Business Entity Identifiers

The least cumbersome way of uniquely identifying a business partner being a company, government body or other form of organization is to use an externally provided number.

However, there are quite a lot of different numbers to choose from.

All-Purpose National Identification Numbers

In some counties, like in Scandinavia, the public sector assigns a unique number to every company to be used in every relation to the public sector and open to be used by the private sector as well for identification purposes.

As reported in the post Single Company View I worked with the early implementation of such a number in Denmark way back in time.

Single-Purpose National Identification Numbers

In most countries there are multiple systems of numbers for companies each with an original special purpose. Examples are registration numbers, VAT numbers and employer identification numbers.

My current UK company has both a registration number and a VAT number and very embarrassing for a data quality and master data geek these two numbers have different names and addresses attached.

Other Numbering Systems

The best known business entity numbering system around the world is probably the DUNS-number used by Dun & Bradstreet. As examined in the post Select Company_ID from External_Source Where Possible the use of DUNS-numbers and similar business directory id’s is a very common way of uniquely identifying business partners.

In the manufacturing and retail world legal entities may, as part of the Global Data Synchronization Network, be identified with a Global Location Number (GLN).

There has been a lot of talk in the financial sector lately around implementing yet a new numbering system for legal entities with an identifier usually abbreviated as LEI. Wikipedia has the details about a Legal Entity Identification for Financial Contracts.

These are only some of the most used numbering systems for business entities.

So, the trend doesn’t seem to be a single source of truth but multiple sources making up some kind of the truth.

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11 thoughts on “Business Entity Identifiers

  1. Christine 5th September 2012 / 17:21

    Another great (albeit depressing) blog. 🙂

    One issue I’ve encountered with things like D&B’s DUNS number is ‘which DUNS number’ to pick for a particular business entity. There are multiples for a company and there doesn’t appear to be a good hierarchy to navigate to the top company.

    I attended a presentation at Enterprise Data World in 2011 that talked about the need for this in the financial sector. Unfortunately, it wasn’t progressing by leaps and bounds.

  2. Robert Quinn 5th September 2012 / 19:51

    From my notes on Party/Location Identifiers


    DUNS # (plus four)

    MDR (Academic Institutions)

    TDLinx (Retail Locations, Party Linkage)

    Ringgold (Academic and Consortia)

    NABP # (Pharmacies)

    DEA # (Pharmacies)

    AVOX VOX # (Legal Entities)

    GS1 GLN (Physical Locations and Legal Entities)

    see… family tree and corporate structures

  3. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 5th September 2012 / 21:13

    Thanks Christine and Robert for adding in.

    Wasn’t meant to be depressing 🙂 – but no easy wins here I’m afraid.

  4. Tim 9th September 2012 / 22:19

    Perhaps I’ve missed it but although there are several options for unique numbering it’s always worth looking closely at the licensing conditions that may go with their use. A DUNS # is licensed so carries a contingent risk whereas others are not of the same characteristic. Depending on the use of the number it’s worth checking this aspect

  5. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 10th September 2012 / 13:50

    Tim, I agree, the license costs associated with using the DUNS-number and related services are not to be overlooked. It’s going to be exciting to follow the “open data” trend in this area.

  6. Olivier 15th September 2012 / 03:15

    Agreed, there are a lot of business identifiers. LEI gives us hope because it is aimed to be global and non-for-profit. The financial industry does not want another mistake like CUSIP. LEI will be free to use – it is a key aspect required by the G20 and the Financial Stability Board.

    • Tim 15th September 2012 / 13:32

      who will maintain integrity on a daily basis and ensure connectivity to parents, subsidiaries, shareholders, directors is always correct? that is a major challenge to physical, computing and financial resources. There’s a good reason there aren’t many global unique ID systems in place

      • Olivier 17th September 2012 / 14:59

        All very good points, but in my opinion the lack of such business identifier is not because it is hard to do, because financial institutions had other priorities. After Lehman, everything changed. Tim, I think you would be interested in following the LEI initiative at the Financial Stability Board:

  7. Kirsten S Larsen 17th May 2021 / 12:41

    I was wondering – now that some 9 years have passed since this post was published – if there are any trends or developments leading to a narrowing-down of business entity IDs? For my own (manufacturing) company, not really centered in retail, we encounter increasing demands for GS1-GLNs from various stakeholders. Is that a trend seen elsewhere?

    • Henrik Gabs Liliendahl 17th May 2021 / 13:14

      I think so, Kirsten. GLNs is one example. National IDs is another example.

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