Citi Holographic Workstation for Financial Trading
Envisioning Next Generation Financial Trading with HoloLens
How We Got Here
8ninths is deeply honored to have been one of seven agencies trained directly by the Microsoft HoloLens product group. When Microsoft announced its Hololens, we had decided as a company to build out a talented core team of 3D Modelers, Animators, Unity Engineers, and Visual Designers. Our selection meant we underwent extensive training on design and development through the Microsoft Holographic Academy.
It’s clear that the recent explosion of virtual and mixed reality will have an enormous effect on industries such as gaming and entertainment that are centered around imagery and story. But for the 8ninths team, this is just the tip of the iceberg: we believe the effects of these new media can be much more broad.
To challenge ourselves, we wanted to explore the ramifications and possibilities of mixed reality in an industry focused on something other than imagery. The world of financial trading was an excellent field to explore whether mixed reality could have an impact. We teamed up with the Citi Innovation Lab to develop a Proof of Concept illustrating how mixed reality is the next game-changing technology for finance.
Financial traders’ current workstations provide an abundance of data, but in formats that are difficult to process and prioritize—long streams of figures on multiple monitors, each representing something different. We wanted to use a combination of 2D and 3D presentations of data to optimize the trader’s ability to extract meaning from the information, quickly and accurately. If we could increase efficiency while reducing time, cost, and the cognitive load of working with abstract data, we could bring the same strengths to bear across any domain involving data interpretation and collaboration. Thus, we created the Holographic Workstation—a new paradigm that has ramifications far beyond the world of finance to information workers of all kinds.
“8ninths has created a business solution in the financial industry that revolutionizes the way people will interact with and best use financial data in a compelling and competitive way.”
— George Zinn —
Corporate Vice President & Treasurer, Microsoft
Defining the Core Building Blocks
Design and development for Hololens is unlike any other process we’d experienced. This was brand new territory and thus we started by developing a clear taxonomy. We developed HoloLens Design Patterns by breaking down and examining the core building blocks of early holographic experiences. Defining and naming these gave us specific foundational elements with which to work.
To gain a deep understanding of the futures trading business and Citibank’s processes, we went to New York for a three-day immersive workshop on the Citibank futures trading floor. We explored traders’ frustrations and pain points, which include:
- lack of prioritization within six to eight screens of 2D information
- lack of easily discernible centralized knowledge
- inefficiency in navigating between windows and tabs
- inefficiency in recognizing critical patterns and market changes
- loss of opportunity for collaboration and dialogue
- loss of the “human element” and the “feel of what is going on in the market”
Using the HoloLens Design Patterns and drawing from the pain points we’d identified, we defined five specific areas on which to focus our efforts:
- ambient communication
- volumetric data visualization
The workstation itself is a framework that extends information-based computing into mixed reality by integrating 2D screen space; 3D holographic docking space; keyboard, mouse, gaze, gesture and voice input; and the customary trading floor phone systems. The station complements existing Citibank devices and workflows, including traditional news terminals, email, chat, and core components of Citibank’s proprietary trading application.
We explored opportunities to increase trader efficiency using a combined 2D-3D holographic workflow. By combining voice, gaze, and gesture input with visual design using depth space and Z axis, we were able to reduce visual noise and increase efficiency in navigation.
The financial trader requires a great deal of information, but doesn’t want to be inundated with all of it at once. We created a system that communicates information in a persistent but non-obtrusive way. A bubble-map of the market, using data indicators like size and color, allows the trader to assimilate holistic changes in the trading environment with a glance, without having to scrutinize data.
Volumetric Data Visualization
A combination of 2D and 3D also increases efficiency in extrapolating insights from data. Citibank traders work with hundreds of financial instruments. In the HoloLens workstation, each one is represented by a sphere and is grouped into a color-coded asset class. Sphere volume corresponds to market volume for a particular future, and particle clouds correspond to clusters of trader activity, so a trader can quickly see where the action is in the market, and can zoom in for a closer look.
Ad hoc mixed reality spaces for collaboration and discussion allow the trader to work with team members, colleagues, and clients in a way that is both personal and immediate.
“We are excited to partner with Microsoft, 8ninths, and Citi Ventures on this exploration of 3D visualization and mixed reality to enrich traders’ user experience. Our Markets Lab in Tel Aviv sees great potential for this technology to enhance and humanize the next-generation markets trading working environment at Citi.”
— Stuart Riley —
Global Head of Technology for Markets & Securities Service, Citi
Design & Development
Because the project involved both a physical environment and a holographic one, we were able to start work before we even had the HoloLens device in our hands, and solved a lot of problems up front with cardboard and tape.
The workstation framework was designed with the overarching concept of broad-on-top to specific-on-the-bottom, and with a three-tiered shelf structure. The shelves were designed to be a certain distance from the user and at certain proportions to optimize our usage of the device’s field of view (FOV): each tier’s bounds roughly correlate with view capabilities. One goal here was to allow the user to focus on a single part of their workstation at a time, letting that tier fill their view while the others persist in memory until they glance back up at them. It was exciting to turn the supposedly-problematic limited FOV into a feature for our product.
Once we had the HoloLens, we began working out our design workflow by creating a basic framework “sandbox” that supported static and animated models. We explored and built out important tools, asking questions like: “What would our cursor look like? What’s the logic for using gaze+tap to move an object? How do you distinguish move from rotate? What’s the right scale?” Letting the designers arrange objects in-Lens was an important step.
As the project progressed, useful tool ideas continued to come up, and our engineers worked to integrate them into our sandbox toolkit, but gradually design needed more functional implementation. The engineering team pivoted towards prototyping functionality in collaboration with designers, focusing on getting motion and interaction in the right place and on facilitating as quick an iteration cycle as possible.
Working with HoloLens before its APIs were consistent, we dealt with a lot of shifts, and were constantly on our toes to respond to the configuration of the latest release. We even rebuilt some functionality, like gesture and gaze tracking, at a fairly low level, which allowed us to know the functionality exactly so we could fix any inconsistencies ourselves.
There were special challenges with networking between the Surface Pro and the Lens. In theory it’s easy—they’re both essentially Windows 10 machines—and in practice today it’s no problem at all, but at the time there were some very low-level bugs causing network packets to be unreadable. Scrappy prototyping code saves the day again! Our workarounds were not secure or shippable, but this was a concept piece and it was more important for us to communicate the design; we were confident we could rebuild the technical solution to updated specs for the next phase of the project.
What We’ve Learned
When we started the Citibank HoloLens project, we were both excited and trepidatious. Citi has worked hard to develop and refine the tools and applications its traders currently use, but we were hopeful that we could add value beyond their current process, and that traders would accept a disruptive new approach to their workflow.
But there was no need for anxiety. We’ve received overwhelming positive responses from both Citi and some of their Top Tier clients that the scenarios we’ve explored in this Proof of Concept have enormous value and that they do augment and improve upon existing workflows.
We’re extremely fortunate to have such a visionary client as Citi: willing to push us to think outside of the box while still staying true to the needs of their traders and clients.