Getting a single customer view in business-to-business (B2B) operations isn’t straight forward. Besides all the fuzz about agreeing on a common definition of a customer within each enterprise usually revolving around fitting multiple purposes of use, we also have complexities in real world alignment.
One Number Utopia
Back in the 80’s I worked as a secretary for the committee that prepared a single registry for companies in Denmark. This practice has been live for many years now.
But in most other countries there are several different public registries for companies resulting in multiple numbering systems.
Within the European Union there is a common registry embracing VAT numbers from all member states. The standard format is the two letter ISO country code followed by the different formatted VAT number in each country – some with both digits and letters.
The DUNS-number used by Dun & Bradstreet is the closest we get to a world-wide unique company numbering system.
The common structure of a company is that you have a legal entity occupying one or several addresses.
The French company numbering system is a good example of how this is modeled. You have two numbers:
- SIREN is a 9-digit number for each legal entity (on the head quarter address).
- SIRET is a 14-digit (9 + 5) number for each business location.
This model is good for companies with several locations but strange for single location companies.
Treacherous Family Trees (and Restaurants)
The need for hierarchy management is obvious when it comes to handling data about customers that belongs to a global enterprise.
Company family trees are useful but treacherous. A mother and a daughter may be very close connected with lots of shared services or it may be a strictly matter of ownership with no operational ties at all.
Take McDonald’s as a not perfectly simple (nor simply perfect) example. A McDonald’s restaurant is operated by a franchisee, an affiliate, or the corporation itself. I’m lovin’ modeling it.
An identifier that embeds any form of classification such as geography or geopolitical codes is outdated the minute it is published. A company is comprised of a series of networks, somewhat like a social network. The members of a company network can take on many forms. Even the “family” relationships can vary. Who is a parent? Can a company have two or more “parents”? A company is not a hierarchy yet many of the identification schemes assume so.
I suggest that an entity such as a company have a unique identifier with no embedded classifications; an agnostic identifier. The classifications of the company should be provided as additional attributes such a geopolitical codes and the company identifier then is associated with these codes. For standards purposes, it is possible then to define the standards for the relationships but not the values of the identifier itself. Each standard would be specific to their contexts. This is similar to defining data standards within a specified context.
Thanks Richard. I agree about the network structure for describing relationships between companies in the real world and I follow your thoughts about not having any information embedded in identifiers.