Thursday, July 30, 2009

Interview with Sean McLinden, Outcome Technology Associates, Inc.

[Sean is a Forensic Focus forum regular and posts under the username "seanmcl"]

Forensic Focus: Sean, can you tell us something about your background?

Sean McLinden: My first exposure to computers was as an undergraduate when I saw an episode of the PBS series Nova about artificial intelligence (AI). Since I was headed to the University of Pittsburgh to begin a graduate study in Medicine I hooked up with the team of Jack D. Myers, MD, and Harry E. Pople, PhD., who were researching the development of programs which could mimic the actions of human diagnosticians. Their laboratory was kind of a skunkworks which not only explored artificial intelligence, but also computer networking, hardware design and operating systems. Everyone who worked there was expected to be well versed in computer design and applications and innovative and there were a lot of opportunities for creativity and independent action. That model became my model for building collaborative teams in which people are encouraged to think independently, question conventional wisdom and be self-motivating.

Following completion of medical training I was recruited to become the head of MIS for what would become a university affiliated teaching hospital. Whereas in the research lab, sharing was the norm, in a patient care setting, the security of the information is paramount. This experience also taught me how production IT operations work, including the human element, an understanding of which is critical to cost-effective enterprise forensics.

From there, I chaired a university graduate program in IT management and then directed a clinical outcomes research group before starting Outcome Technology Associates in 1998.

Forensic Focus: What type of work is Outcome Technology Associates, Inc. engaged in? What does your role as president involve?

Sean McLinden: Outcome Technology Associates began as an organization that developed software and refined practices for the health care industry. Specifically, we did data analysis for patient clinical trials and helped to design systems for the sharing of patient information via data networks. Because our work involved a high degree of confidentiality, we were retained by law firms which had the need not only for data capture and analysis, but also the ability to be discrete. At that time, computer forensics was unheard of and so, "experts" were drawn from the academic and business units where IT practices were the area of specialization.

Our first cases involved simple data recovery, preservation and analysis for use in civil and criminal legal proceedings. The paper record was still the standard for courtroom evidence and most computer forensics involved the detection of traces of the paper record on computers. In 1995, we were consulted by attorneys for the plaintiff on a very large case involving tens of thousands of electronic documents, including e-mail, which was thought to contain evidence of an intentional breach of contract by the defendant. The outcome of the case was a $30 million judgment in favor of our client, and that was the start of our full-time business.

Today we are involved in any and all types of civil and criminal investigations in which the preparation, storage or transmission of information in electronic format is involved. I can say, in all honesty, that each of our cases has had one or more features which is/are unique among all of our clients, so it would be hard to pin us down as specializing in one form of computer forensics...


No comments: