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Data Visualization's New Shine

In the hunt for alpha, Wall Street firms look for the right data visualization technologies to make sense of petabytes of structured and unstructured data while maintaining regulatory compliance.

While data visualization is making inroads in the front office, most of the action is still taking place in the back office, according to Peter Wang, founder of Continuum Analytics, which provides tools for large-scale data analysis and visualization, and co-founder of the PyData Consortium, a group of data scientists and developers who use the open source Python programming language for big data analysis.

"At the end of day, most traders are stuck in Excel," says Wang. "In rare cases they'll export and load into another system. But at the end of day in terms of workflow, they're using basic visualizations out of Excel."

The back office is a different story. Faced with petabytes of data to sift through and a limited number of people on staff, firms are tapping into the opportunity to create dashboards that can help them focus on which data points are truly important, which in turn enables overburdened IT departments to draw more timely conclusions and maintain a competitive edge.

[How To Select The Most Accurate Data Visualization]

"Regulations such as Basel III are driving risk reporting and people to operationally understand how compliant they are. And dashboards are where we're seeing that," says Sapient's Forde. "By providing a C-level dashboard, it's helping drive data quality."

Dashboards can tell chief information officers what's going on with their hardware, software and servers and what the impact will be on their business partners if a server goes out, notes Lime Brokerage's Cook.

"The way firms connect with the market involves various protocols like FIX for communications and configurations you rely on to operate with each other. But it's usually not an exact match with what you use internally, which creates a complex environment," Cook says. "Dashboard technology can improve success across all areas of the business for stronger control over an environment that relies heavily on machines."

Still, there's much more to dashboards than pretty visuals. "It's not just about the tool itself. It's about the environment it sits in and how you use it. You have to think that you don't want to apply technology just for technology's sake and some nice visual effects for the next prospective client to look at when they come in," Cook contends.

Dashboards serve an important purpose in today's technology-heavy world, from giving a view of the state of systems, to reporting, compliance, monitoring and control, risk management, and response to problems.

"But for them to be useful we have to look at the types of information we have, who uses it, how we use it and what it means. Then we have a model to understand the challenges we face when working with that information," Cook says.

Demand for data visualization, particularly on the business side, is also being driven by executives and investors who expect the quality and excitement of iPad and smartphone visuals in even the driest financial software application. Further, Hurricane Sandy, which left thousands of Wall Street employees without power or access to their office, was the ultimate proof that financial professionals need to have the same tools they have on their desktops on their mobile devices.

While it is often said that smartphones and tablets are not a great fit for traders as they are dealing with so much data and mobile screens are too small for the data visualization tools they might need, such devices can enable back-office and operations people to do their work -- from trade confirmation to reconciliation, settlement and research in the toughest of circumstances.

Demand for mobile data visualization tools is also being driven by a growing number of wealth management firms that want to make data more interactive on mobile devices, according to DataArt's Komissarov.

"When a wealth management adviser proposes to clients, he doesn't want just to display a diagram in PDF format. He wants to give it as a tool that is interactive on the iPad and be able to change the allocations spread and portfolio without typing it into tables but by using drag and drop, for example," says Alexei Miller, executive VP of DataArt. "And it's now becoming easier to develop advanced tools on your mobile devices."

Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in April 2007, Melanie lived in Paris, where she worked for the International Herald ... View Full Bio

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