Master Data in the Time of COVID-19

The Time for Data Management Is Now

Unlike the period novel “Love in the Time of Cholera”, this is not a love story, however there are some correlations: the desire to find a cure for a plaguing disease and a longing for lost opportunity. Rising above one of them could be solely dependent on your sense of urgency as a data practitioner.

Regardless of where you are in the world, COVID-19 has likely stamped its massive footprint onto your community, industry, and livelihood. Mergers, acquisitions and divestitures have become unpredictable; manufacturing has slowed; consumer and business spending has decreased; many companies have had to furlough and lay off employees. Overnight, the business landscape has changed.

These events have probably transformed your master data in many ways. We have witnessed a rapid rise in data decay emphasizing the importance of having a unified data structure to better assess customers, employees, suppliers and vendors. This has resulted in a heightened urgency for data management and stewardship.

Are you prepared to leverage your data, and is your data ready, to help you make more informed decisions?

Whether change comes in the form of a global pandemic or a recession, the reality is that not every organization is going to have time to plan and think things through. It’s fair to feel overwhelmed. The question becomes, do you want to have a master data plan in place or do you want to be reactive and forced to shoot from the hip? Do you have data enrichment processes to help you navigate through this turmoil? Does your data allow you to be empathetic towards your customers’ needs given current events? Are you prepared to leverage your data, and is your data ready, to help you make more informed decisions?


Master data – at the heart of data-driven processes

Your master data should be at the heart of your data-driven decision processes. To help you find a forward-facing direction and relieve your data pressures, we present these three pointers that may help you prepare your master data assets to get through challenging events.

1. Prioritize – Let’s say you are in the financial services industry and want to understand which of your clients are negatively affected by an event: weather, financial, health-related…whatever. A quick survey or analysis of your customer base and their attributes can bring you to a more focused population needing urgent attention. Using master data elements like industry, geography, employee total and yearly revenue will directionally help you identify that desired group. This, of course, assumes that you have an up-to-date view of your customer master data.

The Dun & Bradstreet COVID-19 Impact Index can help you make more informed decisions to better manage your portfolio risk.

The index considers four essential factors and uses a percentile ranking for more precise information:

  • Location—assessing business site and corporate family locations based on the level of government-enforced restrictions, weighted by the number of confirmed cases and growth in cases, and movement based on cell phone location.
  • Industry—Dun & Bradstreet’s refined industry classifications identify businesses that: are essential; can operate remotely; require the physical presence of customers; and require employees to be at a central location, with filters incorporating data on changes in the volume and size of trade, unemployment, and more
  • Company/credit health—incorporating Dun & Bradstreet’s predictive scores on business failure, delinquency, and viability.
  • Business network—leveraging Dun & Bradstreet’s global data to assess the impact of the current crisis on your business connections, such as customers, suppliers, or other third parties.

The marriage of your master data to Dun & Bradstreet’s predictive scores and referential data can pinpoint the area of importance based on your use case. Sales and marketing can prioritize and customize outgoing messages to be segmented using the data above as needed. Collections can perform forecasting on outstanding balances and articulate those that need leniency at this time.

2. Refresh – During times of crisis, you need to pay more attention to your master data assets as the changes in the market can have a direct and significant impact on your data. These changes should be reflected in your data for analysis and ultimately decision making.

The Dun & Bradstreet data advisory team notes that generally B2B master data decays at a rate between 22% and 30% annually. This rate escalates during a macroeconomic event such as COVID-19 or the 2009 recession. In 2009, master data decay experienced such a challenge. Huge enterprise companies were being divested, bought out, and split apart. Coupled with people leaving or moving within the workforce, a large tech company we worked at that time with saw a spike in their data decay rate as high as 20% in one quarter alone. Failing to refresh master data in times of crisis may not be in your best interest, as you run a risk of making decisions based on inaccurate or stale data.

Ensure that you are armed with the most up-to-date master data sources before making key business decisions. At the very least, out-of-business indicators, mergers, acquisitions, and segmentation attributes such as employee total and yearly revenue data should all be at your fingertips. Access to this can improve the reliability of your master data set needed in challenging times like this. Make that D‑U‑N‑S® Number work for you. Refresh your data.

3. Steward – Contingency actions need to be reactive or ad-hoc. In certain situations, us data practitioners can design them to become responsive. Have a plan for data stewardship during these sensitive times. Understand the rate of decay, as discussed above, and the best way to bring in fresh data for operations, analytics and decision making. Ask yourself whether you need stewardship help for the data enrichment heavy lifting and for how long.

Knowing what to operationalize even as events unfold could decisively lower the negative effects that data decay has on your strategic initiatives or crisis response actions. You don’t need to “boil the ocean” at this time. Review what is important. For example, in sales and marketing, understand what master data attributes are used predominantly for customer segmentation and ensure focus on this area. Find the critical demographic, geographic and firmographic data. Connect with Dun & Bradstreet and request a free Data Health Scan. It will give you a baseline on where you might want to start your stewardship focus at this time.

Be prepared

There's a popular Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The same is true of your master data. Having your master data assets up to date will bring you closer to a viable strategy addressing many unknowns, whether in your company or industry. Understanding the disruptors and responding to them with sustainable action will help pave the path that can bring your business to a more decisive and deliberate route to help rise above the challenge of a global pandemic.