Women in Tech - Big Data for Breakfast and Innovation for Lunch

Rubyna Zito
VP, Head of Technology Operations and Services
Automatic Summary

A Peek into Finra: Juggling Big Data and Innovation

"You can't just talk about innovation, you actually have to do innovation." - Rubina Zito, VP of Technology Administration at Finra.

A Glimpse into Finra's World of Big Data

The world is spinning on a wheel of data, and the companies constantly digesting this data are on the frontlines of the market regulation industry. One such titan is Finra, a not-for-profit regulator which has a vast data footprint of over 750 petabytes at any given time.

Just to put Finra's colossal data magnitude in perspective, it's like using 100,000 flash drives to store one petabyte of data. Now imagine that multiplied by 750 and processing over 600 billion market events daily!

Finra is considered one of the largest organizations in terms of data ingestion, surpassing the combined totals of companies like American Express and Capital One. This feat is achieved with the help of 300,000 compute nodes used to run pattern surveillances and monitor industry regulation activity on a daily basis.

The Core Mission of Finra

As a regulator, Finra's mission goes beyond digesting big data. It is committed to ensuring market integrity, protecting investors, and deterring violations by enforcing industry rules. More than just technology evangelists, they are diligent gatekeepers working tirelessly to detect and prevent wrongdoing in the US markets.

Nurturing Innovation from Within

Aside from its data prowess, Finra is also recognized for fostering an innovative culture within the organization. They believe in the power of collaboration, allowing their staff to congregate, share ideas, discuss operational lessons, and brainstorm solutions to identified problems.

Seven years ago, Finra launched an event called the 'Creaton', which acts as a melting pot for innovation and ideas. The Creathon is an enterprise-wide innovation event where members come together to solve challenges aimed at making Finra an even better regulator. Themes for these challenges have ranged from data usage, unconventional thinking, AI and machine learning, collaborative efforts, to maximizing talent during remote collaboration.

These collaborative events have proven substantial in encouraging staff to think differently, leading to cost-saving opportunities, the birth of the R&D program, faster and more efficient workload management, and even better regulatory practices.

Conclusion: Intentional Innovation for Success

Finra’s consistent presence on the list of ‘Best Places to Work in IT' in the last 10 years only speaks volumes about their devotion to their employees and commitment to continuous improvement and innovation.

The core takeaway from Rubina Zito's talk is clear: innovation cannot merely exist in conversations - it must be brought to life and nurtured with intent. Whether your organization deals with big data or not, you can always cultivate a culture that feeds on innovation and growth. Like Finra, create your own version of 'Creaton', and arm your team with the environment, tools, and motivation they need to rise to the occasion.

"With or without big data for breakfast, you can always organize innovation for lunch."

Remember to start small and build gradually. In the words of Rubina, "Do what works best for you." If Finra's journey from 300 to 3000 participants at the Creaton is anything to go by, greatness indeed starts small - but with intentional steps, it grows and expands in unimaginable ways.

Connect with Rubina Zito

For more insights on innovation, big data, and all things Finra, follow Rubina Zito on LinkedIn. Her journey and insights are indeed an inspiration to anyone seeking to navigate and conquer the vast and complex landscape of big data and innovation.

Video Transcription

Um again, like I said, my name is Rinna Zito. I'm the VP of Technology Administration at Finra. I've been there about 10 years and um learned a lot in the process. Um First things first. Um What is fir when we talk about Finra?Finra is one of the largest um organizations that ingest the amount of data that we do. It surpasses those of capital one and American Express and all of that stuff combined. Um We are a not for profit regulator that regulates all of the banking um in, in our, in our industry, in our, in our country. So when I talk about data, what do we mean? I mean, um if you think back in the day, uh we used to use these flash drives, right? Uh these eight gig small flash drives. Um I used it all through high school or college actually, not so much in high school. We had floppy three inch floppy disks back in the day. But um when you think about about that eight gig flash drive, it would take 100 28 of those flash drives to just make one terabyte of data. OK. And then when you think about from a one terabyte perspective. So 1000 terabytes of data make one petabyte of data.

And taking that back to kind of where we started with those flash drives just to make one petabyte of data and to actually store one petabyte of data, it would take over 100,000 flash drives. And at Finra, this is a big deal because we've got over 750 petabytes of data at any given time. That's our footprint. Um And we do that because we've got a daily peak uh of 300,000 compute nodes which we use to run pattern surveillances. And um all of the industry regulation activity that we, that we monitor, we monitor 24 exchanges and all of that results in us processing over 600 billion market events on a daily basis. That's our peak on a daily basis. I mean that number has reached 675 even more so recently. And we just keep um going up in terms of market events, which is why I say it's the biggest enterprise ever to um have the amount of data that we get to process, regulate and have access to on a regular basis. So what does that mean for us? Our mission is to protect market, to protect the investors in our market and to ensure market integrity. We do that so that we can detect and prevent wrongdoing in the US markets to discipline those who break those rules and to deter any misconduct by enforcing those rules.

