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Does the Industry Want or Need a New Data Standards Body or Data Tsar?

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Last week’s reference data conference in London threw up a few interesting ideas with regards to leading the charge for reference data standardisation in the market, not least of which was the creation of a new standards focused body. In addition to a senior level data representative on the board of every financial institution, speakers and attendees alike discussed the need for a figurehead to drive forward the data agenda for the industry as a whole.

The idea seemed to coalesce around the creation of a data tsar from the practitioner universe who would be able to represent the interests of data managers and act as the ‘go to’ guy for issues concerning data standardisation. Such an individual would therefore head a group of practitioners, all of who would spare time from their day jobs to discuss how to implement standards, and would represent the needs of the industry in conversation with regulators and the vendor community.

The body could be charged with coming up with a code of conduct (not too prescriptive and not too vague) that could be used as a benchmark against which to judge progress towards standardisation, suggested Bob Bishop, RBS’s head of client data management. Bishop has been involved in the JWG led Customer Data Management Group (CDMG) work around defining industry guidance for, unsurprisingly, customer data management and is in favour of such a group tackling the wider remit of data standards.

Julia Sutton, Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) global head of reference data, who is also part of the CDMG, seconded this notion and added that the group could also help to define what firms are looking for from their vendors. “We can’t expect vendors to come up with something clever on their own, as they can only react to our requirements. We need to work together to determine these and then inform the vendors,” she explained. Sutton then asked audience members to put their hands up to indicate whether they would be willing to be part of such a group and six people indicated their interest (you know who you are).

Moreover, although the regulatory community is aware of the data challenge, there are no specific requirements within any of the current regulations for banks to directly invest in data aggregation and centralisation. A standards body could therefore campaign for such an inclusion in the regulatory mandate and help to shape the European Directive on which the regulation would be based. After all, a new data rulebook needs to be defined by someone, otherwise it will languish on the ‘to do’ list forever.

One audience member pointed to the payments industry’s European Payments Council (EPC) as an example of a successful industry group on which to base the model for such an endeavour. He suggested that a figurehead such as Citi’s Eric Sepkes, who led the EPC (and has since gone on to set up his own consultancy business off the back of his success), would enable firms to rally round the cause and lead the agenda.

However, there are groups out there already working on promoting the data agenda and adding another to the mix may just complicate matters. The Financial Industry Services Division (FISD) of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), for example, is currently working on drawing up data management qualifications for those hoping to enter this sector and to define it as a proper discipline. The EDM Council is working on its semantics repository and its data management maturity model with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), among other things. ISO working groups, such as entity identification focused WG8, are attempting to draw up targeted data standards for specific areas. With all this going on, is there a need for another body?

Perhaps there is a level of dissatisfaction on the part of data management practitioners within financial institutions about the dominant presence of vendors within some of these bodies? Given the tension in the market around pricing practices and service levels, this is understandable. Maybe firms feel another body could contribute a fresh pair of eyes to tackling the problem?

Whatever the reasoning behind the potential establishment of such a body, it is just an idea at the moment. It will take strong leadership for such a body to get off the ground, but maybe this is exactly what the industry needs?

Do you agree that there is room for a practitioner led body charged with leading data standardisation?

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