On 18th of August, Shoreline attended the Fund Business 7th Investment Data & Technology Summit. Our Associate Director – Investment Analytics, Eugene Koutsenko, participated in a panel discussion on later stage data & analytics transformations – or how to leverage all the good investment in solid data and technology, to truly improve investment analytics and decision-making at the Front Office level. The panel included Ruchika Khurana from Future Fund, Neil Lotter from Matrix IDM and was chaired by Tom Clayton from Platinum Asset Management.
Here are five takeaways from the panel discussion:
- Maturity is as much about efficiency and risk, as it is about new insight. The panel considered examples of organisations leveraging their investment in core data. Could we point to direct examples of innovation, or new strategies that have come about due to data uplift? Well, not directly. The panel agreed that investment teams have always been resourceful in tracking down and wrangling data to support or challenge their strategies – however – this took considerable time and effort and was often seen as a distraction. Better data management allows research teams to be more effective – reducing the need to check and recheck data quality, change formats, integrate, cross and mesh data with other data, and generally look for and discover connections, correlations and relationships. This increase in efficiency, while in itself perhaps not revolutionary, when done correctly can lead to a step change in investment strategy development capability.
- Don’t replace Excel – augment it with other tools. The panel was asked about the role of Excel in late stage transformations – does maturity mean no Excel? No, Excel is an incredibly versatile tool often attracting a bad reputation through being pushed beyond its reasonable limits. If, when opening a spreadsheet, the fan on your laptop sounds like a jet taking off, it’s time to consider augmenting Excel with other tools. The panel dicussed a typical journey extending Excel first with VBA Macros and SQL Servers, then locally installed Python (or R, or Matlab) runtimes, then moving to a server side compute model, and then more recently into cloud based Notebook environments such as Jupyter or DataBricks. These technologies, while requiring new skills, provide significant uplift in both analytical power and operational risk mitigation – plus – they don’t have to be expensive. Cloud technology is offering highly cost effective options for those interested in their ‘next step’ beyond Excel.
- Pretty dashboards aren’t enough. The panel was challenged with a commonly observed scenario with interactive dashboards – they look good, but nobody seems to be using them. The key to this challenge is clearly identifying the target audience and tailoring the dashboard to their ‘persona’. While it may seem innovative to create dashboards based off brand new datasets and calculations, the more prudent approach is converting commonly used existing reports (e.g., daily exposure, performance or risk) from flat PDF or Excel format into interactive dashboards. This both guarantees the data is of interest, and reduces the barrier for recipients to interact. Beyond this, consider using a ‘dashboard of dashboards’ which gives you rapid feedback on user interactions with your dashboards – allowing you to understand what works and what doesn’t, optimise your designs and gamify use of dashboards across your development teams.
- ‘Data mesh’ or ‘fabric’ architectures are gaining traction. Extending on a topic discussed earlier in the day, the panel discussed approaches and architectures built to support the combination of a wide variety of datasets increasingly requested by mature organisations. While broad ranging across data production, governance and consumption, the panel discussed concepts of Data Lakes, Extract / Load / Transform over Extract / Transform / Load architectures and Mesh and Fabric approaches. While all of these technologies are great enablers, the key challenge remains alignment of expectations across stakeholders as to agility, pace of processing, assurance and data quality in managed datasets. The data landscape of the future allows crossing and integrating both fast and slow data, high, medium and low assurance across both central and distributed governance in a way that is both convenient and transparent to the consumer. We are not there yet though, as both our governance structures and technology evolve to meet these requirements.
- AI is still maturing in asset management – While our audience was no doubt hoping for interesting examples amongst participants on the use of AI and predictive analytics, real life examples remain stubbornly elusive. Where panelists did have experience with this technology was in explanatory analytics provided by BI packages such as PowerBI – allowing users to pose questions in plain English, and dig deeper into explanations of changes over time and between data categories. Operational data quality checking was also an area where AI was seen to assist in detecting ‘out of pattern’ anomalies which may indicate quality issues in need of review. More advanced capabilities likewise in the operational space included augmentation and extension of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies for processing Fund Manager statements and updates (e.g., to locate the Unit Price in a statement). As a cutting edge field, most innovation is likely to come from specialist organisations, and the most practical way for asset owners and investors to gain exposure to AI in the short term appears to be via dedicated hedge funds.
Shoreline provides a wide range of Investment Analytics services – like helping to take steps beyond Excel for your analytics, designing and delivering dashboards that stakeholders use, or creating architectures that allow you to take advantage of both central and distributed data governance. We can help you with your data challenges, and work with you to leverage your investment in data to bring real, tangible outcomes to your investment professionals. If these topics are relevant to your journey, we would love to chat. Get in touch