Like Jason and the Argonauts, Paul Stevens, CIO at Barclays Global Investors, is on the hunt. But the target of Stevens' interest is what he calls the Golden Source - data of unquestionable integrity.
After six years of integrating Barclays' data management systems, Stevens thinks he's found it. As proof, he looks to how his colleagues use the company's data marts. "People are taking data from our data marts and are showing it to clients," Stevens says. "That means they trust it."
Stevens arrived at Barclays in 1999 after working for JPMorgan for almost six years. From the beginning, Stevens, a geophysicist who taught himself computer programming while working at an oil company, attacked a data problem that had gripped Barclays: islands of information from internal and external sources, and information passing among and within Barclays' offices around the world. "What you end up with are these blobs of data and data files passing backwards and forwards. You have this incredible distorted spider's web of information," Stevens says. "It was totally ugly and ineffective." It led to doubts about which data was reliable and which information could be trusted.
Stevens wanted a one-stop approach: Flow data through a central hub, store it in one place, cleanse it one time and make it available through a single means. So Stevens and his tech team undertook a three-pronged approach to integrate data and manage it better across the organization.
The first step involved a global market data project. That project looked at how information flowed into the company from third-party data vendors such as Reuters or Bloomberg, examining how the firm acquired basic information about a security and its attributes. It meant working closely with market data vendors and analysts to build a single system that examines and stores incoming data, as opposed to it being stored in multiple points. It took three years for Stevens to be satisfied on the equity side, and there's more work to do on more complicated fixed-income products. With the first iteration of the system up and running, Stevens says his next task is to look at how to improve the system and tools to streamline workflow and data analysis to improve productivity.
The second step, a project known as global share, dealt with internal data. The problem there was information passed around ad hoc, which raised trust issues around its reliability. So the company built a messaging infrastructure to track where data is sent and when it's altered, which allows the firm to be more certain about data and insulate it from unwanted changes, Stevens says. That, too, took about three years, and the process continues today.
The third step involved having a reliable global source of key business information and data that people or applications can access for portfolio management, trading, performance analysis and reporting. "If you add all of this up, the global market data, the global share messaging and data mart, you've got all the pieces that glue together to solve the data integration problem," Stevens says.
Stevens takes an in-person approach to his role, holding "Sit Down With Paul Stevens Sessions" in his offices in Tokyo, London and San Francisco, where he lives. He knows that building a Golden Source one time isn't enough in a changing, global information environment. "It's not one of those things that once created it stays forever," Stevens says. "It tarnishes if you're not careful."