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Data Talks, Episode 11: D-U-N-S Number Recertification

Helping to Keep Data in Synch

Host: George L'Heureux, Principal Consultant, Data Strategy
Guest: Bill Sprague, Data Strategy Consultant

The Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number, our unique nine-digit identifier for businesses, identifies a company as being unique from any other in the Dun & Bradstreet Data Cloud. D-U-N-S Numbers are used to identify and maintain up-to-date and timely information on hundreds of millions of businesses worldwide and help identify relationships between corporate entities, for example, hierarchies and linkages.

However,  data is dynamic, reflecting how businesses are constantly in flux, which is why the Dun & Bradstreet Data Cloud is updated millions of times daily. When we identify changes, whether it’s due to mergers, acquisitions, or organizational restructuring, for example, we provide an avenue to help customers stay in synch with our data: D-U-N-S recertification.

D-U-N-S recertification is a refresh process to ensure our customers’ D-U-N-S records represent the current D-U-N-S Numbers associated with their company information. D-U-N-S Numbers are never reused when a company goes out of business; the D-U-N-S number stays with that entity. But in the case of restructuring, we may retire one D-U-N-S Number and assign a new D-U-N-S Number. This recertification process enables us to point users to the new D-U-N-S number to so that they have a connection to either the retired or surviving D-U-N-S Number to get the information they need on that business. 

 

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George L’Heureux:
Hello everyone. This is Data Talks presented by Dun & Bradstreet, and I'm your host George L'Heureux. I'm a principal consultant for data strategy in the advisory services team here at Dun & Bradstreet. In advisory services, our team is dedicated to helping our clients to maximize the value of their relationship with Dun & Bradstreet through expert advice and consultation. On Data Talks, I chat each episode with one of the expert advisors at Dun & Bradstreet about a topic that can help consumers of our data and services to get more value. Today's guest expert is Bill Sprague. Bill is a data strategy consultant at Dun & Bradstreet. Bill, how long have you been with the company?

Bill Sprague: :
I just celebrated my 34 year anniversary.

George L’Heureux:
My goodness, congratulations. Tell me a little bit about what you do in your role.

Bill Sprague: :
So, my role as a data strategy consultant is working with the clients to help them consume our data in the best demonstrated practice, helping them identify what they can use in terms of ingesting our data from flat files to API calls and making them best suited for whatever their business or use case is.

George L’Heureux:
Can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up in a role like this? Was it what you've always done at Dun & Bradstreet or you kind of stepped through a number of different positions to get to this point?

Bill Sprague: :
I stepped through a large number of positions starting in operations back when I was right out of college working. I actually used to write D&B reports. I compiled them and made them available for people, and then went into an internal consulting job. I actually worked as a sales leader for seven years at D&B, and then at the end of that stint I took over for a longstanding D&B associate that worked on data quality in a similar role. From there, we morphed that position into what is now known as the DAS team with us multiple consultants that we have working to help clients.

George L’Heureux:
So, you might have just a little bit of experience at some of this stuff.

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, there's a little bit of knowledge.

George L’Heureux:
So, what we had wanted to talk today about was D-U-N-S recertification. Before we go any deeper, can you just explain briefly what that is?

Bill Sprague: :
Sure. So, D-U-N-S recertification is really for customers who are taking on our D-U-N-S Numbers. So they may get them through a batch feed or a file that they have, or they are conducting a number of match transactions through our API services, and they're housing those D-U-N-S Numbers in one of their internal databases, right? Whether it's a data warehouse or some other place where they store that data, the D-U-N-S recertification is there to help customers try to stay in sync with our data.

So we occasionally have D-U-N-S Numbers that are retired or change, so we want to be able to perform some kind of recertification that allows them to keep their D-U-N-S Numbers in sync with the Dun & Bradstreet Data Cloud so that they can have access to the right information.

George L’Heureux:
So when you say retired or changed, that's not the same thing as an entity going out of business, right? That's different.

Bill Sprague: :
That's correct, it is different. So when something goes out of business, what we're saying when we indicate a company has gone to out of business status is that we no longer can confirm operations at that site or that D-U-N-S Number. So we don't actually retire that D-U-N-S Number in a case like that, that would stay with that business that went out of business or that location that went out of business. Then for a customer who needs some kind of archive data, they would have access to that D-U-N-S Number of the out of business record.

