Opening Cross: Do You Think of Data as a Grgich or a Gato Negro?

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The other day, I was chatting with the owner of my local coffee shop about different types of coffees. He prefers African beans, lightly roasted, with bright, fruity flavors, whereas I prefer South American or Indonesian beans, roasted to within an inch of their life, and brewed thick enough that my spoon can almost stand up straight in the cup.

From there, the conversation turned to wine, and the incredible range of tastes, grapes and styles available for all tastes. Dennis, the owner, said he recalled his “Aha!” moment with coffee, but hadn’t yet experienced the same revelation with wine, whereas I remember my “Aha!” wine moment clearly: a Penley Estate Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Coonawarra wine region in Australia with my one-time publisher and other reporters at Boisdale restaurant in London’s West End. Until then, you couldn’t pay me to drink red wine. Since then, I’ve tasted a few truly great wines, plenty of truly awful ones, and many good, solid go-to bottles—and I’ve enjoyed every new experience.

Wait, you ask: is there anything relevant to data in here, or has old Maxoholic finally lost it? Yes, dear reader, but like a good winemaker, all will reveal itself with a little patience. Hint: it’s all in the blend.

Let’s move for a moment to a whisky analogy: it annoys me no end when people turn their nose up at blended whisky, professing that anything other than single malt is garbage. Don’t get me wrong: a good single malt is a joy, and no two are alike. In fact, the character of a single malt can change from year to year, whereas blends are just as artfully crafted to taste the same, batch after batch. For example, Aberfeldy Distillery in Scotland (for the thirsty hikers out there, it’s adjacent to the Rob Roy Way) produces an excellent single malt. But the distillery is best known for Dewars—a blend for which international demand is so great that the distillery exports almost everything it produces.

Back to the wine analogy. Over Thanksgiving, I took my brother-in-law—who works for Italian wine importer Noble Grape Wines—for a wine blending class at Conn Creek winery in Napa, California, a winery that buys grapes from vineyards all over Napa and uses its expertise to create impressive wines, such as its Anthology blend. The winemakers start with a base of cabernet sauvignon from any of the sub-regions in Napa, each with different soils, altitudes and climates, then add small amounts of other grapes, such as merlot, malbec or petit verdot. The results are arguably more impressive than any single grape from a single vineyard.

After that lengthy preamble, here’s my point: as the breadth and scope of market data constantly expands, data providers and consumers need to think of a comprehensive data service as one of these complex blends of different components and characteristics, comprising a broad range of datasets in a cohesive whole, with both breadth and depth, and consistent quality, which appeals to a broad audience, whereas a single-grape wine—like someone selling a feed handler for only a couple of exchanges—may appeal to a limited palate.

So, for example, FactSet’s decision to incorporate global ETF data from Markit, while improving its coverage, may also broaden both companies’ appeal. Or, think of 1010Data’s decision to move into providing a collection of third-party and proprietary data, rather than just providing a Big Data analysis platform, is like a wine blender that also begins growing its own grapes. Of course, key to any good wine is the skilled winemaker who nurtures the grapes and decides the blends. For example, fixed income data provider BondWave is hoping that two experienced new hires will contribute to the depth of its content. However, SIX Financial Information USA has a new master blender in the form of Roger Bohrman, following the departure of president Barry Raskin after many happy vintages at the vendor. We can’t wait to see what “label” Raskin takes his blending skills to next.

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