In this interview, Andre Parris, Global Business Manager for the Energy and Commodities Group at Bloomberg, discusses:
- The challenges of multi-data analysis;
- A platform for visualizing and analyzing market impact scenarios;
- The components of a real-time enterprise class mapping application for business and financial analysts;
- The sales, marketing, and branding benefits of using a location-based platform to innovate on products and services.
LBx:Tell us about BMAP.
Parris:It all started with an asset database that didn’t display assets very well. What we do every day at Bloomberg is about “search” and “information”—what we do is allow our clients to interrogate and analyze the data instead of having to search for it. Fundamentally, we had to ask ourselves, “What’s the best way to look at the data?” I used to trade oil for Bank of America, and being able to visualize data like energy assets and a hurricane track, together in a single view, is important. For things like this, the map is the key display vehicle for this information. We’ve created a visual medium for our clients to do multi-data analysis in a single place.
Bloomberg launched in 1981 with a vision by Mike Bloomberg to provide business and financial analysts with a single all-inclusive platform to access financial news and information. The Energy and Commodities Group has taken this vision to the next level by developing a location-based platform, BMAP, for the access, analysis and visualization of information. This was Andre Parris’ brainchild to turn a mediocre asset database and multiple information sources into a powerful integrated market information and analysis tool. BMAP launched last year and was a 2-year project from inception to rollout. The Energy and Commodities Group is the only physical business at Bloomberg, and “Physical things demand maps,” said Andre Parris, so the Energy and Commodities Group was the natural starting point for developing a robust business mapping application within Bloomberg.
That’s BMAP—the tracking of actual physical assets that move around the globe, from power plants to pipelines to refineries, and vessels that can be tracked for anticipated deliveries. BMAP enables the tracking of global storms worldwide and provides damage/impact forecasts from these storms on the oil, gas and power infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. Visualize the relationships, patterns and impacts that drive the markets. This is a first!
LBx:How did you decide to build the platform?
Parris:Our real question was whether to build or buy. We evaluated the traditional GIS vendors—ESRI, Intergraph, Ionic, and Microsoft, and Google Earth. We stayed away from traditional GIS vendors because we decided it would take too long to get up to speed on their technology. We didn’t have any GIS people on staff to help us; we also found that the maps produced by the traditional GIS vendors were not visually pleasing and therefore not well suited to the financial or business analyst.
We ultimately decided to build our own platform and chose Microsoft because our developers were most comfortable with their technologies and they had great business APIs , great customer service, and the combination of Silverlight and Deep Zoom technology allowed us to access data in a lightning flash manner. We have over 100,000 energy assets in our database and we knew we needed something that allowed easy rendering. Also the browser is always the limitation, but since The Bloomberg Terminal is a proprietary, client-side desktop application, we “virtualized” Silverlight and made it a component of The Bloomberg Terminal. I think we’ve built the fastest mapping application, especially with the amount of data and analytics we can render, that is currently available in the marketplace. The combination of a Bloomberg-built business application, Bing Maps, Silverlight and Deep Zoom is pretty wicked.
LBx:So now here’s the implementation and cost question.
Parris:It took us two years to build, and I can’t really comment on costs.
LBx:Did you use system integrators/professional services for the implementation?
Parris:We didn’t. Bloomberg has a very talented R&D staff that fully built the entire business application in-house. They researched acceptable technologies that would allow them to build the application to satisfy our business and client needs, and then leveraged those technologies to create BMAP. While the Energy and Commodities Group funded the inception and development of BMAP, it was built in a way that componentizes it so that other groups can use it. It is moving into sales; the network service team is using it; the equities team is using it looking at airline flight routes; mortgages is using it for defaults on loans. So BMAP is getting a lot of attention.
There is now tons of “real-time” information floating around out there, but in actuality, “real-time” is only as real as when it reaches you… Since this information isn’t going to magically appear in front of you, the users first have to know what they need and where to find it.
LBx:What benefits have you seen from BMAP?
Parris:BMAP is available on every Bloomberg terminal (there are about 250,000-300,000 terminals). About one sixth of our Energy and Commodities clients are already using BMAP. The sales team has found BMAP to be a critical competitive advantage in the marketplace, allowing them entrance to firms that weren’t previously open to Bloomberg; it has shortened the sales cycle, and enhanced the Bloomberg brand. So as a result we’ve taken market share from our competitors.
LBx:What are your thoughts on the real-time data that BMAP now puts in the hands of your clients and the impact that has on their day-to-day activities?
Parris:There is now tons of “real-time” information floating around out there, but in actuality, “real-time” is only as real as when it reaches you. True “real-time” information is about having access to that information, which often sits in different places. Since this information isn’t going to magically appear in front of you, the users first have to know what they need and where to find it. This all takes time.
Then, once they have the information, they then have to create a tool and create an alert system to leverage that information. We provide all of this to our users via the BMAP application. I can’t tell you how many clients analyze the markets using manual annotations of maps—showing natural gas flows on maps, or circling assets on a report. With access to real-time data visualized on a map, predictive analysis becomes easier, which enables quicker decisions.
LBx:What are your goals relative to BMAP?
Parris:Our goal is make Bloomberg a sticky terminal that people can’t live without. So one of the things we’ll be rolling out is a user-generated component that allows our clients to upload their own data into BMAP and share it globally with anyone in their firm… Use your data or our data, your analytics or ours. This makes the Bloomberg platform indispensable. We spent a lot of money building this tool; now we want to allow our clients to use it as if it were an infrastructure tool that they built themselves, to answer any questions they may have.