Getting the right question

Posted on April 22, 2015. Filed under: business, forensic | Tags: , , , |

One of the biggest challenges for anyone who offers a consulting service is getting the client to ask the right question. All too often, the client already has an idea of what they think the answer is and produces a question around that answer.

An example:

On a forum that I frequent, one of the members asked about where to get a PDF editing program. Lots of people threw suggestions at him, some free, some very expensive, some somewhere in the middle and all were dismissed as too complicated for what the asker needed. So I asked a simple question – “What are you actually trying to achieve ?”.

It turned out that his company had a temporary problem – the document feeder on their scanner wasn’t working properly and they were getting blank pages in between the scanned pages because they had to feed them in manually. He didn’t really need a PDF editor, all he needed was a way to get rid of the blank pages. I suggested that what he should do was load up the files produced by the scanner and then re-print them to PDF, setting the output options to skip every second page. Job done. Free, easy and using a system he already understood and had readily available.

The same thing happens in forensic science, especially in the digital forensic world. People make assumptions about the evidence they need or think they can get, instead of describing the problem they are trying to solve – defining the investigative requirement. The crucial skill for the forensic scientist is not in the realm of technical solutions, but in old-fashioned requirements elicitation.

That’s why I have a rule that I won’t start work until I’ve had a proper discussion with the client and got the answers to “What are you trying to achieve?” or “What problem are you really trying to solve?”.

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Posted on April 20, 2015. Filed under: business, forensic, iso | Tags: , , , |

Last week I had to step down from my role as the UK’s Principal Expert on Digital Evidence to ISO/IEC JTC1 SC27 WG4 (to give it the full title – with incorrect punctuation before any reminds me).

It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to withdraw from, but the economics of it just didn’t make sense any more.

Since 2011 I’ve been attending editorial meetings, in various cities around the world, twice a year and also attended numerous meetings of BSI committees in London. The cost of doing this has come out of my business, with occasional (infrequent) small contributions from government agencies.

I’ve had to allocate at least 2 months a year to this, and it’s cost something in the region of £5k to £10k each year to support it.

It was a worthwhile activity. I’ve met and worked with some great people to develop some really useful standards, and I’ll miss them and that whole process – but the lack of support from the UK has just become unsustainable.

Unlike many of the participants, I’m from a micro-business. If I’m not doing or bringing in the work, the cash isn’t coming in either. So, I’ve had to take my accountant’s advice and stop donating to commercial bodies (the publishers and assessors make profits from the resulting standards) for standards development.

It’s a shame. Standards are genuinely useful things, especially for small businesses as they let us show that we are, at least, equivalent to the big boys. If only we could find a way to fund small businesses’ participation in standards development, instead of relying on the big multi-nationals to do it all for us.

Meanwhile, if you want to know the true intent behind ISO/IEC 27041 and 27042, please do get in touch – I was editor for them during most of the development time and I know what the words really mean (ISO English, as I may have mentioned before, is not what you think it is.)

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    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.


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