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Northern Trust’s Skinner Elaborates on its Data Management Shared Services Centre Development

Northern Trust has been engaged in developing a shared service centre for reference data in order to support its individual business lines over the last year or so, Nick Skinner, vice president of global data management at the custodian bank, explained to delegates at this year’s FIMA. The greatest challenges, according to Skinner, have been in ensuring internal client satisfaction, getting quality data from vendors and keeping up with the business in terms of data volumes.

Due to the custodian’s presence in the Asia Pacific market, the centralised data hub also needs to provide 24 hour support for business users in all locations (this is a similar challenge to that faced by Goldman Sachs). The shared data infrastructure sits in IT and provides a global model to support the firm’s fund administration business, but also has to support regional differences in data requirements. “The business does not stand still and we have had to keep pace with increasing volumes without an increase in staff,” added Skinner.

He likened data quality control to infection management in terms of limiting the impact of poor data quality on the business overall. Communication has proved to be vital in ensuring data quality is maintained, said Skinner. To this end, the firm assembled a data governance committee comprised of the key stakeholders in order to raise the visibility of data quality issues across the organisation and transparency around the services being provided by the centralised team.

As well as reporting to operations, the data management function also now reports to the global risk function, said Skinner. This is reflective of a general trend within the data management function across the industry, as data quality becomes increasingly important to the performance of risk calculations and reports.

Northern Trust’s data management team came up with around 50 different priorities and therefore needed business stakeholders to provide feedback on which of these projects it should take forward, said Skinner. The steering committee therefore prioritised these projects in a business context so that the team was not merely responding to “those shouting the loudest”.

Skinner referred to his boss Northern Trust’s senior vice president of operations and technology Kay Vicino as a key reason for the firm’s data management success due to her leadership and experience. “Her 20 years in IT helped her to set up the programme management office in charge of change management,” he explained.

The data governance committee is responsible for the various data management functions but it is also supported by various sub-committees focused on individual areas such as pricing data. It has internal service level agreements (SLAs) in place to ensure the level of service for data management is maintained under the policies set by the governance committee. Business continuity planning and global resiliency are also factors for consideration under the data management policy.

The steering committee therefore has the ability to unlock funds to be able to go forward with various projects. “It has given the data management confidence and credibility, authority and empowerment, and greater autonomy to do more on a proactive basis,” he explained. The function has a four year plan that is currently being put into execution to improve data management overall, with ring fenced resources dedicated to delivering these improvements.

“There is a need for stability and accountability for a home grown data management platform in order to develop a commercial sense for the service and ensure it retains relevant to the business. It has moved from a processing function to a service driven function,” said Skinner. Moreover, when working on individual data management projects, business users are often seconded to work on the projects in order to ensure end user requirements are properly taken into account, he explained.

“The fact that data management staff are getting poached by other areas of the business and vice versa is proof of the appreciation of the importance of the function at a firm level,” he contended.

Skinner has also recently been vocal on the subject of how regulatory systemic risk monitoring may impact data management practices.

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