. It is important that the laws of the jurisdiction where the assignment is being undertaken be checked before processing the data. Moreover, further consideration should be given to the legal landscape if the processing of the data involves moving data from one jurisdiction to another.

When preparing data visualisations it is important to understand the source of the data and how reliable it is. The person processing the data should be guided by the following questions:

  • Is it certain, very likely or likely that x is related to y?
  • Does the trend shown by the visualisation or infographic have statistical significance and if so, at what level?
  • Are there any exceptions to the trend or analysis and if so, how might this be explained?

The story told by the data must also be reliable and capable of verification. The investigator would be well advised to keep notes of the process they have gone through to collate and analyse the data, what decisions they have made about what data is included and what is excluded, with a note on the reasons for those decisions, and a list of any assumptions made when processing the data to produce the visualisation.

Whilst relevant tools, techniques and methodological are support for the early stages of investigation; acquisition, preservation, searching, are maturing, the analysis and reconstruction stages, which form the basis of an investigation report, have not matured yet. The resulting paucity of tool support leaves the execution of these activities largely dependent on the experience and intuition of the investigator. An investigative report has many objectives. Some common objectives are:-

  • It triggers some sort of action based on the official findings it presents. This could be a termination of employment, corrective action, implementation of training, counselling, or some other action taken based on the findings.
  • The investigation report is also a record of the steps of the investigation. It can be used to prove that your investigation was timely, complete and fair.
  • The information contained in the investigation report may be cited in any legal action, so it is important that the report is detailed and accurate.
  • It provides valuable data that can be used to implement control and preventive measures in your company.

The investigation reports should speak louder than words

Data visualisation is the process of communicating and translating data and information in a visual context, usually employing a graph, chart, bar, or other visual aid. Visualisation also uses images to communicate the relationships between various sets of data. Data visualisation is also called information visualisation, information graphics and statistical graphics. It is a step in the process of data science, which tells us that after all data has been collected, processed and modelled, the information must be visualised so that users can use it to draw conclusions.

These investigation reports convey essentially the mechanism and schemes for the wrongdoings and the appropriate recommendations warranting further actions from management or the board. More importantly, how an investigation is conducted, and the scope of that investigation, are necessarily informed by the context. Corporate investigations are a key component of an effective risk management program. An effective investigation demonstrates a credible investigation of the reported wrongdoing and recommends an appropriate basis for the chosen course of action. Typically, an investigator will undertake a thorough investigation based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged wrongdoing. This includes interviews of witnesses and careful reviews of documentary evidence.

After evaluating the facts developed, the investigator will report the findings to the company. The report also evaluates whether any laws or company policies were violated so that the company may respond in appropriate measure. How a report is presented can make it significant and may prompt the attention of management for an urgent action. The incorporation of data visualisation and infographics in an investigation report can be both helpful and effective in achieving its objective. Skill sets in different areas are changing to accommodate a data-driven world. It is increasingly valuable for professionals, including corporate investigators to be able to use data to make decisions and use visuals to tell stories of when data informs the who, what, when, where, why and how.

Investigators face several problems when using the non-visual tools to analyse data. The main problem is information overload. An audience, e.g. board members, and disciplinary committees, may face difficulty in understanding large amounts of descriptive wordings detailing the schemes employed by the violators. Data visualisation presents an opportunity to address this challenge.

Benefits of data visualisation and infographics

Often used loosely and interchangeably, however, the terms data visualisation and information graphics, or infographics, are not actually synonymous. Both are visual representations of data. An important difference is that a data visualisation often just refers to one type of graphics that is a map, a graph, a chart or a diagram, while an infographic often refers to multiple data visualisations. A second key difference is that infographics contain additional elements like narrative and graphics. Besides that, more work tends to go into the design of infographics to make them more impactful and visually more appealing.

Data visualisation

Data visualisation and infographics are interestingly tools that can add significant value to an investigation report ultimately benefitting the corporates to better grasp the gist of the malpractices that may have occurred and to take the appropriate decisions following the investigations. Yet, they are not widely used by investigators. Corporate investigations are usually in-depth assessments which help shed light on a malpractice. The ultimate objective of is to protect the corporate from compromised customer information, misuse or abuse the company network, possible reputational damage, or any liability if the company network has been used to launch an attack on other systems. As the ‘age of big data’ kicks into high-gear, visualisation is an increasingly key tool to make sense of the trillions of rows of data generated every day. Data visualisation helps to tell stories by curating data into a form easier to understand, highlighting the trends and outliers. A good visualisation tells a story, removing the ‘noise’ from data and highlighting the useful information.

image-20231108153335-1

Data visualisation is the translation of datasets into a meaningful and easy-to-understand visual medium. Data visualisation, though, makes trends in huge sets of data instantly visible. It makes the most important stand out and the best part is when you look at a graph or a chart, you can see these trends or key data points instantly. No need to scroll through mountains of raw data for an hour or more. Whether you are communicating with technical staff or with the manager, you cannot expect your audience to dedicate the time and effort to crunching all the information themselves. Data visualisation will help you cut through the noise and show them what’s most important. It would be interesting if your data and information could be presented using data visualisation. But it is not about choosing any data visualisation design. The data should match with the right information visualisation. There follows five key areas which will help you see a clearer picture.

