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The legal world is rife with technological solutions that help streamline and focus the e-discovery effort. With as much of 90 percent of business documentation now stored electronically, it’s a sea of information that needs to be carefully trawled for responsive and relevant data. Until recently, not much notice was paid to the small islands of digitized audio that floated out there. But amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will change all that. Although audio files such as voicemail have, arguably, always been discoverable, they didn’t fit neatly into the existing categorizations of documents or electronic data compilations. However, the new rules create the designation of electronically stored information (ESI) — into which digitized audio clearly fits. It could be these audio islands are actually the tips of icebergs, and that sound files may soon have as great an impact on electronic discovery as e-mail has had in recent years. One company that’s banking on that possibility is Fios. The e-discovery services vendor recently announced a strategic partnership with Nexidia, a company that has developed a phonetic-based approach to searching and indexing audio files. “Effectively accessing, analyzing and producing electronically stored audio files as part of discovery has become the newest challenge for today’s enterprises,” says Gerald Massey, president and CEO of Fios Inc. “Making this process easier to navigate and manage is part of Fios’ continued commitment to delivering comprehensive electronic discovery services enabled by leading technology.” Fios partner Nexidia agrees. “We see the revisions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as a kind of wake-up call to litigants,” adds Dave Fishel, Esq., director of business development for Nexidia. “They’re no longer going to be able to just ignore sound recordings and audio files.” Recent growth in the capabilities of digital recording have made business records, such as voicemail and recorded customer calls, ever more accessible as digitized files. Matthew Work, CEO of e-discovery vendor Discovery Mining, says the time is ripe for audio to be tackled. “In my own company we use a Voice over IP system, which copies voicemail right into e-mail,” he says. “Obviously, those audio files can contain important information as regards to a legal matter. The notion that they’d be searchable is exciting and will certainly be important at some point.” Different industries will have varying amounts of digitized audio to wrangle. “Every time you listen to one of those calls that say, ‘This call may be recorded for quality purposes,’ that’s a deep well of voice recordings,” says Mary Mack, Esq., technology counsel for Fios. “It could be a health-care organization, a bank or a mail-order customer service.” Financial services firms have traditionally recorded all calls. Additionally, advances in VoIP and UMS (unified messaging systems) are exploding; Gartner estimates that within two years, voice services will be available as embedded telephony in more than half of all business IT applications. But listening to and transcribing — not to mention searching — all that audio can range from onerous to impossible in terms of time and expense. Enter the Nexidia/Fios partnership. Nexidia’s proprietary technology, which, by all accounts, is currently unique in the e-discovery field, creates a phonetic index of audio files that rapidly indexes digital audio and is searchable by the end user (for keyword, phrase, Boolean searches, or proximity matches) via a Web-based interface. Search results return actual audio files, cued to the keyword, so the listener can quickly determine whether the file is responsive. Fios supports the Nexidia search functionality with well-established evidence collection, processing, review, production and project-management services. Companies such as Autonomy, BBN, and Jubilant also offer powerful audio-search technologies. However, their engines are based on a speech-to-text process. According to Jeff Schlueter, senior director of business development at Nexidia, phonetic analysis offers distinct advantages. The first is speed of indexing. “We have the ability to index more than 2,000 hours of content per day on a single server, whereas the speech-to-text engines can typically process about 24-48 hours per day on a single server,” says Schlueter. “This two-order-of-magnitude advantage means that with Nexidia, projects can be done much quicker and with significantly lower total costs.” Another major plus is increased accuracy, says Schlueter. He explains that the phonetic approach maintains all the content of original recordings without forcing a machine to make hard decisions about what is converted to text. “This may be the most important advantage in the legal arena With speech-to-text, the best accuracy demonstrated is about 85 percent, meaning that in any given transcript, the process injects at least 15 percent or more errors into the document,” he says. And, with the phonetic approach, sound-quality concerns could become less of an issue. “A phonetic search can work a little better (than text transcription engines) on lower-quality audio,” notes Matthew Brown, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, who focuses on the audio-analysis space. The Nexidia technology supports 22 languages, including variations on the language, e.g., North American English versus United Kingdom English. And because it’s based on samples of thousands of speakers, it isn’t thrown by accents, dialects or regional variations in pronunciation. While the Nexidia/Fios partnership sounds great on paper, in reality, says Forrester Senior Analyst Barry Murphy, no one will be jumping on the searchable-audio bandwagon until they’re forced to do so. “From an enterprise perspective, a lot of times companies will wait until a case comes up and makes mainstream headlines,” he says. Adds Discovery Mining’s Work: “I’m definitely pro-technology, so I wouldn’t want to put all my eggs into that basket right off the bat.” Schlueter counters that the Fios/Nexidia partnership is about more than just audio. “Our partnership with Fios is part of a key strategy for tackling the e-discovery space. Audio discovery will become a much more important part of the overall e-discovery landscape, but it is still just one piece of the overall puzzle,” he says. “By partnering with Fios, we can bring our leadership in audio discovery together with Fios’ leadership in the legal e-discovery arena and bring a full suite of services to their clients.” And Murphy adds, “When (audio discovery) does come up, Fios will be the only one really ready to go.” C.C. Holland is a Northern California-based freelance writer.

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