Xignite: Web 2.0, Web Services for Financials

In 2007, Xignite will expand its Web 2.0 data and integration services offerings to the financial community, a tough crowd to please. The company already offers easy-to-integrate real time data services to help with trading, portfolio management, data analytics, and custom Web 2.0 mashups. IDN speaks with Xignite CEO Stephane Dubois.

Tags: Web Services, Xignite, Customers, Developers, Technology, Integration, Applications,

In 2007, Xignite Inc. plans to expand its suite of Web 2.0 data and integration services offerings to the financial community, one of the toughest crowds to please. The company already offers easy-to-integrate real time data services to help with trading, portfolio management and even data analytics. Xignite also enables financial users to integrate in their own data and filters, and conduct custom mashups using Ajax and other Web 2.0 technologies.

Xignite recently announced a partnership with Econoday to provide financial firms with on demand access to financial data, financial events and even analytical content about the Federal Reserve. IDN speaks with Xignite CEO Stephane Dubois, to find out what's coming next for this approach to "on demand" data services.

Integration Developer News
interview with
Stephane Dubois, CEO
Xignite Inc.

TOPIC: Xignite's Roles: Blending Technology, Services and Data
IDN: How do you see your role as enabling connections between data providers and end user customers looking to take advantage of XML ands web services? (Your business model appears to be based on Software as a Service (SaaS) approach.)

Dubois: Xignite is more than a data provider using the web services technology. And,, we are also much more than an intermediary between users and providers.

While we get some of our data from data providers, we also gather a lot of our information ourselves. Our interest rate web service for instance gathers interest rate information from dozens of sources from all around the world. We make the process of getting this scattered and raw information easy while it was almost impossible before. We also mine public database (like the SEC Edgar database) to create new and unique ways for users to access and mine information.

[But, it's our] technology platform which solves problems inherent in old data delivery models, and adds values for application developers and users.

Xignite's Web Services are simple to implement because they are designed with the end-application in mind. We take financial information and format it in ways applications will best be able to use it. We also layer functionality on top, (e.g. we build logic to screen, filter, and provide derived data, so that our clients do not have to spend time to scrub the data). Our technology platform allows us to easily add new logic in order to make the web service relevant.

TOPIC: Supporting Web 2.0, Mashups
IDN: Does Xignite support data mashups today? And do you see Web 2.0 technologies, such as Ajax and XQuery 1.0, as changing what you offer customers?

Dubois: Many of our clients subscribe to multiple Xignite Web Services and mash them up within their internal applications. They also integrate their own proprietary services or that of other web service providers. In that sense, you might consider those applications as data mashups. Our individual Web Services are fully integrated with each other, so mashing them up is relatively easy for the developers to do. As long as mashup doesn't only mean mixing a Google Map with an address web service, we have been firm believers in mashups from the beginning. We do believe that tomorrow's applications will be developed by re-using external and internal Web Services and integrating them into highly customized and business-process specific applications. Our customers have been doing this for years.

We have partnered with JackBe and TIBCO to demo the capabilities of mashing up AJAX and Financial Web Services. Our partners provide the user interface for capturing the user's requests and actions and rendering the results, and we supply an extensive set of market data to support the business process flow. You can create some pretty significant apps built entirely on our services.

Our current business model is primarily focused on providing Financial Web Services as individual components, so that our clients can pick and choose the components they need, pay only for the services that they use, and easily integrate them into their corporate applications the ways they see fit. This approach enables our clients to implement solutions for their specific business needs in the most cost-effective way. For these reasons, we don't see ourselves providing AJAX-based end user applications any time soon. But we see ourselves powering them. The widespread adoption of AJAX will be a huge demand driver for our Web Services.

TOPIC: Customer Drivers
IDN: What techniques does Xignite rely on to deliver "integrate-able" data into a customer's existing application? What are the top drivers for customers to use your service?

Dubois: The key is to start with the end-application. We think about the types of applications our customers are trying to build: portals, analytical engines, wireless applications… and we think of the type of data and functionality they need and how they need it. Then we design Web Services that provide what they need without requiring any coding.

Ideally you want the developer to just be able to drag-and-drop a Web Service in their application and go. It's not always possible to do that. So sometimes we build what we call "wrappers" to ensure the data is meaningful. These wrappers simply reformat the information according to the users' needs.

For example, [our Xignite customer] Hemscott supplies 350 fundamental data points on 10,000 US and Canadian publicly traded companies. Through Xignite Web Services, users can pick and choose only the data points they need, instead of writing programming logic to filter the entire 350 data points. Another example is many tables are used to store cross-currency exchange rates, but developers will be able to get the rate in a single call to Xignite's API and present the data exactly the way they see fit for their business needs.

TOPIC: Inside Xignite's Architecture
IDN: Would you share some 'under-the-covers' technologies that enable the Xignite offerings? Do your offerings depend on native XML data, for instance?

Dubois: Xignite deploys a 100 percent Web Services architecture, which gives us the flexibility to quickly add scope to our platform very quickly. Our Financial Web Services are setup as modules, allowing us to easily expand our services and scale our systems.

We also built some advanced scraping technology for collecting data from public sources (like the SEC). Our advanced validation tool makes sure the data/information collected is correct, as accuracy is critical to our customers. We are able to run hundreds of processes to collect data 24/7 with no very little supervision, keeping our operating costs low and allowing us to pass those low cost to our clients.

The market is still at an early stage in adopting Web Services. As the market matures, Xignite will layer application logic to its Web Services to meet increasingly sophisticated user needs. For example, most of our current Web Services require an application to pull information on demand. But we are starting to provide Web Services that can push new information to the end application whenever data is updated. This means that end users can get information that is truly up-to-date.

The problem with old data delivery models is that they are data-centric, and that model forces developers to do a lot work to reformat the data in order to get the information that they need. Taking a legacy proprietary database format and throwing a SOAP interface on top doesn't do much. It's the equivalent of taking an old mainframe screen and turning it into a web page. The paradigm is different. The whole interface needs to be redesigned with the new medium in mind.

TOPIC: Power of Data Normalization
IDN: What techniques do you use to make customer use of this data so simple? And what about your technologies should IT architects and developers pay attention to?

Dubois: There are several techniques that our technology platform uses to make implementing Financial Web Services easy and simple. One of the techniques is data normalization and object-orientation - for instance a "security" object appears the same way in all our Web Services. This technique gives us an integrated data model - existing Web Services are integrated with each other, and new Web Services are fully integrated with the existing ones and that makes things easier for developers. And IT architects love that.

We also avoid using cryptic terminology and abbreviations in naming fields and functions, that's so common in the industry. We provide extensive online documentation on how to use our services, dynamic code snippets in multiple languages, and a complete online "self service" model allowing clients and developers to meet the crazy deadlines they always operate under. Since you can get your job done without ever talking to us, you can get it all done in the middle of the night or over a weekend. As XML becomes more prevalent, we will continue to keep our Web Services very vanilla so that they don't require complex coding to implement.

Stephane Dubois founded Xignite to pioneer the creation of pure-play packaged financial web services products. Prior to Xignite, Dubois was a vice president at Advent Software, the leading provider of software to the investment management sector. There he built and led the company's productization and market strategy. He also served as a senior manger at Oracle Corp. Dubois holds a Masters Degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management.