Opening Cross: Are You Entitled to Answers?

Can't handle the truth? Or just can't handle a lack of timely answers?

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“You want answers? … You want answers? … You can’t handle the truth!” spits Jack Nicholson’s character at Tom Cruise under cross-examination in the classic scene from the movie A Few Good Men. Cruise’s character has just asked Nicholson point-blank whether he ordered two soldiers to carry out a fatal hazing ritual on another, and on further pressing, after a monologue justifying his actions, Nicholson’s character admits “You’re Goddamn right I did!”

This scene illustrates an ongoing trend in the market data world, and one that—as we enter a fresh year, filled with new challenges and opportunities—is likely to become more prominent: the quest not for data or necessarily the truth, but for clear, concise answers.

In the movie, the cross-examination scene is full of data—individual facts that together point to a conclusion—as is Nicholson’s diatribe. But for all this information, there is only one binary yes/no answer that really matters—Nicholson’s confirmation that he gave the order.

In many cases, data is readily available; it’s mining that data for answers that can be challenging. That’s why so many people prefer to capture the raw data and interrogate it at length themselves, rather than having somebody else tell them what the result should be. However, with data volumes rising, and the need to incorporate new types of data, that interrogation process becomes more complicated, and demands more sophisticated—and expensive—tools to perform it. As a result, with many facing intense cost and time pressures, there is an increasing trend towards end-users demanding solutions that deliver definitive answers, rather than making users search for their own.

You may not have noticed, but Thomson Reuters has already latched onto this trend, last year adopting (and trademarking) the tagline “The Answer Company”—a smart move that redefines what it means to be a data company, or which is perhaps designed to elevate it above mere aggregators and convey the notion that “We don’t just dump a load of data in your lap; we scour all that data to tell you what you need to know.” 

Sure, there will always be those who want all the data, but if you find yourself frustrated when Siri cops out and responds with “Here’s what I found on the web…” then perhaps that’s not for you.

But you don’t have to be a time-sensitive trader to feel the urgency for straightforward answers that save you plowing through reams of information. Market data managers and administrators tasked with informing data consumers how much their desired datasets will cost also face a burden of wading through reams of not just price lists but also licensing documents that can impact the cost of data.

That’s why the latest tool from startup Axon Financial Systems—the “What If” automated tool for instantly calculating the cost of data requested in different scenarios—will no doubt please data professionals, because it gives them a definitive answer that they can relay to those requesting the data, rather than them having to manually check price lists, terms and conditions, and perform currency conversions themselves. 

One of the challenges to managing this process is ensuring that all vendor documentation is up to date, which includes managing the daily stream of vendor change notifications that can impact how a dataset is classified and what it costs. For example, Axon uses software agents to monitor exchange websites and alert its staff if an exchange changes a price or a policy, so they can update its PEAR database and notify clients, while remote systems management provider West Highland Support Services has unveiled Data Notification Manager, a tool that condenses this flow of vendor notifications into a manageable stream of change updates relevant to specific firms and their data inventory and entitlements.

So if, like Tom Cruise, you think you’re entitled to answers, you first need a system in place that can deliver answers, rather than just more information. 

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