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Ask the expert: Chief Technology Officer, Chris Delaney, discusses how technology provides insight at Digitalis

May 2022
 by Chris Delaney

Ask the expert: Chief Technology Officer, Chris Delaney, discusses how technology provides insight at Digitalis

May 2022
 By Chris Delaney

Chris Delaney takes a few minutes to discuss how Digitalis’s in-house technology team creates technical solutions that provide insightful data on online activity, giving clients the knowledge they need to protect their reputation, and making a meaningful difference to litigation support.

  • Tell us a little about your background, how you came to work at Digitalis, and how your role has evolved.

I have worked in software development for 20 years, beginning my career developing critical software for Heathrow Airport’s fuel planning. Since then, I have worked for a wide variety of companies large and small including BT, HP Enterprise, Barclays, and BBC Monitoring. Most of my roles have involved providing expertise to design and develop specific software that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

I started working with Digitalis in the early days over 10 years ago, when I helped build the first version of our online reputation management (ORM) software. I returned in 2016 to help develop new products and technologies, and in 2018 I became Digitalis’s interim CTO, taking up the position permanently in 2020.

  • How do the technical platforms your team has developed unlock insight and make a difference to Digitalis’s clients?

My team works closely with the rest of the company. Being integrated rather than siloed enables us to respond more rapidly to client requirements. We can build tools to automatically extract public data from a website on a specific subject in a very short time, enabling us to gain insights into that data much faster than if a team of humans were reading and manually trawling through it.

Our Twitter Insights tool has been developed to extract data from Twitter and perform automated analytics that provide insight into what the data means. The analytics we generate enable us to detect potential bot nets and orchestrated disinformation campaigns, and even identify the origins of a campaign that has grown organically.

  • How do you make sure the data you collect is analysed and presented to clients in a way that they can understand?

One of the important steps for us is to make the data we collect meaningful to clients and present it in a clear and digestible way. We translate complex raw data into a format that reveals where the issues lie, such as by showing the trend of a URL’s ranking over time, or the network of connections between accounts on a Twitter bot net. Our reports enable clients to understand the data, make decisions and take action.

  • How valuable is it to have an in-house technical team at Digitalis? What does this enable you to do, and how does it impact the services Digitalis can provide?

Having the tech team in-house means we can adapt and respond rapidly to client requirements, using a bespoke software suite that provides exactly what we need and improves the efficiency of the team. When a new online platform emerges, we can quickly evaluate how complex it would be for us to investigate it, without relying on the lengthy process of having third parties come out with tools to do so. This makes it quicker for us to respond and get solutions out to our clients, as well as ensuring we have a complete understanding of the tools we are using and how to adapt them if needed.

  • What new and emerging trends are there in the reputation management space? What are the implications for clients, and can people ensure they are protected?

There is a constant stream of new social platforms emerging, and we monitor them closely because those that take off can do so rapidly, becoming a potential hazard. Reddit is an example of an established platform that has experienced rapid growth recently, after events around the GME (GameStop) trading where it was used to manipulate prices, gaining widespread press coverage in the process.

New types of platforms are also frequently emerging: non-text-based platforms such as TikTok have grown hugely in popularity in recent years, and they can be more tricky to analyse and gain insights into.

Each trend carries its own implications due to activity ranging from manipulating stock prices to spreading disinformation or launching hate campaigns. As the GME incident shows, even established platforms can be used and manipulated in new ways, so we must ensure we remain well-positioned to respond rapidly to any changes.

  • Finally, how might the reputation management space evolve in the coming months and years, and what might this mean for clients and the wider public?

For clients, managing their online reputation is no longer just a matter of checking their search profile and managing mainstream media. While text-based platforms such as Twitter and Reddit are still significant, new non-text-based ways for people to share their thoughts and messages, such as TikTok and YouTube Shorts, often make it more difficult for clients to respond.

It will become increasingly important to find ways of responding to these new reputational threats and detecting them as they occur. A vital part of my role as CTO at Digitalis is to ensure our technical team provides solutions that enable our clients to detect, analyse and respond to content across these new platforms to ensure they are protected both now and in the future.

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