He is perhaps banking's leading expert on the subject, but David Saul doesn't much care for the phrase "big data."

"I prefer the term 'smart data,'" he says, "because yes, you have a lot of data and you want to get through it, but what you really want to do is boil it down to key pieces that allow you to make better decisions."

The MIT-educated Saul, who spent 15 years at IBM's Cambridge Scientific Center before joining the bank sector in 1992, has devoted significant time to industry councils and conferences this year, lending technical expertise and political savvy to consortia attempting to set standards for cataloging and reporting the data engulfing banks.

His day job is serving as chief scientist at State Street. But he is the rare technologist who can explain his craft in plain English to nonexperts, and his skills as a communicator perfectly suit his informal role as banking's ambassador to the world of big data.

"There are of course other people that straddle that line in banking and are willing to share," says Richard Soley, the CEO of Object Management Group, one of several technology standards groups Saul works with. "It's just that his output is sufficiently valuable to the rest of the industry that it ought to be recognized."