Infographics

A strong infographic tells a story. It combines text, illustrations, icons and data visualisations like graphs and charts in a carefully organised progression. The primary difference between infographics and data visualisations is that data visualisations are generally briefer, more discrete pieces that can form one component of a larger infographic. Data visualisations are a key element of most infographics. Instead of using several sentences of text to try to convince your audience that your product has value, or that your company is the right fit for them, one graph can offer data-driven proof of your argument.

Advocating the use of infographics

Given the intricacies of business operations, sometimes it is challenging for a private investigator to grasp the whole function of the organisation. Data visualisation and infographics provide a new way for corporate investigators to explore further in the investigation process. Infographics is an approach that refers to presentation that combines text, graphics and design with data visualisation. Infographics is defined as simplified and easy to understand visual representations of complex subjects produced by re-organising data, information or knowledge[2].

Studies have shown that the importance of infographics as visualisations of data and ideas facilitate assimilation of complex information to an audience in a manner that can be quickly consumed and easily understood[3]. Infographics have become increasingly important over time, and their design has become a subject of research in recent years. In fact, studies concluded that infographics-based presentations could strengthen a person’s mental models and thus facilitate understanding and comprehension[4].

Integrating infographic and data visualisation in investigation reports

In most cases the investigator has to produce a written report. While these reports can be different depending on the scope of the assignments, essentially, they should show a weakness in the systems, whether in systems, procedures or operations. These reports have to be objective and explicit so that appropriate strategic and speedy actions could be undertaken at corporate level in order to address the different risks, e.g. legal, financial, operational or reputational, that can affect the organisation. These reports should not only help the different targets to see clearer, or educate them in the scheme, but they should inspire them to take action. Figure 1 below illustrates an example of how data visualisation can be helpful to explain malware attack in an investigation report.

image-20231108153433-2

Figure 1. Malware attack scenario Financial Technology.

Data visualisation can be used as depicted in figure 1 to describe the scheme. For investigators, these manipulated services provide useful forensic evidence to analyse the whole incident. This fact emphasises the need for various digital forensics tools, methods and techniques to investigate such destructive cyber-attacks and their whole kill chain. As it is commonly said, a picture is worth a thousand words. Visualisation plays an important role in the easy and effective identification of crucial information regarding security, forensics incident response, big data, business productivity and human perception. Visualisation allows non-technical personnel to grasp the severity of an attack without having the required technical expertise. The investigators should make sense of large volumes of data and find what they are looking for, and then visualise the resultant data in a timely manner.

image-20231108153508-3

Figure 2. Data Set Creation Process.

Data transformation

The important attributes were converted into meaningful sorting and data labelling was performed. Figure 2 depicts the step-wise creation of data set, from the environment set-up to resultant concise data set creation. Different visualisation methods exist to present data in effective and interesting ways.

Common general types of data visualisation:

  • Charts
  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Maps
  • Infographics
  • Dashboards

Graphical displays should:

  • illustrate the richness of the data;
  • induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production or something else;
  • drive the logic of what the data has to say;
  • make large and different data sets coherent;
  • encourage a visual comparison of different pieces of data
  • reveal the intricacies of the data at several levels of detail, from a broad overview to the fine structure;
  • serve a reasonably clear purpose: description, exploration, tabulation or decoration; and
  • be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set.

The way forward

The continuing digital revolution has had an enormous impact on the way forensic evidence is collected, analysed, interpreted and presented and has even led to the defining of new types of digital evidence, e.g. digital imagery and video, hard drives and digital storage devices. As part of the investigation, much of this digital media will need to be admitted into courtrooms as evidence.

In this chapter we highlight how data visualisation and infographics can be value added to an investigation process, albeit a reluctance of investigators to tap the full potential of these methodologies and techniques. The successful incorporation of data visualisation and infographics can be useful tools in communicating highly complex, technical spatial and temporal evidential information to the specific audience. However, the process is still perceived to be difficult, mainly because the visual effects of processing, realising and rendering data are not well-understood by the investigators and the mechanisms used to create visualisations can be a largely ad hoc. process. It is hoped that investigators are encouraged to using data visualisation and infographics in their investigation reports for the benefits of these corporates.

Legally reviewed by Alexandra Underwood (Fieldfisher).


Footnotes

[1] Shannon,C. “A mathematical theory of communication,” in The Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 379-423, July 1948.

[2] Hiroyuki, K. Infographics ; Flag Technology: Taipei, Taiwan, 2010.

[3] Data Visualization in Society, Amsterdam University Press (2020). Martin Engebretsen and Helen Kennedy.

[4] Tu and Wang (2018), “An Investigation of the Effects of Infographics and Green Messages on the Environmental Attitudes of Taiwanese Online Shoppers” Sustainability, November 2018. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113993.

Unlock unlimited access to all Global Investigations Review content