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One Mic Stand: Susan Ardisson & John Unice of bit-x-bit

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand


Everybody This is Jonathan Kersting, with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Techvibe Radio bring you the Techvibe Radio One Mic Stand, where we get to tell some cool fun breaking news happening in Pittsburgh technology sector. And one of my favorite companies in Pittsburgh tech sector is bit-x-bit digital forensics company that just does work that blows my mind. And Susan Ardisson started almost 14 years ago, which is something I was thinking about 14 years ago, at the beginning of the big recession we had now we're just going through the whole COVID thing. They built this company to be a really terrific company through the ups and the downs. And now they're actually announcing some new leadership, John Unice taking over as CEO, I can't wait to learn more about what this transition means, and more importantly, how they're going to keep growing and gain a national footprint. So Susan, and john, thank you for being part of our show today. So great to catch up with you guys. And Happy 2021. So let's just start with introductions, give us your background real quick, and what inspired you to start bit by bit, and then we'll jump in with john, I'll talk about how he just joined up with the company not so not too long ago?

Well, you know, as you mentioned, we started back in the days of the of the last recession in 2007. And really the springboard for the company was the lack of companies that could do what, you know, we were envisioning, and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure had just been amended in 2006, which govern the use of electronic evidence and federal courts. I was a lawyer, my husband, who subsequently joined the company was a lawyer, and saw this as an opportunity that lawyers were going to need some help in doing this one and collecting evidence to on the forensic side. So that was really the beginning of the idea. And, you know, we just kept pushing on back then it was a brave new world, you know, the, the information that was rapidly developing what we needed to learn about what we needed to help our clients with, from law firms and their clients was was constantly changing. And it was a really exciting time. And of course, you know, we did have the, the recession to go along with it, when you're brand new, you know, back, my two can only really go forward. And, you know, as many have said, failure was not an option. So, you know, we started, Brett creasy, our president now was our first employee. And we kept building up the technical side and learning more about what we needed to do and developing a real niche, I think, in Pittsburgh and in the region, about what we could do. And the the solid part of our company has always been the forensics. And that's been guided by Brett, for the last 14 years. And that is, you know, we talked about before, john, I think I think I've been on a program with Jamie butcher and you a while ago about the trade secret theft. So we used to do a lot of analysis of those employees who would leave the company and take confidential information, whether with permission or not. And that was really a grounding of what we did in testifying in court and really proving our mettle on that ediscovery obviously, float along that was that was a natural companion of it. And as we're going now, and I know john will be talking about more, cybersecurity has become another strength of ours and an area that we're doing a lot in as well. So we just continue to evolve. And I you know, the last thing, which you probably know, we got the Allegheny County Bar Association's exclusive endorsement way back when in 2008, that's really helped us establish and move forward with the company's total credibility. And you've had that every single year since then. Fantastic.


As I said, John, I'm excited to learn more about your background. What brought you bit -x-bit and then obviously, your evolution to becoming CEO?

So I'm an attorney. I've been practicing law for just over 20 years, the first 10 years of my my career in private practice, litigation attorney and outside law firms. And then the next 10 years, I was in House Counsel at large companies, where I oversaw the litigation process for those companies and hired, basically law firms to help us through those problems. Gotcha. When I went in house, I started to actually oversee the tools and processes that bit by bit actually provides to its clients in action when you're on the other side. Yeah, I started practicing in 1999. So the whole ediscovery round, Lee wasn't around then. And then, through my practice, in my private practice, it started so I use the rudimentary early tools, the younger lawyer, and then oversaw the use of them in House Counsel for the next 10 years. And then bit by bit, the opportunity came up late in 19. And joined in early 2020 is general counsel. And the transition really was was great even though we're on the verge of as Susan had mentioned, the reputation of the firm, the way it goes about doing it The things that it does way partners with its clients. It's not a vendor. It's it's a service provider and a partner. And it always has been a good point. I'm glad you brought that up. Yeah, cuz it's a partnership and you work with somebody, it's not just the service, you turn on, you get information. It's like you're literally working with them hand in hand.

Exactly. Right. So I joined as general counsel and vice president and then the idea was, you know, obviously, as the company grew through the succeeding eight to nine months to see how it went with the idea of what succession planning in mind, and manage was pleased with the direction of the company, Susan and Joe Bratton, decided to transition on the CEO role, then, you know, at the end of last year, very cool stuff. I mean, what a crazy obviously, you step into a new role like this COVID going on, that just increases the week that the craziness around trying to get stuff done, but you guys continue to, to soldier on and keep making a great, really positive impact on and providing a much needed service pandemic or no pandemic, as far as that goes. So I'm just curious season, so what's it like now actually, like staging back from something that you built over the past years, and you're obviously you're planning to do this, it's still gonna feel a little strange to kind of like, take your baby and be like, okay, it's yours.

You're talking briefly before the show, you know, this has been an ongoing plan from for me for the last four or five years, and I worked with a local Pittsburgh, group, women presidents organization, so there was a lot of groundwork that we all discussed as women owned businesses about what you needed to do. I'm 65. So I knew that, you know, I wasn't gonna stay around toys at but as far as how it went, and because it was gradual, you know, you know, I think psychologically, you're, you're well prepared for it. And I think also, you know, really, you know, Brett has been taking a big laboring, or the last two years, he became a partner about three, three or four years ago. And so as he increased, we knew we needed to find someone who would take on the lawyer litigation role, CEO role, because Brett's, you know, championing the digital and, and the technical side of things. And when we got that email from john, we had posted a thing on LinkedIn, you know, because I had known john, just through some work nuts, not a huge amount of work with Covestro. But I met him on speaking panels and stuff, we were just, you know, really, really pleased and taken aback. So, in terms of, it's been a gradual process, I will say, we introduced john through a party went on March 6, I think it was John. We were all allowed to be together. And basically, the very next week, we were shutting down. But because we were designated an essential business, you know, we could keep operating, although we did it remotely. So, you know, I feel like, you know, we, that leadership that we saw through a very, you know, difficult time and continues to be a difficult time with john was was simply amazing. And so not only have we not fallen back at all, we've, you know, plowed ahead forward, which I'll let john talk about that. So in terms of, you know, how we've, how I feel about things, how Joe, my husband feels about things, we feel like it couldn't be better with him. And Brett, you know, taking taking on things. So yeah, and I'm home, I'm home, I'm not in the office.

