When the data is the product, Thomson Reuters introduces an API platform

We hear a lot about how software is helping organizations innovate and find new product offerings, what does that mean for a company that has always been in the business of selling

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Thomson Reuters is all about data. It provides a number of products that give businesses and professionals deep data about corporations and economic trends. Powered by one of the world's most well-known news organizations, Thomson Reuters is perhaps best known for the terminal products it supplies to trading rooms across the world. Take a visit to these otherworldly locations and you'll see proprietary screens glowing with screens of financial information - it is companies like Thomson Reuters, and its competitor Blomberg, that sell these screens.

But for Thomson Reuters, there is another, less visible, part of its business. It has an enterprise division that delivers services for the enterprise market. This division is focused on providing data feeds which help Thomson Reuters clients build their own applications on top of the data Thomson Reuters holds. I spent time talking with Brennan Carley who runs the services division, and got an insight into the new Elektron API family that the company has just launched.

Carley explained to me the difference between Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg as he sees it. Bloomberg is focused on the desktop market and has an approach that answers customers demands for specific technology by building it out and offering it on the desktop. In contrast, Thomson Reuters is more flexible and realizes it can't do everything. It embraces the fact that people will innovate beyond what it can deliver and that for many niche markets, there are opportunities that Thomson Reuters simply won't be able to fulfill.

This is where Thomson Reuters API catalog comes in. The company has actually had APIs for data feeds for over 20 years but in the last few years has seen a couple of things happening. Over that time, banks have been looking to lower costs so have moved to development centers with lower cost bases and hence skill levels. There has also been an expansion of data beyond the usual use cases. Carley gave the example of risk management which was, until recently, managed via data on an end of day basis. Given all the turmoil in capital markets, and increased regulatory scrutiny, banks need intra-day risk analysis which means they need solutions which are both leaner and more robust, to handle the increasing amounts of data. This places a burden on developers, as Carley sees it: "Guys who are good at building those more robust applications, aren't that great on market data. What they need is a range of APIs that are simple to use and consume."

Alongside this changing use case from existing customers, Thomson Reuters is seeing an explosion of fintech startups. These startups change both the uses and the sources of financial data in question. Carley was realistic that not 100% of the data developers are using will come from Thomson Reuters, developers will also leverage information from, Bloomberg, the Internet, and a myriad of other sources. There is no way that Thomson Reuters can build APIs to cover every data source, but what they can do is to make their own stuff open source and let other extend and develop.

And this is what the company has done with the introduction of the Elektron API family, a set of open-source APIs that are aimed at simplifying access to Thomson Reuters data feeds and services, and helping developers to innovate by creating their own customized applications. The Elektron API family consists of a broad set of interfaces ranging from low latency/high performance to simple content aware and web APIs. The entire library is up on GitHub for all to use. Elektron Real Time data is impressively deep - it covers more than 45 million over the counter and exchange traded instruments globally

“Open access to data is driving innovation in the technology industry by simplifying the processes developers use to access, explore and create,” said Carley. “The Elektron API family was designed to meet the changing needs of market participants by supporting innovation and collaboration, helping drive profitable and sustainable financial markets in an effective, user-friendly way.”

It is very early days, the program was only released a couple of weeks ago but the interesting thing here is that when Thomson Reuters surveyed its customers pretty much all of them use open source technologies, while around a third of them actually contribute to open source projects themselves. Far from it being a case of conservative financial organizations that only use top-shelf proprietary technologies, these customers are well aware of the benefits of leveraging open source. And Thomson Reuters expects this trend to continue onto its own open source API tools.

While opening up and offering core tools for free use might not be the usual model for this sort of organization, it is, in Carley's words, a case of giving the razor away from free so customers will come back and buy replacement blades. It will be interesting to see the customer stories that Thomson Reuters sees from this move.

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