What is in a business directory?

When working with Party Master Data Management one approach to ensure accuracy, completeness and other data quality dimensions is to onboard new business-to-business (B2B) entities and enrich such current entities via a business directory.

While this could seem to be a straight forward mechanism, unfortunately it usually is not that easy peasy.

Let us take an example featuring the most widely used business directory around the world: The Dun & Bradstreet Worldbase. And let us take my latest registered company: Product Data Lake.

PDL at DnB

On this screen showing the basic data elements, there are a few obstacles:

  • The address is not formatted well
  • The country code system is not a widely used one
  • The industry sector code system shown is one among others

Address Formatting

In our address D&B has put the word “sal”, which is Danish for floor. This is not incorrect, but addresses in Denmark are usually not written with that word, as the number following a house number in the addressing standard is the floor.

Country Codes

D&B has their own 3-digit country code. You may convert to the more widely used ISO 2-character country code. I do however remember a lot of fun from my data matching days when dealing with United Kingdom where D&B uses 4 different codes for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as mapping back and forth with United States and Puerto Rico. Had to be made very despacito.

Industry Sector Codes

The screen shows a SIC code: 7374 = Computer Processing and Data Preparation and Processing Services

This must have been converted from the NACE code by which the company has been registered:  63.11:(00) = Data processing, hosting and related activities.

The two codes do by the way correspond to the NAICS Code 518210 = Data processing, hosting and related activities.

The challenges in embracing the many standards for reference data was examined in the post The World of Reference Data.

Adding 180 Degrees to MDM

Master Data Management (MDM) has traditionally been about being better at utilizing and sharing internal registrations about our customers, suppliers, products, assets and other core business entities.

My latest work around master data management revolves around the concept of bringing in external data sources in order to make on-boarding processes more efficient and provide more accurate, complete and timely master data.

So, it was good to see that this approach is gaining more traction when attending the MDM Summit Europe 2013.

The old stuff

Andy Walker of BP presented how BP has built the management of party master data around aligning with the D&B WorldBase for business-to-business (B2B) customer and vendor master data.

Knowing about with which actual legal entities you are doing business and which external hierarchies they belong to is crucial for BP both in daily operations and when it comes to reporting and analysis utilizing party master data.

Using business directories isn’t new at all; it has been around for ages and from what I have seen: It works when you do it properly and consistently.

The new stuff

Big data was a hot topic on the conference. As reported in a post from the first day embracing big data may lead to Double Trouble with Social MDM and Big Data.

Steve Jones TweetHowever, digging into big data and doing social MDM may certainly also provide new opportunities as we by utilizing these new sources actually may be able to obtain (or closing in at) a 360 degree view on various master data entity types. It is, as said and tweeted by Steve Jones of Capgemini, about looking outside-in.

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Data Management in the Cloud

We are seeing more and more data management services offered in the cloud.

dnblogo2As I have had a long time experience with data matching services around the Dun & Bradstreet WorldBase, it was good to see a presentation yesterday in Stockholm featuring D&B Europe’s new cloud based data manager service.

Managing World-Wide B2B Master Data

The D&B WorldBase is a business directory with 225 million business entities from all over the world.

D&B’s Data Manager is a self-service application in the cloud around the WorldBase taking care of:

  • Data matching with comprehensive functionality for manual inspection, approval and master data survivorship
  • Data enrichment embracing a wide range of data attributes
  • Data Maintenance subscription for keeping enriched data up to date

The data matching functionality is built on the good old D&B methodology with confidence codes and matchgrades.

Right for QlikTech

QlikTech is the Swedish firm (pretending to be American) behind the prominent business intelligence solution called QlikView.

At the Stockholm event QlikTech presented how and why they use the D&B Data Manager for ensuring the right data quality in their cloud based B2B CRM solution (SalesForce.com).

As QlikTech is operating all over the world having a consistent world-wide business directory as the reference for party master data is extremely important, and the self-service concept is a perfect match for having the right insight and control into achieving the needed level of data quality in CRM master data.

From there the QlikTech CRM team takes its own medicine using QlikView for self-service business intelligence.

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Some Kinds of Reference Data

The term ”reference data” and related Reference Data Management (RDM) is used commonly in the data quality and Master Data Management (MDM) realm.

As with most terms it may be used with slightly different meanings. Usually, but not necessarily always, reference data are core data entities defined outside a given organization.

