Bridging the Data Disconnect Between the Back and Front Offices

Patrick Orlando, as part of a panel at TSAM Boston, highlights why it is so critical for business users to engage in the earliest phases of a data management platform implementation.

Patrick Orlando, Principal Consultant, Eagle Investment Systems

This past November, as part of a data management panel at TSAM Boston, a member of the audience inquired about one of the biggest challenges facing most data professionals: The sometimes glaring disconnect between the back-office teams providing data and the front-office users that are often unsure how to turn this information into actionable intelligence that informs both business strategies and investment decisions. The consensus among those of us on the panel was that more often than not, issues such as these extend all the way back to implementation and the earliest stages of standing up a data management platform.

This was a topic that seemed to be of particular interest at the event, which was held in Boston on November 16. A TSAM survey of senior executives ahead of the conference revealed that over half are currently planning to replace legacy systems and technology during the next 12 months, while nearly a third (30.5%) identified plans to introduce a new data governance strategy. This budding level of interest was evident during our panel, “Transforming Your Firm Into an Information-Centric Organization,” as we spoke to a packed room of delegates.

For those considering these initiatives, it is absolutely critical that business users are involved from the outset, when organizations first map out their objectives and priorities. As I mentioned during the panel, I have always advised clients to approach an implementation as they would a fifth-grade book report; before they even begin, the sponsors and stakeholders should know and understand “the who, what, where, when and why” as it relates to this effort and, ultimately, how the data management system will meet the expansive needs of the organization.

For example, a fellow panelist noted that before his firm began its implementation, “job one” was to identify all of the stakeholders and then conduct a series of in-depth interviews to understand their needs and existing shortcomings as it relates to data. The organization then synthesized these interviews to pinpoint more than 100 different use cases. This exercise can also reinforce the benefits of a data-centric solution, particularly when it comes to supporting the front office with a single version of the truth that provides a consistent and accurate view of portfolio holdings and cash positions.

As it relates to implementations, while it can seem elementary, the answers to many of the “basic” questions for business users are often far less obvious than the IT team might assume. For instance, as organizations try to frame out their data-consumption model, many will run into roadblocks because they cannot identify every group or system that will be using the data or exactly what data sets they will be using. The needs of an end user who is merely compiling data for client reporting will differ substantially from a portfolio manager who wants to perform ex-ante risk assessments. Business users, versus IT, will also want to provide specificity around the business glossary and the exact ontology standards being applied, as misunderstandings at this level will almost certainly come at the expense of data quality and consistency. On the delivery side, the answers to these “basic” questions will also dictate how data is enriched or normalized as it moves from the data warehouse to downstream systems and functions or is used to drive analytics that ultimately support investment decisions or strategy.

Beyond ensuring data is fit-for-purpose and meets a broad range of needs across an enterprise, the participation of business users at the earliest stages of the project will also facilitate a far more seamless implementation. And while it is critical that business users take the time to illustrate how they will employ the data, it is just as important for the vendor to articulate why we are asking certain questions. This allows the key stakeholders within the organization to connect the necessary dots, making them that much more likely to buy into a process that eliminates uncertainty and better meets their needs once fully deployed. When the business users are part of the entire process, the end result will almost assuredly meet or exceed their expectations.

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