The Best Of Both Worlds: With Axcelerate 5, Power And Simplicity Meet User-Centered Design

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 10:24

The Editor interviews Neil Etheridge, Senior Director of Product Strategy at Recommind.

Editor: Please tell us about your professional background.

Etheridge: As Senior Director of Product Strategy at Recommind, I’m responsible for driving the strategic vision of both the company and our product portfolio, and I have been very involved with the launch of Axcelerate 5. Prior to coming to Recommind, I worked around 15 years in the software industry focusing on e-discovery, information governance, and enterprise search and document management technologies.

Editor: I understand you have some big news.

Etheridge: The big news is we’re launching Axcelerate 5, which is a huge undertaking for the company. We’ve built a brand new user interface from the ground up, utilizing the most advanced web technologies, especially HTML 5. We’ve also created a brand new document viewer that brings features never seen before to the market and that removes entirely the need for browser plug-ins, downloads, etc. Axcelerate 5 is a complete e-discovery review platform that is available as part of our already leading on-demand service, and we believe it represents the next generation of e-discovery technology.

Editor: What are you most excited about regarding the Axcelerate 5 launch?

Etheridge: I would say our new interface. When we sat down to reinvent the interface, we decided to take an assessment of the market itself. We found it very interesting that many vendors had focused on capabilities, but their ease of use was very much lacking. Meanwhile, other lines of products were very easy to use, but their breadth of capability was lacking. Our goal was to position our product as bringing the most advanced analytics and the most powerful technology to market, but doing so with an interface that is so simple in its execution that truly anyone can pick it up.

We think this combination of power and simplicity will be a game changer in the e-discovery space.

Editor: When you began rebuilding the user interface, did you conduct any research?

Etheridge: Yes. From the start, we adopted user-centered design, a new design principle being used by today’s forward-thinking technology companies in which you apply an iterative approach to every single aspect of the design process. You brainstorm ideas, mock them up, create prototypes and then go back around the process through several iterations. We actively undertook this process with customers as well as with our own subject matter experts and champions within the company. We were so committed to this rebuild that we brought on board a new user experience team, and they’ve been instrumental in driving the whole interface design process.

Editor: What are some of the most exciting new features?

Etheridge: From a product point of view, there are over 300 either completely new features or enhancements to the application itself that are organized around central themes.

One key theme is around visualization and our creation of a highly interactive model between the lawyer or reviewer and the data being presented. Part of that model is a key capability called Hypergraph, a rich network graph visualization for discovering the patterns and trends in communication-based data.* In addition, key information can be visualized in other forms such as histograms, bar charts, etc., thereby showing relationships between people and data. For instance, an email histogram will show peaks and valleys in activity over time, which may lead to new information or new custodians. All of these visualizations are highly interactive to streamline the collaboration between the lawyer and the computer.

Another key feature in the application is what we call end-of-branch review, which basically determines where unique information appears in an email thread. The system analyzes all of the email messages and attachments within an email thread and detects automatically which of those are unique and non-unique, then chooses which will be displayed to the end user. It’s typical to have an email thread with dozens or even hundreds of forwards and replies within it. Axcelerate 5 can automatically detect that only 10 or 15 of these contain unique information, and the rest are in essence duplicative within the thread itself. This is a huge time saver because it enables the reviewer to make coding decisions just on the end-of-branch components within that thread. We have seen this can reduce review volume by approximately 30 percent.

A third key area in the application is the HTML 5 viewer, which really is next generation. Among the powerful things it allows us to do is to perform redactions over native documents. Traditionally, in our product as well as anyone else’s in the market, you would have to TIFF the document before you could redact it. Further with redactions, we’ve been able to build in “smart redactions.” This is where the system automatically detects and auto-redacts sensitive information such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers. A reviewer can also conduct search-based redactions. For example, I could find the word “Recommind” on page 1 of a document, and as I draw my mouse over that word to redact it, the system will automatically redact every other occurrence of that word within the document. Due to the nature of our smart filters, I could also ask the system to find me anything that’s been redacted for a particular reason and very quickly filter down to those items.

