By Cookie Lewis, M.S.L.S.
Information derived from research can be a key factor in the success or failure of your business, whether you’re involved in a trial or legal matter, hiring people, conducting competitor intelligence, or performing due diligence for a merger, acquisition or business transaction.
With mega-data available for free on the Internet, some may assume anyone can conduct in-depth research. Anyone can try, but the results are often incomplete and contain inaccurate data which can lead to poor legal or business decisions. What you don’t know can, indeed hurt you in business.
Although Internet access to newspapers, magazines, government documents and industry publications expand exponentially every day, it’s critical to understand the difference between basic Internet research alone and research using “deep or invisible” information found on the “deep” or “invisible” web; think of this largely uncharted area as the “cloud nebulae” of the Internet. Professional investigators have access to fee-based proprietary databases simply unavailable to unlicensed individuals. They’re equipped to fully develop often overlooked library resources, and to examine other places where the information you desperately need may be “hiding in plain sight.” Great professionals understand the importance of balancing and incorporating all the above to compile comprehensive data that can and will withstand the most critical third-party reviews for accuracy and timeliness.
Not All Data Is Created Equally
What’s the differencebetween the Internet and the “Deep or Invisible Web?” The “Deep Web” refers to almost a trillion pages of data never indexed by broad search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. “Deep Web” sources can include commercial databases (did you ever give your unlisted cell phone number to a merchant while making a purchase?), statistical sources (government statistics are often way, way out of reach of the average person) or the results of special research studies (many of which your taxes funded, but which you would never know how to find).
Data on most Internet sites lack the depth of coverage one can find in commercial databases or in a specialized study by an industry association or private think-tank. While many of the commercial databases are fee-based, their construction and sophisticated back-end programming structure allows researchers to perform advanced search queries. Let’s say, for example, that a business professional is looking for a partner for an acquisition. A researcher could enter the NAIC code for the line of business the professional is attempting to acquire, the database code for the company’s desired sales volume, codes for the state, city or zip code of the potential business location, and a code to obtain a list of the corresponding companies and all their current executives. The researcher then uses output codes to command the database to provide the output data in any order of importance required. This tangible end product is well worth the time and money spent, because it provides actionable information for the next phase of research. Fee-based studies done by experts at trade associations or think-tanks are available in electronic format, and the data can be easily reformatted and re-engineered for various uses in business organizations.
Further, the “authority” of Internet data is often questionable. Outside of government documents and academic sources, there is much information that has not been subjected to peer-review to verify accuracy. So who is making sure that the data being posted is correct, free of errors and credible? Any entity or individual with an “axe to grind” can add data to the Internet and make it available for Google or other search engines for the express purpose of proving a point that doesn’t really and truly exist! Because most lay Internet users don’t take the time to perform the background research to determine the true authorship of the data, they don’t have a clear picture of the “slant” of information offered up for free.
Just because a government agency makes some materials available on the Internet doesn’t mean all its data has been posted. There is usually ancillary data, conflicting data, or work in progress some agencies have chosen to not make available electronically for any number of reasons.
Perhaps the biggest danger in relying solely on Internet searches is not being able to identify the parameters of the data (e.g., sources, coverage dates, methodology, etc.). Even Google Scholar has been criticized by experts for its search results being linked to commercial journal articles with only brief summaries of the articles available for free. Moreover, a significant problem with Google Scholar is the secrecy of its coverage. It does not publish its own internal list of journals “crawled” and the frequency of updates is unknown and unpublished.
On the other hand, most commercial databases available to professional Private Investigators list with each file the source of the data along with thedates of coverage. Because of these, the researcher can immediately determine the possible limitations of the data and can then pursue other research methods to fill in any gaps pertinent to the original query.
If your management team instructs you to perform research on a potential client or acquisition using only data from basic Internet sites, would you want to run the risk of missing potentially crucial information or relying on data that gives a false picture of the risks in the industry? Incomplete and inaccurate data could have disastrous results in depositions, court actions, and all forms of business transactions vital to a company’s legal and financial health. As a service provider, attorney, consultant or executive of a firm, you could be held liable personally and professionally if you rely, or cause a client to rely, on incorrect or incomplete information.
The Professional Solution
Businesses can easily overlook the value and benefits of outsourcing research to professionals, especially Private Investigators or qualified Information Specialists. Doing so can ensure the success of the project by relying solely on accurate, proven data for sound decision-making.
Information Specialists are professionals who, in another era, would have been known as research librarians. They usually have a Master of Library Science or a Master of Information Science degree. Information Specialists who assist businesses such as law firms, accounting firms and corporations have usually specialized in Law or Business. When working in tandem with a Private Investigation firm as an in-house Specialist or contractor, the quality of the research and available data sources increases exponentially by doing the following:
- Performing research through proprietary databases as well as providing research assistance in other disciplines (e.g., prevention, detection or prosecution of fraud in bankruptcy or health care; money laundering; securities fraud),
- Researching damage claims by analyzing industry or business markets in relation to commercial markets,
- In the case of economic damages in the workplace (e.g., discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc.) or medical torts, information specialists can research government documents and statistics beyond the basic Internet and most commercial databases,
- By providing deep background research on potential expert witnesses, as well as compiling a dossier of their writings or articles that have been written by or about them, for selection, deposition, counter-argument or impeachment purposes,
- Researching government documents on Federal, state and local levels, as well as writing Freedom of Information Act requests to Federal, state and local agencies (thus protecting the identity of the client),
- Performing historical archival research for product liability matters,
- Identifying prior art and design documents for patent research or litigation, and
- Conducting in-depth business and financial research on companies potentially involved in mergers or acquisitions.
In short, utilizing the services of Research Professionals brings value to any research initiative. Outsourcing the research function to trained, efficient professionals keeps overhead low, minimizes risk and maximizes the information available for decision-making.
About the Author
Cookie Lewis, M.S.L.S, is partnered as a contractor with Diversified Risk Management, Inc. She has been an Information Specialist concentrating her practice in law and business since 1975, and has taught business research in the business schools of University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. She may be reached at (800) 810-9508.
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