I have come across the below discussed kinds of reference data:

Reference Data in Investment Banking

The term “reference data” is well established in investment banking. Reference data are core master data entities as counterparties, securities and currencies. These are the things you deal with in investment banking. They are not made up for a given bank or other single financial institution but are shared across the whole market and should optimally be the same to every institution at exactly the same point of time.

RDMSmall Reference Data

In Master Data Management in general we usually see reference data as value lists helping describing and standardizing internal master data.

One example will be a country list. A list of countries should be the same for every organization in the world. However available lists does differ though most variations usually don’t have any business impact as the academic question about if Antarctica should be in the list or not.

A list of codes describing to which industry a given company belongs is another example of reference data. As examined in the post What are they doing? you may choose to standardize on SIC codes or standardise on NACE codes or develop your own set of codes for that purpose.

Big Reference Data

In geography a country list is in the top levels of defining locations. Further deep we may have postal code systems within each country as ZIP codes in the United States, PLZ codes in Germany and PIN codes in India. Yet further deep we have every single valid postal address eventually all over the world. This is what I call big reference data.

A way of sourcing industry codes for your customers, suppliers and other business partners will be picking from or enriching from a business directory like for example the D&B WorldBase or any other of the many business directories around. Such directories may also be seen as big reference data.

The dramatic increase in the use of social media and related social network profiles has emerged as a new kind of big reference data serving as links to our internal master data.

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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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Pulling Data Quality from the Cloud

In a recent post here on the blog the benefits of instant data enrichment was discussed.

In the contact data capture context these are some examples:

  • Getting a standardized address at contact data entry makes it possible for you to easily link to sources with geo codes, property information and other location data.
  • Obtaining a company registration number or other legal entity identifier (LEI) at data entry makes it possible to enrich with a wealth of available data held in public and commercial sources.
  • Having a person’s name spelled according to available sources for the country in question helps a lot with typical data quality issues as uniqueness and consistency.

However, if you are doing business in many countries it is a daunting task to connect with the best of breed sources of big reference data. Add to that, that many enterprises are doing both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) activities including interacting with small business owners. This means you have to link to the best sources available for addresses, companies and individuals.

A solution to this challenge is using Cloud Service Brokerage (CSB).

An example of a Cloud Service Brokerage suite for contact data quality is the instant Data Quality (iDQ™) service I’m working with right now.

This service can connect to big reference data cloud services from all over the world. Some services are open data services in the contact data realm, some are international commercial directories, some are the wealth of national reference data services for addresses, companies and individuals and even social network profiles are on the radar.

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Updating a Social Business Directory

Business directories have been around for ages. In the old days it was paper based as in the yellow pages for a phone book. The yellow pages have since made it to be online searchable. We also know commercial business directories as the Dun & Bradstreet WorldBase as well as government operated national wide directories of companies and industry specific business directories.

Such business directories often takes a crucial role in master data quality work as sources for data enrichment in the quest for getting as close as possible to a single version of the truth when dealing with B2B customer master data, supplier master data and other business partner master data.

A classic core data model for Master Data in CRM systems, SCM solutions and Master Data hubs when doing B2B is that you have:

  • Accounts being the BUSINESS entities who are your customers, suppliers, prospects and all kind of other business partners
  • Contacts being the EMPLOYEEs working there and acting in the roles as decision makers, influencers, gate keepers, users and so on

Today we also have to think about social master data management, being exploiting reference data in social media as a supplementary source of external data.

As all social activity this exercise goes two ways:

  • Finding and monitoring your existing and wanted business partners in the social networks
  • Updating your own data

Most business entities in this world are actually one-man-bands. So are mine. Therefore I went to the LinkedIn company pages this morning and updated data about my company Liliendahl Limited: Unlimited Data Quality and Master Data Management consultancy for tool and service vendors.

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The Big Search Opportunity

The other day Bloomberg Businessweek had an article telling that Facebook Delves Deeper Into Search.

I have always been advocating for having better search functionality in order to get more business value from your data. That certainly also applies to big data.

In a recent post called Big Reference Data Musings here on the blog, the challenge of utilizing large external data sources for getting better master data quality was discussed. In a comment Greg Leman pointed out, that there often isn’t a single source of the truth, as you for example could expect from say a huge reference data source as the Dun & Bradstreet WorldBase holding information about business entities from all over the world.