And we're really good at that. Um, we've been named the number one best place to work in it and it's our 10th appearance on that list in the last 10 years. So we've, we've made it, we've made this a priority to make sure that we are a great place to work. So, talked a little bit about Finra who we are and the amount of data that we have now, what does that mean? And how do we kind of keep ahead of that when we were thinking about what to name this talk. One of the things that came to mind was the fact that we eat big data for breakfast. So we talked about that we ingest all of this data. We do it, we run patterns and surveillance modules all the time on all of the trading activity, whether it's from broker dealers or you know, the the daily market surveillance. Generally, we do all of that. We do that to keep the market safe. We do that to continue to um ensure market integrity. But then the second part of of this was around, we eat big data for breakfast, but also innovation for lunch. Um And that really comes to me close to my heart because innovation is truly something that we have built into the culture at Finra specifically in our technology organization.

So what we do is we allow for oportunities during the year, for our staff to get together and you know, talk about ideas and talk about things that we could be doing differently. Um We have operational excellence conversations around where do we fail and what can we do differently? How can we celebrate the learnings from the failures? Not necessarily the failures, obviously, that stuff hurts. Um But how can we celebrate um the f the learnings from those failures?

So all of that really have, it comes down to the fact that innovation is one of our key pillars in the organization. So how do we bring it together? We bring it together by leveraging our staff, um their talent, all the tools and resources that we, we've got and again, not just talking about it. Um And actually being about it. So with doing all of that, um an event called the Creon was launched and the, it is now been ongoing for about seven years. And one of the things that we keep constantly talking about the creative on is the fact that it is our premier enterprise innovation event. And the funny story about the event is that it started back in the day. Um As one of our first things that we did the first years that we did, the creative thought was around the fact um that we were moving our data centers. So we are based out of, we were, our data centers were based out of Rockville Maryland at that time. And we were literally putting the servers and all of the stuff on a couple of semi and moving them to Ashburn, Virginia because we were relocating our data center and our cio uh had a conversation with me and said, hey, we've got all of this time about 2.5 days worth of time that we don't have anything for our developers to do because all of their production environments are essentially on these semi trucks that they can access.

So we came up with this idea um of, well, why don't we do an innovation event? Let's make it a fun thing that people can uh bring their ideas to and find and yeah, a way to network with each other. So hence, the Creative Fund was launched the first year. Um not so big, it was just kind of technology focused, especially those developers who didn't have access um to their machines and their production environments and, and it's really grown since then. So it, like I said, it's a two day innovation event and now it is across our entire enterprise at Finra. It's a ton of fun. It brings everyone together, whether you're a developer that's been here, you know, years and years to an analyst that perhaps has only joined a couple of months ago. It allows for an opportunity for people to work on problems that have been identified that we can improve on we that eventually will make us a better regulator. That's, that's the function of what the creative fon is all about. And the way it works is we'll start with a couple of different challenges that we've identified with all of our business stakeholders. So as you're thinking about, can I really do this event? Um sounds like it's such a big deal. It's not start small, right?

So if you think about what are the areas of opportunity that you have identified are there, you know, thorns in that you've heard about, are there pebbles in the shoes of your business stakeholders that you could help address as soon as you start talking about that themes come arise and once those themes arise, then we take those and we turn them into challenges and essentially we invite everyone to come up with an idea to help solve one of those challenges and then we judge it's, it becomes a really fun and competitive event and there's lots of great prizes.

So that's always helpful as well. Um We take all of that and be able to then turn it into an actual two. Now, it's actually three days this year um in the event that we can get solutions firsthand from our staff and then um then really becoming a better regulator is all on us. So the evolution of the creative th so, like I said, it started back in 2016. Um And the first year we did, it was about full on data and every year has had a theme since then. Um the first year was about data kind of how do we, how do we get, get the data better gauge the data, use the data, access the data. Um entitle people to the data in a different way, things like that. The second one was around unconventional thinking, like let's throw everything that we know out of out and start from scratch, completely think differently than we do business today. Um And in 2018, we talked about A I and machine learning and how we need to be able to speak to these things, not only as a core person in our um uh core person in our leadership team, but also engage our staff with, with that.

Um We also, then, so you kind of see a theme going through here that every year we've been using this as a training leveling up um Our organization for what's to come, what's the next hill we wanna climb as the leadership of the organization, machine learning. And A I was one of them in 2018. That's what we were talking about. That's what we needed to be able to get ahead. So we use the creative th as a vehicle to get our staff cross trained on these types of things based on the challenges that we put together and then they were able to then over the next couple of years, use what they've learned, use the the ideas and then implement them and continue to make us a better regulator.

