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Risk Management

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Data Managers: Ambassadors of Change

Data managers are earning new respect and their roles are evolving from back-office clerks to business-savvy, C-level executives.

It used to be that data managers at investment firms would bide their time overseeing a handful of data vendors and keeping a hawkish eye on the data needs of the back office, with its elaborate accounting and clearing systems. Front-office forays were rare and consisted of stoking the data fires in the various silos that dotted the corporate landscape, as each division in a company tended to its own information needs. Today, those data silos are toppling like Eastern European governments, and with the transformation, the role of the data manager is rapidly changing as firms consolidate their data and create a central structure for managing it.

Now, data truly is ubiquitous, touching all corners of an enterprise and becoming the lifeblood of an organization. Not only must data managers be savvy technologists capable of keeping that information pure and pumping it through the corporate veins, they also must be able to speak the language of business. They must be astute business advisers and diplomats who understand not only the data, but also the business lines they serve - including equities, fixed income and derivatives - as well as the problems business line managers face.

Data managers' jobs have become so important that their positions are being elevated to a much higher level. Once relegated to the back office or, oftentimes, even the basement, they are now moving up the corporate ladder, possibly as high as the executive suite, with new titles such as Chief Data Officer and Data Czar. The reason? Data managers need a holistic view of data and they must reside at a high level in the firm to achieve this. "They must have a holistic view from front to back," notes Tom Jordan, CEO of Jordan & Jordan consultancy, who adds that going forward, there will be more of a demand for data managers who understand the content and are capable of filling this new role.

There are several trends and issues that have helped give rise to the data manager's new role. They include technology innovation, stricter compliance, concentration on better management of market risk and increased messaging. These trends have forced management to recognize the importance data plays and the need for holistic management and data governance from the top down.

John Bottega, director, global head of product and price reference data, at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York, has seen the shifting sands for data managers. For more than 20 years, he has managed data for Wall Street firms, including stints with Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers.

"Life was simple then - it was just Bloomberg," he says of his first foray into reference data, when he was a programmer at Merrill Lynch. "The market has changed quite a bit," he observes. "In terms of the overall goal - providing clean data to the firm - that hasn't changed." What has changed, he notes, is the scope and methods used to manage data.

"Obviously, technology has changed dramatically. The market, in terms of the speed of getting data to the end user, has changed dramatically," Bottega continues. "Ten years ago, you could probably get away with end-of-day-type activity. Now, there's a tremendous need [for data] prior to opening of the markets." But the biggest difference in his job, he adds, is that the executives who run Wall Street firms now appreciate the impact data has on their organizations. "Senior management now recognizes the importance of reference data to the health and well-being of the institution."

Bottega isn't alone in his observations. Talk to any number of Wall Street veterans and they'll tell you the job of the data manager has become much more sophisticated.

Paul Yaron, managing director and principal at Bear Stearns & Co. in New York, says, "The role of data manager has grown in depth and breadth over the last five to 10 years. It's really because of the changing markets. The types of instruments traded today are far broader and far more complex and far more data-intensive."

John White, principal, investment management data services, with Boston's State Street Global Advisors, says that while "I grew up under the data validation and integrity side of the business, I'm working closer with the business users. We're looked on more for our expertise." He notes that there's a shift of thinking under way about data and the role it plays at investment management firms.

As a result, State Street has consolidated its data departments and roles into one - the Investment Management Data Services group, which White manages. The goal is to manage the firm's investment data holistically. White's group now includes business analysts who must have in-depth knowledge of each business line in order to provide them with the appropriate data support. "They act as a liaison between the developers as well as the business. They understand investment data, bonds, equities, derivatives - they can speak the language of the business side. It's a very critical role in our organization," White explains.

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