The recertification or the retired D-U-N-S Number is when we actually make a change to a site to give it a new D-U-N-S Number, either because of that company has had a duplicate identified or through some kind of organizational structure had a change where we needed, based on our internal policies, make a change to that D-U-N-S Number. So one D-U-N-S Number is retired and another D-U-N-S Number survives, and the recertification will point them to their surviving D-U-N-S Number.

George L’Heureux:
Okay, so there are some cases where Dun & Bradstreet is going to assign a new D-U-N-S Number. You mentioned one of them being duplicates, and then you talked about some internal policies or procedures that would cause us to do that. I bet a lot of customers think that it doesn't happen all that often. Can you go into a little bit more detail on what would cause us to do that?

Bill Sprague: :
Sure. We don't usually change D-U-N-S Number, it's not something that's a high rate of occurrence, but it's not uncommon either, right? There are reasons this can happen. I talked briefly about one where even through all our efforts to try to minimize the number of duplicates in our system, we occasionally find them. We have a process in place that sweeps our system looking for duplicates and one is identified. We'll actually look at the two records that we have and we'll make sure that we aggregate the data between the two, and one will be a surviving and one will be a D-U-N-S Number that gets retired.

Another instance is they have some kind of organizational change, where a location may have been a branch at one time and they've made a change in that organization to have it become a headquarters location. In that instance, it's D&B practice to retire the one D-U-N-S Number that was a branch and keep the D-U-N-S Number that is now the headquarters, create a new one for the headquarters. So we'd want to, if someone came in looking for that company they had prior, we'd want to be able to point them to the new headquarters location. Through recertification, we're able to do that for them.

George L’Heureux:
So, would something like a merger or an acquisition have a similar effect then depending on how that was structured?

Bill Sprague: :
It would. There are instances where merger acquisition is one of the activities as well. Some merger acquisitions are a buying company, if you will. We'll take a number of locations to out of business, so it's not that instance, that's an instance of taking something to out of business. But in a number of occasions, we see where they take over a business and change the structure, right? They'll change something that was a branch and make it a headquarters now due to the new customers' organizational structure. So, there are times when it will and times when it won't be a factor in that.

George L’Heureux:
So, having to update a D-U-N-S Number as a result of this type of recertification, where we hand in or a customer hands in one D-U-N-S Number and we say, "Hey, you're going to want to change it to this." That really isn't a result of Dun & Bradstreet screwed up, it's because there's more forces at work, right?

Bill Sprague: :
That's correct. It's really around data dynamics, right? So as you're aware, we have a Data Cloud of over 400 million records and keeping up with those data dynamics is quite a chore. What we designed the recertification to do is find those type of changes, right? Whether it's due to merger acquisition or a company making some kind of organizational structures, or in the instance, like I said, where we happen to find a duplicate record, we want to be able to be keeping up with those data dynamics and provide an avenue or a process that will help the customer stay in sync with our data.

George L’Heureux:
So we have essentially an audit trail, you might call it, of things like this that we keep track of that we can pass along to the customer when they ask us about it to help them keep that synchronization.

Bill Sprague: :
That's exactly right. We've created a process which includes a D-U-N-S audit trail, which we'll keep in the database and we'll keep on our end a previous D-U-N-S Number or the one that was retired, and we'll point it, if you will, a connection to the new D-U-N-S Number or the surviving D-U-N-S Number. That D-U-N-S audit trail's allowed us to do that. Not just at a point in time, but be able to historically go back. So if someone comes to us with a six month or a year old D-U-N-S Number that had been retired, we can still point them to the new D-U-N-S Number, allow them to access that D-U-N-S Number in our data cloud and get the kind of information they need on that business.

George L’Heureux:
Yeah. You mentioned earlier duplications, kind of structural changes, things like that that would cause these to happen. You mentioned that the rate is pretty low. Do you have a sense of where that is at, how often does this happen?

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, from a duplication standpoint, it's in the very low range, 1% range. The last information I had, it was about that range, so the amount that are affected by duplication is fairly minimal. In fact, when someone recertifies a file, we don't expect a large percent of the D-U-N-S Numbers that they have to get a new D-U-N-S Number, right? It would be the exception versus the rule when we point you to a new D-U-N-S Number. Most of the D-U-N-S Numbers would remain the same, and each time you came in to look for it, we'd provide you back the same D-U-N-S Number. But when it does happen where there's a change, we want to be able to have your data stay up in sync with our data. So, the recertification process can help.

