Dun & Bradstreet Repositions with Master Data: Providing a Consistent Industry Standard

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master dataScott Taylor, Market Development & Innovation Lead for Dun & Bradstreet Master Data says “Good decisions you make on bad data are just bad decisions you don’t know about yet.” Dun & Bradstreet is the “oldest continuously operating data company,” remarked Taylor during a recent DATAVERSITY® interview.

“We have been collecting and managing data since the 1840s.” To ensure you’re not making decisions based on bad data he said, “You’ve got to make sure you have determined the truth before you derive any meaning.” And Taylor, who has over 20 years of experience creating and selling Master Data content solutions, believes that the truth necessary to make those good decisions comes from the quality of a company’s Master Data.

Master Data starts with what Taylor called “the Four C’s” in a record:

“You need a code to uniquely identify it, you need a company to know the parent-child relationship, you need a category to know what segmentation and sector it’s in, and you need a country,” he said.

Yet, even with these four simple categories, consistency is difficult to maintain, making truth and meaning harder to find. “You look into anybody’s customer master and you’ll see ‘IBM’ for example, spelled 15 different ways.”  The problem is compounded when customers have multiple divisions or locations, each served by a different sales rep, using their own way of spelling the company name or formatting the address.

“The inconvenient truth is, there is no standard,” and so systems often don’t connect, he said. “You can talk in conferences all you want about everything connecting to everything else, but you go back home to your office and people are complaining that the sales system doesn’t talk to the marketing system.”

If one of your company’s strategic initiatives is to be the premier partner of choice for your customers, he said, “Great, let’s look at the 187 duplicates you have for that customer,” and you may find that there’s a big gap between what your leadership wants and what you can deliver.

Taylor said that Master Data is also the foundation of newer technologies, like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Predictive Analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are built on, and success in those ventures is tied to reliable Master Data:

“The IOT – that’s the biggest thing out there. My one-line business requirement for the IOT is that everything has to connect to everything else when it should – and the ‘should’ part – that’s the hard part.” he said.  “It’s going to take a tremendous amount of standardized, well-governed, expertly stewarded Master and Reference Data content to make those things connect.”

Organizations have Master Data whether they call it that or not, no matter if it is good or not, and trying to implement new technologies will force them to look at the root problem, because it’s not the software, he said. Technologies like AI won’t work “until Master Data is the data in charge. If it’s good, then things go well. If it’s not good, then things don’t work.”

New technologies and software can be very tempting because, “The bells and whistles are super sexy,” he said. “Master Data isn’t sexy, and that’s OK. Neither are girders, or cement, or nuts and bolts, but things fall apart without a foundation.” Dun & Bradstreet gives enterprises of all sizes the ability to create that foundation.

Dun & Bradstreet has been around since 1841, beginning with a network of correspondents that served as sources of reliable, consistent, and objective credit information about businesses, and has evolved to growing today’s most valuable relationships in business by uncovering truth and meaning from data. “We [essentially] do the same today on a grander scale,” Taylor said. People know of Dun & Bradstreet for their enormous credit file, but most do not know that they are in the Master Data space.

“We have a pre-mastered commercial universe, so why should you need to figure out the structure of General Electric, for example, and all their different divisions [to create] a unique number of your own internally when we already have the Master Data for 265 million commercial entities?” remarked Taylor.

“If you‘re going to manage business relationships, which is our domain,” he said, Dun & Bradstreet has an enormous list of nearly every company on earth, with a unique identifier (for each one), called the DUNS number. There’s standard hierarchy structure and other linkages, there’s common classification, and segmentation data (what kind of company), and then there’s standard geographic definitions. Dun & Bradstreet provides consistent, trusted Master Data on business entities in four primary domains: customer, vendor, partner, prospect, “and the relationships between them, which Dun & Bradstreet helps to codify,” he said.

“Our DUNS Number is used primarily to identify a company and validate its existence, but it’s a unique identifier, so in an MDM use case it’s not so much validating the existence as it is, ‘can I integrate disparate sources of data with a common key, and can I interoperate between processes and other enterprises with a standard structure?’”

Having an accurate picture of a potential business partner or customer can set the foundation for profitable alliances. “We can identify and validate a business entity,” so Dun & Bradstreet customers can now use that same structure in data integration and interoperability to improve their business relationships.

Taylor was quick to clarify that what they sell is not Master Data Management. “We don’t do MDM – we’re not an MDM company. That’s software. We provide Master Data content.” One way to look at it is that MDM is the car, and Master Data is the gas. Dun & Bradstreet offers “pre-mastered commercial content” or Master Data as a Service (MDaaS):

“A lot of quality problems are actually structural. ‘The quality of this report isn’t right because I have two companies in here that I know are one.’ Well, that’s a structural problem. You don’t have an unduplicated, unique identifier, you don’t have a common hierarchy, so these two divisions should roll up – that’s actually structure,” he said. “So we’re starting with the idea that we can actually provide data structure. It’s clean, it’s standardized, it’s global by providing commercial content that is pre-mastered.”

Knowing that your data reflects the truth can give you the confidence to make critical decisions and answer important questions, he stated:

“What’s the credit risk? Am I in compliance? Who do I sue? We do really hard stuff – that same data and that same data structure that populates that insight that you get is what we can put on your customer master and keep it that clean and consistent.”

Taylor says that they use the term “pre-mastered commercial content” because there are advantages to getting Dun & Bradstreet in the conversation earlier, around the structure conversation. “We talk a lot about appending and enriching data – which, by definition, are things you do later, so [often] we don’t get called in until later, when we ‘re at the appending stage.” Companies that bring in Dun & Bradstreet early in planning, however, can benefit from their understanding of best practices.

“The best practice of Search Before Create, that’s relevant in any domain. And it’s very simple to say that, but when we say that in a presentation, people ask: ‘How many places can you create a customer? Do you search all those places? Do they all search the same place?’”

Taylor tells them to first “search your own stuff, then search our stuff, and if it’s not there – then search again,” before they create a new record.

“We help companies find their most valuable relationships through truth and meaning in data. We have structure, Master Data as a Service, pre-mastered commercial content – all those are changing people’s minds.”

He ended by saying that the best decisions are made, when “we’re all singing from the same hymnal.” Dun & Bradstreet provides the ability for an entire organization to sing together with their customers through foundational Master Data development. Master Data may not be the newest trend in the data landscape, but without it nothing else works.


Photo Credit: Aunging/Shutterstock.com

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