Kristina Blaschek: Data underpins every decision we make at William Blair Investment Management. We hear a lot about democratization, the action of making something accessible to everyone in public policy. But democratization also applies to data, and we believe advancements in technology will drive change within the financial services industry. There’s so much more data today than there was in the past. The total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed globally is forecast to increase rapidly reaching 181 zettabytes in 2025 according to global market data consultancies IDC and Statista. For context, a zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes.
Why has data growth skyrocketed? It’s partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people worked and learned from home, demand increased. That’s where the idea of data democratization comes in. With the increased flow of information, sharing data across various mediums is an area of focus within the financial services industry perhaps more so now than ever. Data democratization has a number of benefits.
First, shifting time we spend aggregating data to analyzing data has the potential to improve workflows and enhance decision-making. Second, incorporating new and different datasets to existing processes including investment research can help us produce better outcomes for clients. Third, more fluid access to data gives us the ability to understand client interests and needs better so we can provide more personalized solutions. That said, with all this additional data comes challenges, which we in the industry are working to solve.
One challenge is that data can come from multiple sources, which requires users to go to many different places to find what they need. Sometimes a manual effort is required to access and retrieve this data. We’re addressing this challenge with the increasing shift towards cloud-based technologies, which allows for flexibility and connectivity of various services. For instance, all services become an abstraction meaning they are self-contained and can be flexibly integrated where modification of one component will not affect the entire system.
Importantly, each component can be customizable or plug and play. You also have the flexibility to choose technologies including Data Lake, Databricks, Dremio or Snowflake versus their open source alternatives such as Spark. Another challenge is that sometimes the data hasn’t been around for long, and it doesn’t have a consistent format. External data can be served up in many different formats including text or parquet, stored in a Data Lake using S3 or ADLS, a relational database management system such as Sequel Server and Snowflake.
Today, there are new technologies that can read these formats natively, and the financial services industry is increasingly adopting them to address these challenges. Also, there are many cloud-based solutions that make data easily accessible by combining data in various formats from different sources.
The advancement of technology solutions is making it easier to shift the time spent on accessing data to analyzing data. In our efforts to democratize data can benefit our colleagues and ultimately our clients in many ways. As I mentioned earlier, data underpins every decision we make at William Blair Investment Management. So the more efficiently we can access and analyze data, the better we can be.