Can You See The Forest For The Trees?

December 14, 2011

One of the major challenges faced in investment operations is the management of complex, disparate data.  Consolidating and organizing data in such a way  to allow good business decisions to be made has become daunting as the volume and complexity of data have increased.  At this time of year, as many people are decorating their holiday trees, it is striking how little progress the industry has made in terms of getting better sight of the forest for the trees.

Investment operations really does have a lot of ‘trees’ – typically running multiple complex systems that  span from multiple trading platforms, CRM systems and accounting systems to data feeds, reporting and other ERP systems.  Gaining access to the data in the workflow through this complex environment, and using this data in a consolidated, meaningful way can pose many challenges.  People in the enterprise can quickly find themselves surrounded by spreadsheets sourced from different systems.  Data unification and cleansing occurs as a manual process.  New spreadsheets need to be created in order to display different views of data.  This quickly turns into a time-consuming process which is an accuracy and manageability nightmare.

This problem directly affects the ability of the enterprise to make well-informed business decisions in a timely fashion.  At the heart of the issues resides data storage.  Data needs to be consolidated and organized into a structure that enables fast retrieval in formats that can be easily manipulated to answer business questions.  This need for easy manipulation implies that views of data must be dynamic so that the information can be shaped to form a story and answer deeper questions at varying granular views.  For example, in one view, you may quickly see how an asset class performed last quarter and then drill into how each sector, industry, sub-industry performed all the way down to the security level.  Then layer on other dimensions, to cross reference against market conditions for specific time periods and various other factors, enabling the enterprise to better predict what can be expected in similar or changing conditions for the future.

This structure provides deep analysis of key data in a fast-paced environment that enables management to leverage information to drive business decisions.  Overall, this leads to a higher level of business intelligence so that the enterprise can make better decisions faster.

PORTIA’s underlying data structures and open architecture can already be used to enable this real-time analysis of critical data.  However, we do not rest on our success to date – we are consistently on the hunt for new technologies that bring increased value to our clients.   In the critical area of business intelligence, we see some attractive new technologies that we will begin to incorporate in future PORTIA releases to enhance our offering. 

In our plans for 2012, we will begin incorporating  “cube” reporting into the PORTIA platform.  Advances in technologies, such as UDM (Unified Dimensional Model) and MDX (Multi-dimensional Expressions), provide a great platform for building infrastructure that takes complex underlying data and relationships between data and translates it into data cubes that enhance business intelligence capabilities for PORTIA users.

The cube is a very powerful tool to increase business intelligence as it allows us to store different kinds of data like transactions, holdings, performance measurement, security master, and account information in a central repository.  Data can be loaded at quick intervals, as well as cleansed and unified in the same step.  Data can also be brought in from outside sources and combined with accounting data.  Once in the cube, the end-user will be able to perform such tasks as data drilldown, data pivoting and data mining.  For example, you could look at a list of accounts with trailing 12 month ROR figures;  then pivot the data to see a list of ROR ranges, total number of accounts and which fall into each range.  The data begins to be more meaningful and also malleable so questions can be answered on demand.

In addition to gathering and mining the data, good user interface technologies are essential to presenting the data so that there is a high level of interactivity and intuitive navigation across the cube.   We have done some good early development on new tools that will help PORTIA accomplish an excellent level of data visualization, data exploration, and data presentation.  Much more to come on that topic in future blogs. 

This is an exciting time for PORTIA as we think about the opportunities that lie ahead, given our ability to harness the power of the underlying data to deliver enhanced business intelligence platforms to our clients.  We’ll begin to decorate the PORTIA tree, but more importantly, we’ll ensure that our clients can clearly see the forest and get the top-level view and analysis that will enable them to make better decisions faster.

Dominic Flanagan, Vice President  of Technology


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