2019 was being wired together. Um And it was all about 2019 was the year that really exploded it at the creative fund went from just being part of technology to being part of every business within the finger organization. And that's why the theme wired together came about because it's something that we wanted to make sure that we were connecting, collaborating and creating together. 2020 was a special one because we were all in quarantine um during the Creon. So it was a completely virtual event.

And um we, we named it Vision 2020 because of 2020. And then 2021 was also a fully virtual event and this one was around people. This had nothing to do with technologies or anything like that. It was around. How do we leverage our people, our talent, how do we get people together and continue to collaborate in a way that's very different for us. Um Not being in an office. And then 2022 was bridging the gap of bringing people together from different businesses as well as bridging the gap between being remote and being in the office, which was kind of that hybrid structure that, that we're in. Now, I did see someone um raise their hand. I don't know if you are able to speak directly or if you want to share, um, uh, on the chat? That would be great. Um All right. So I'll just keep going then. Um, so we've evolved as you can see from there. And there's been a lot of great things that have come out of the creative on. And one of the things that, um, we noticed very quickly was that people were coming up with these great ideas that ended up in, in reduced infrastructure costs for us. So, one of the first examples that I'll give here and I'll give for um are, was a team called Hawks. The Sabers. Essentially, this was one of the very first gray aon that we did.

It was right amidst our move to from being on a data center to moving to the cloud. And one of the things that this team noticed was that we were running patterns on a very specific time and on the cloud and that was causing us a ton of time and money. So they came up with this new schedule of running the exact same patterns at a different time. And it's literally what we do today, still saving over $100,000 annually. And it's such a simple concept, but it allowed us and again, savings opportunities is not the key result of doing this. But one of the things that we wanted to make sure was that giving people the opportunity to think differently and they did. Um OK, I'm just gonna allow the person who's raised their hand to talk really quickly. And if you're speaking, I've allowed you to talk, but you have to unmute. OK, let me know when you're ready. Um, I will keep going until then. So the next, um, the next example that I want to give us something that came out of the Creon was machine learning.

What we did was we were able to take a ton of these deep learning machine models from the A I year that we did and use it to be able to look at the market regulation, machine learning based patterns. That is how we regulate the market. The team that did this actually became our first R and D project and the R and D program was burst from this event called the Creative on. And it's one of those things that, you know, we didn't realize that it was going to have such an impact. We didn't realize that it was going to require an R and D program. Um But it did and allowed us to be able to now funnel all of the ideas that come out of the care fund into an R and D pipeline that they get looked at and get funded for implementation. Uh We also had another uh example that I want to share called, would you look at that? Which basically took the, the way an analyst understood the, understood the sequence of the uh the, the data that's coming in and be able to pinpoint point a problem used to take them days, the days of analysis of looking at all the data and kind of a assessing it differently, creating different models.

This team created a very, very flat way of looking at the data from when it was from what at the time the cycle of the event started to when the analyst was looking at it and be able to take that time that it was taking the analysis down from, you know, days to just being minutes.

And then the last one is just a little bit more of a specific focused one because as a regulator, we also do examinations of all of our broker dealers. And this one, this idea resulted in a specific way to look at exams that led to better leads as opposed to, you know, just the gotcha, that's not the kind of partner that we wanna be. So these, these ideas that came out allowed us to be able to do more focused exams that identified areas of opportunities where the broker dealers can connect with us, they can grow, we can grow of how we're regulating them and makes a big difference that way. OK? Um Last chance for the person who raised their hand, I'm just gonna ask you to mute unmute one more time because I know we're getting close to the end over here. OK. All right. Well, that was the last chance. Um This is just a uh a quick reflection of the idea of the creative thought and what other people have said about it and how engaging it was, how exciting it was for them. And it really is a great opportunity for our staff to get to meet and work with people that they never would otherwise. And I wanna quickly wrap up with just a few takeaways. Um You can't just talk about innovation.

You actually have to do innovation whether you eat big data for breakfast like we do um or not, you can always do innovation for lunch. It is a matter of getting started, start small. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. It doesn't have to be an event that 3000 people participate on like it is for us now. But like I said, remember it starts with only a couple of 100. We went from 300 to 3000. It took us seven years to get there. Um But it doesn't have to, it doesn't have to be that big or that small for you. So do what works best for you. And for us, the creative thought was our cultural nuke that allowed us to blow up how we're looking at data, how we're looking at people, how we're looking at all of the things that we're doing today and use our staff to be able to help us um just become a better regulator in general.

So I will conclude with that. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and um I look forward to um meeting you if you guys need to follow me on linkedin. I'm at Rubina. Um Rubina H is my linkedin and you can always find me. It's Rubyn A Zito Zito. Thank you so much, everyone.