Very cool. That's such a good story. And I'm so excited to see what's going to happen in the future. So John, let's talk about that. Because let's say the work that you do, I mean, is changed so much, and pie keeps changing every day. As far as that goes, because the threats are different, the technology is different, how it implicates legal stuff is just around how you stay on top of it. So tell us about the future. I know you're you're trying to get more of a nationwide footprint, which I think is exciting, you've got some new products and services to be rolled out, give us a little a little taste of what we can expect to be around the 2021 and beyond. Sure, so

I'll take it maybe step wise, as far as our main service offerings door, talk about ediscovery. We have in the two review platforms offer our clients very strong analytical functions, or artificial intelligence is embedded in these tools. And it helps attorneys find relevant documents faster, more accurately, and ultimately cheaper for the client. So we have a special expertise in using these technologies and leveraging them. The old way of thinking is from attorneys, your human eye on every single document. And that's just not the case anymore. Susan mentioned the dawn of E discovery when bit by bit started. Since then there's been litigation in cases around whether or not technology is appropriate to use when disclosing your affiliate discharging obligations. Okay. And so one of our strengths, I think, are the people that we have running the tools and the actual tools embedded in our software. And often our clients realize the true benefits to this. At the end of the day, they use us less in a way but then they come back the next time because the office was efficient, was accurate was on budget. So that's sort of one area focal point for us. The other large one is in the forensics and in the cybersecurity incident response space is those tools are always evolving as far as what you can actually recover and and the tools needed to recover the artificial data out there. Forensic There's different social media tools out there to collect the different platforms that people use, the tools in which we utilize to create images for mobile devices, and computers are always evolving. So we have really strong relationships with our technology partners stay on top of those developments. And use those cutting edge tools to, again, speed the process, make it more accurate, make it more defensible. So that's another big focal point. And the third thing I would say Jonathan is be more holistic provider of services. So in the past, you've done a great job of responding when called, but the idea is, how do you get that terrible phone call in the middle of the night? Like we need your help? That's exactly right. We do that every day. And last night, we were doing it but the idea that we have going forward is on the information governance part of our practice advising clients upfront about where their data sets, how to preserve the data, how to store it, when to get rid of it, and have a more ongoing relationship with them. So if there's that calm level, the night, we already know that people we know that systems and other tools. And so it's more of a holistic approach to where we go about information governance, and then ultimately forensics and cybersecurity makes total sense to to take that tact. I'm really excited to see how this stuff grows for you guys in the coming years. Because to get to this point. Now, I think it's just been so exciting for you guys. So as you move forward to 2021, what do you think be some of your key challenges as we kind of navigate through the pandemic, and get to a place where we can conduct business a little more as we may be kind of used to, for lack of a better term, certainly has been a challenge, although I will say given the uncertainty we're all living under and what I'll call sort of corporate chaos. In some ways, that actually makes us a little busier. So in the forensic space, people are leaving companies, they're working remotely, maybe doing things not to be doing and so the investigation work has certainly actually increased on the cyber cybersecurity space as well, in about workforce, some companies were prepared better than others. But people are distracted or stressed rightly so with a whole environment all living under and so it rises opportunities for threat actors to breach networks in to take information and issue malware and those sorts of things. So I think in the 2021, we're still in that environment. So I anticipate the forensic needs and the cybersecurity needs and in the responses will continue to increase actually. And we're ready to support those, we have tools that can collect almost any sorts of data remotely, you don't need to have boots on the ground these days to actually collect phones and computers and emails, email systems. And so we think that's going to continue, the real challenge really would be I guess, e discovery, given that's typically associated with lawsuits, and courts, and various parts of the country are either operating properly or even shutting down. And so the challenge there is to get through that part of the business and increase for that workload. I think that's going to loosen up as courts come back online. But that's something we're looking forward to doing.


We're ready to do it, we have the tools and people. So I would say that sort of the biggest challenge for 2021 fantastic stuff. I mean, all the way around. I'm just completely stoked for the company I'm stoked for, for you, john. And for Susan, building to this point, and then being able to step back a little bit and watch this thing continue to grow. I think it's just a cool success story happening right here in Pittsburgh. And I've really cool industry that I think is really at the very still the very beginnings and you guys are well on it to keep evolving and growing as this happened. I can't think you guys have never taken the time to fill us in on what's going on with it. Because I know all of our listeners and our members, the Pittsburgh tech council are super proud of your work, and they're stoked 100%. So we'll leave it at that. And people can learn more about bit by bit. And they should be thinking like maybe I should be a little more proactive and start thinking about, you know, how can I start working with you guys? What's the best way to reach out for you guys?

So there are many ways but our number at the office is 412-325-4033 or a bit dash x dash is our website. Of course I could grab my information as well if you'd like that.

Absolutely. We'll put that in the liner notes for the podcast part of this as well too. And can't thank you guys enough for being part of the tech vibe Radio One mic stand. This is Jonathan Kersting with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and TechVibe Radio.

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