Yet another key theme is around automation. The central issue from an automation point of view is looking at the manual and routine tasks people must do while managing a review today, and figuring out ways to automate those tasks. For example, batching documents can require a lot of manual effort. With Axcelerate 5, one click in the set of documents will not only auto-batch them out, it will make sure that the documents are intelligently batched: i.e., the system will ensure that families and threads are kept together so that end-of-branch capabilities are retained and so on.

Finally, we’ve been able to simplify and streamline our predictive coding capabilities. Like batching, predictive coding with any system has always required quite a lot of manual steps. We wanted to streamline predictive coding because we believe this technology should be applied to every case, not just very large matters. Predictive coding is a technology that can always help you prioritize your review – so we endeavored to make it easy, available and transparent, so you don’t have to decide whether it’s worth the extra effort.

Editor: I do often hear from people that they believe predictive coding is not right for every case.

Etheridge: I think it’s advantageous to consider the benefits realized from the application of predictive coding technology, as opposed to thinking of predictive coding as a very specific workflow. Predictive coding from a technology point of view consists of utilizing a machine-learning algorithm that allows me to say, essentially, “Find me more things like X.” It’s that simple. There’s a tendency to think of predictive coding in more rigid terms, as in, “The machine uses this algorithm to find documents that it believes are responsive, and then at a certain point I will stop reviewing.” Now that’s perfectly valid, but the idea of having a technology that I can instruct, “Take these documents and find me more like them” is equally powerful. I can use predictive coding early on in a case to prioritize my review. This will enable me to put the most responsive documents to my best reviewers earlier – and I’m going to want to do that if at all possible. The idea is to use the technology to create highly responsive, computer-suggested review batches. You can then be very strategic about when and to whom you send these batches. At Recommind, our predictive coding technology is now designed to add value to every case, regardless of whether you’re running a predictive coding review.

Editor: What has been the customer feedback so far?

Etheridge: It’s been amazing, actually. The feedback that we hear time and time again is that Axcelerate 5 is transformational, that we are jumping ahead of the competition in every possible way. Just pick one aspect – the viewer, for instance. We actually had one customer who hadn’t seen anything else in the product other than the viewer, and he just stood up and said, “Sold. You had me at the viewer.”

The feedback has been phenomenal. We’ve been talking more recently about how Axcelerate 5 unifies the twin goals of power and simplicity, and the message is resonating. The market itself has become quite complex. Until now, we haven’t seen the kind of technology in this space that we’ve become so accustomed to in the consumer space, and so our goal is to bring this kind of consumer-grade experience to the e-discovery market.

Editor: Have you had any feedback from attorneys, and if so, have they commented on how they might be able to interact more effectively with Axcelerate 5 as they’re preparing cases?

Etheridge: Absolutely. Again, that was really part of the design. When you’re looking at a case, there are the things you have to do and the things you want to do. In this industry, we’re always focused on thehave to do. The act of sorting documents into three buckets – responsive, non-responsive, and potentially privileged – and to do so quickly.

However, in our conversations with lawyers, we’ve learned more about what they want to accomplish through discovery, and that is to find those key documents and to identify those documents that will eventually become exhibits in the case. This enables attorneys to plan their case strategy, so the quicker they can get to those, the earlier they can begin to build that strategy – and the better off they will be. To that end, we’ve put a major focus on creating interactive analytics capabilities that help attorneys get to those key facts faster – while at the same time providing the optimal experience for completing the more straightforward review tasks that lawyers have to do.

Editor: How can Axcelerate 5 give you superpowers?

Etheridge: At Recommind, we believe that Axcelerate 5 in its DNA is designed to amplify a lawyer’s capabilities right out of the gate. I suppose the analogy to superpowers is that our fully interactive solution is so simple to use that it feels to lawyers like a natural extension of their abilities, but it enables them to accomplish massive, superhuman tasks – for example, quickly taking a case hypothesis and validating it across huge quantities of documents. Axcelerate 5 gets lawyers to the key facts faster and gives them a jump on building their case strategy from the start, and within the world of e-discovery, I think this would definitely be considered a superpower.

For MCC’s interview on Hypergraph, see

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