Indeed our search capabilities optimally must span several sources. In the business directory search realm you may include several sources at a time like supplementing the D&B  WorldBase with for example EuroContactPool, if you do business in Europe, or the source called Wiki-Data (under rename to AvoxData) if you are in financial services and wants to utilize the new Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) for counterparty uniqueness in conjunction with other more complete sources.

As examined in Search and if you are lucky you will find combining search on external reference data sources and internal master data sources is a big opportunity too. In doing that you, as described the follow up piece named Wildcard Search versus Fuzzy Search, must get the search technology right.

I see in the Bloomberg article that Facebook don’t intend to completely reinvent the wheel for searching big data, as they have hired a Google veteran, the Danish computer scientist Lars Rasmussen, for the job.

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Big Reference Data Musings

The term “big data” is huge these days. As Steve Sarsfield suggest in a blog post yesterday called Big Data Hype is an Opportunity for Data Management Pros, well, let’s ride on the wave (or is it tsunami?).

The definition of “big data” is as with many buzzwords not crystal clear as examined in a post called It’s time for a new definition of big data on Mike2.0 by Robert Hillard. The post suggests that big may be about volume, but is actually more about big complexity.

As I have worked intensively with large amounts of rich reference data, I have a homemade term called “big reference data”.

Big Reference Data Sets

Reference Data is a term often used either instead of Master Data or as related to Master Data. Reference data is those data defined and (initially) maintained outside a single organization. Examples from the party master data realm are a country list, a list of states in a given country or postal code tables for countries around the world.

The trend is that organizations seek to benefit from having reference data in more depth than those often modest populated lists mentioned above.

An example of a big reference data set is the Dun & Bradstreet WorldBase. This reference data set holds around 300 different attributes describing over 200 million business entities from all over world.

This data set is at first glance well structured with a single (flat) data model for all countries. However, when you work with it you learn that the actual data is very different depending on the different original sources for each country. For example addresses from some countries are standardized, while this isn’t the case for other countries. Completeness and other data quality dimensions vary a lot too.

Another example of a large reference data set is the United Kingdom electoral roll that is mentioned in the post Inaccurately Accurate. As told in the post there are fit for purpose data quality issues. The data set is pretty big, not at least if you span several years, as there is a distinct roll for every year.

Big Reference Data Mashup

Complexity, and opportunity, also arises when you relate several big reference data sets.

Lately DataQualityPro had an interview called What is AddressBase® and how will it improve address data quality? Here Paul Malyon of Experian QAS explains about a new combined address reference source for the United Kingdom.

Now, let’s mash up the AddressBase, the WorldBase and the Electoral Rolls – and all the likes.

Image called Castle in the Sky found on photobotos.

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Informatics for adding value to information

Recently the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies within the World Economic Forum has made a list of the top 10 emerging technologies for 2012. According to this list the technology with the greatest potential to provide solutions to global challenges is informatics for adding value to information.

As said in the summary: “The quantity of information now available to individuals and organizations is unprecedented in human history, and the rate of information generation continues to grow exponentially. Yet, the sheer volume of information is in danger of creating more noise than value, and as a result limiting its effective use. Innovations in how information is organized, mined and processed hold the key to filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information to address emerging challenges.”

Big data all over

Surely “big data” is the buzzword within data management these days and looking for extreme data quality will be paramount.

Filtering out the noise and using the growing wealth of global information will help a lot in our endurance to make a better world and to make better business.

In my focus area, being master data management, we also have to filtering out the noise and exploit the growing wealth of information related to what we may call Big Master Data.

Big external reference data

The growth of master data collections is also seen in collections of external reference data.

For example the Dun & Bradstreet Worldbase holding business entities from around the world has lately grown quickly from 100 million entities to over 200 millions entities. Most of the growth has been due to better coverage outside North America and Western Europe, with the BRIC countries coming in fast. A smaller world resulting in bigger data.

Also one of the BRICS, India, is on the way with a huge project for uniquely identifying and holding information about every citizen – that’s over a billion. The project is called Aadhaar.

When we extend such external registries also to social networking services by doing Social MDM, we are dealing with very fast growing number of profiles in Facebook, LinkedIn and other services.

Surely we need informatics for adding the value of big external reference data into our daily master data collections.

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