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In preparing for our excellent and very well received Reference Data Review @ FIMA online daily news service for the FIMA 2007 event in London earlier this month, we interviewed some of the data management movers and shakers who were set to speak at the conference to find out how they were feeling about the progress that’s been made in their world since last year’s FIMA.

Generally the outlook was very postitive. Citi Markets & Banking CDO John Bottega, for example, said: “How is progress measured? First and foremost through awareness, and in that sense, we’ve made very good progress.” Avox CEO Ken Price cited evidence for progress in the form of budget allocations. “The senior data manager at one of our clients recently presented his budget for approval by his boss,” he said. “Instead of the typical ‘cut it back’ response, he was told even more funds would be made available for 2008 reference data projects if he could identify additional areas for improvement.”

However, our FIMA speakers were also realistic about the challenges that remain – and a recurring theme was the significant amount of cultural change that needs to happen to really push data management projects through to successful fruition. As David Miller, director of credit systems at Bank of Scotland, told us, what’s required is business process re-engineering – “and change like that doesn’t happen quickly”. As explored later in this issue in our reviews of a number of the FIMA speakers’ presentations, a major focus of the conference was the organisational aspect of enterprise data management projects.

Speaker after speaker outlined their institutions’ different approaches to governing their EDM efforts, and explained how they are seeking to overcome the challenge of effecting the necessary cultural change. In a sense, this new preoccupation is progress in itself: firms are certainly focusing on a bigger picture than just the systems side of the equation, implying they know they can access the tools for the job, and now they just have to work out how to use them properly. We also asked the FIMA speakers their views of the importance of FIMA to the data managment industry.

CounterpartyLink managing director Christoph Lammersdorf echoed the opinions of others, saying “the very clear focus of FIMA on the data management arena is important”. “Networking” and sharing experiences with peers with similar interests also emerged as key attractions of FIMA – and clearly this is a major reason for attending a conference on any topic. But isn’t mixing it with like-minded peers – and listening to people who do a similar job to yours and who are essentially preaching to the converted on the value of data management – just a little bit inward focused?

There is always a sense at these shows that the attending data specialists are somehow huddling together for comfort, as if fearful that outside their familiar community they’ll be ridiculed for their odd obsession with the minutiae of data management. You don’t find proponents of the “sexier” front office side of financial services data and technology – smart order routing say, the current obsession post-MiFID – hiding their lights under bushels. And yet the reference data issues created by, for example, firms starting to use more execution venues are absolutely massive. The most sophisticated smart order router in the world is neither use nor ornament if your operations can’t support your use of multiple venues. Maybe it’s about time data managers stopped just reassuring each other about how important their jobs are – and started ramming the message home to the broader financial community.

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