The power of FDC3 appD: A universal standard to distribute and discover applications

The latest evolution of FDC3 includes new specifications to its application directories. Dan Schleifer and Jim Bunting explain why this is a major breakthrough for the desktop app community.

apps

If you have an iPhone, you get all your apps from the Apple App Store. It’s convenient, but it’s a closed, proprietary marketplace that controls what apps you can have, how much you’ll pay, and charges app developers 30% for the privilege of selling their apps in the App Store.

In the world of finance, the future is about desktop interoperability, with in-house and third-party applications that seamlessly integrate to build streamlined workflows for users. The open FDC3 standard codifies how apps should communicate and no vendor has control over this. But how do you discover applications and add them to your smart desktop? The FDC3 model is the opposite of the App Store—it’s an open standard for application directories called appD.

Enter FDC3 2.0—and its new specifications to appD. A game changer for the discoverability and organization of applications, universal adoption of appD has the potential to drastically improve the way workflows are built. It stands to benefit all segments of the capital markets: sell-side firms with large IT departments, slim asset managers and hedge funds that rely on vendor technology, middle- and back-office functions, and vendors themselves.

Additionally, it’s important to note that appD differs from the proprietary content/app stores that have been the prevalent option for application discoverability.

The goal of appD is to create a universal mechanism to catalog FDC3-compliant applications and information about them. The appD server will contain information about every app available in an enterprise, reachable by all smart desktops in a company. By organizing application metadata (such as name, type, location, context types and intents it supports, etcetera) in a consistent way, applications can be easily found, added to a smart desktop, and used within integrated workflows—and, more importantly, surfaced to the user when they’re contextually relevant to the work being done.

With appD, you can now see every application available for a particular workflow and can easily plug the best choice into your desktop environment.

Discovering the right tool for the job

Large firms often have hundreds of applications available across departments and functional areas, and no central place to find them. For users it can be a difficult or even impossible task to discover and evaluate the right tool for the job at hand, and to find newly-available applications. Even within a smaller firm, each team often has their own apps and doesn’t know what else is out there. For example, the fixed-income team may not be aware of an app that the equities desk uses that might be useful to them.

AppD is a better way to discover, launch, and then (using your smart desktop) integrate the technologies that help you do your best work. If a user wants to find the right app to connect seamlessly to their workflow, that process transforms from a lengthy research and implementation process, to a task that requires just a few clicks.

The most common implementation of appD will be an internal directory of applications across a company, also referred to as the appD server. While most companies will choose an open-source or commercial app directory versus building their own, the key is that all will follow the FDC3 specification. It will list the internal legacy apps, new web front-ends, vendor-provided analytics, order and execution management systems, etcetera, and what data types (“context data”) and actions (“intents”) they can receive.

Beyond internal application directories, large vendors with portfolios of applications—think FactSet, Intercontinental Exchange, Refinitiv and so on—will host their own application directory to show off all their wares. Your smart desktop will not only connect to your internal directory, but to these vendors’ directories as well, so you can see the applications available to you (all, or based on entitlements of what your firm has licensed).

Finally, open directories will emerge—with the first likely to be hosted by the Fintech Open Source Foundation (Finos), which hosts the FDC3 standards—that catalog all FDC3-compliant applications from smaller vendors and fintechs.

Because the applications showcased in all of these directories are FDC3-enabled, they can interoperate with each other immediately. They’re already speaking the same language even if they’ve been developed by separate teams or separate firms, or built using different technologies—web versus .Net or Java, for example. From the user’s perspective, it all just works.

Desktop agent assistance—filling in the blanks

AppD allows for two types of discoverability: one where as a user, you decide to go looking for apps, and the other where contextually-relevant apps are surfaced to you at just the right time.

The desktop agent (or smart desktop) can, in real time, identify and even launch apps that are capable of resolving a given intent, even if those apps aren’t yet installed and even if the user has no idea those apps exist.

For example, in one application you click on a button to open a chart. The smart desktop notices there is no application on the desktop that is capable of resolving the “ViewChart” intent. The smart desktop sees that the firm’s appD contains ChartIQ, which knows how to handle the “ViewChart” request, so you are prompted to add ChartIQ to your desktop with a single click.

This is an entirely different way to build out interoperability projects. It opens the door to the idea that a trader may not know what the best tool for the job is (or even if the tool exists) but their smart desktop does. How far a firm wants to go with allowing the discoverability of external appDs is up to them, but the possibility is there.

An open-source app store alternative

A mission statement of FDC3 that is particularly relevant here is “to develop specific protocols and taxonomies to advance the ability of desktop applications in financial workflows to interoperate in a plug-and-play fashion, without prior bilateral agreements.”

The appD specification is an open-source, decentralized alternative to the current status quo. Currently, firms don’t have a consistent way to combine applications from multiple providers into one directory for their users. For vendors, their offering can only be seen as a viable option for users if they are contained in a proprietary app or content store. With appD, we have an open system where there is no middleman determining what apps are available and to whom.

Because FDC3 is open-source and maintained by prominent capital markets participants and vendors, it’s uncorrupted by direct commercial interests. There won’t ever be a pay-to-play component. The 2.0 release of the specification substantially matures a standard that has already been adopted by asset managers, technology vendors, and the world’s largest banks. With appD now illuminating the FDC3 landscape and providing access to best-of-breed technology, all the pieces are now in place to make interoperability commonplace.

AppD is valuable to everyone because it allows for a cleaner, more straightforward competition between technology providers, with frictionless discovery, deployment, and integration of those applications. AppD shows the biggest, clearest picture of what’s available: an open market that consists of all the applications available to improve the way you work—set free from proprietary boundaries.

Dan Schleifer is the CEO and co-founder of Cosaic, which provides a desktop integration platform called Finsemble, as well as the ChartIQ HTML5 charting library. Jim Bunting is the global head of partnerships for Cosaic.

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