George L’Heureux:
So this recertification, we've been talking about it throughout. Is it automated? How does it work?

Bill Sprague: :
That's a good question. There's a couple of different ways that recertification can happen. Up to this date, the technology has been ... so most people like to do it in a batch. So if they have 500,000 customers and vendors, they want to check them all at one time, so either annually or semi-annually someone might come to us and ask us to recertify their entire list of D-U-N-S Numbers that they have.

With modern technology that's come around in APIs, we do have the ability to set monitoring in place. So if you came in with that old D-U-N-S Number, the monitoring service or the API would actually direct you automatically, provide you with a small note or description of what happened with a code saying, "Due to our recertification, we've assigned a new D-U-N-S Number. Here's your original D-U-N-S Number, here's the code of what happened and here's the new D-U-N-S Number or surviving D-U-N-S Number for you." So you can do it in either batch or in, if you have the technology of the API installed, there's a way to do it through the API as well.

George L’Heureux:
So if you don't do this, let's talk about what happens if you're not recertifying your D-U-N-S on some sort of periodic basis. What are the risks? What can occur with your data? What could be the downstream business impacts?

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, that's always the question in business, right, is what's the risk of doing nothing? In this case, the risk of doing nothing is becoming out of sync, right? It's having a population of D-U-N-S Numbers that you have stored in one of your systems somewhere that no longer exists, that's not a valid D-U-N-S Number in the D&B Data Cloud anymore.

So not having some kind of recertification or process in place to get the new D-U-N-S Number, you're going to be out of sync and the information you had on that D-U-N-S Number, whether it be firmographic or demographic information, no longer exists. In fact, the D-U-N-S Number has been retired at D&B and there's no data associated to it at all.

George L’Heureux:
Now, I've been in the data world a long time and I know that companies use the D-U-N-S Number as a key. Anytime that you're talking about replacing a key, there's going to be challenges there. What are some of the biggest challenges from kind of an adoption standpoint of recertification to making this work and making it work properly?

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, the adoption, how you want to work with this is understanding what downstream systems are impacted, right? Where do your systems house a D-U-N-S Number, or whether it's as a unique identifier or just a caring attribute or value that you have associated to that business. So, one of the biggest challenges is understanding the downstream impact of a D-U-N-S Number changing.

We want to work with a company to make sure that in every system that's impacted or is tied to a D-U-N-S Number, when a change is made you're able to take that and carry that through the entire lifecycle so that it goes down to the end user. Each person who is using that D-U-N-S Number as an attribute has that change and can make that update. That would be the challenge that most people find.

George L’Heureux:
So, if we've got a client out there who's watching or listening to this and hearing what you're having to say and they realize they're not doing D-U-N-S recertification today, what steps should they be taking? What would you suggest to them?

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, I think they first want to determine are they doing this in some way? Do they have some kind of regression or do they have some kind of recertification for the D-U-N-S Number itself and all the attributes that are tied to it? If they don't, contact the D&B representative, either the sales team, or if they have a DAS consultant like myself, contact us and we can give you the options.

If your maturity, your technical maturity is that you're using the APIs, then it can be done that way, or if we want to set up some kind of a batch processing. Then you'd have to determine too what kind of frequency you'd want to do that on, how much of the data dynamics do you want to remove, either quarterly or semi-annually or annually.

George L’Heureux:
Bill as we wrap up, what's one thing you might want people to walk away from this conversation with? We've gone over a lot in terms of recertification, but what's the one takeaway you want people to have?

Bill Sprague: :
Yeah, I think it's to realize that data's dynamic, right? You have to understand that there's data dynamics that happen every day, and D&B managing the data cloud has kind of set up the processes and files in place to help you keep up with that dynamics and be able to make the changes to the D-U-N-S Number, or understand when something has changed so that you can have the most valid and up-to-date information. When you go to access to Data Cloud, you're getting the right information on the right business so it doesn't impact your downstream.

George L’Heureux:
Bill, I really appreciate you taking some time to sit down and chat about this to share your expertise on this topic.

Bill Sprague: :
It's been my pleasure, George. Thank you.

George L’Heureux:
All right, our guest expert today has been Bill Sprague, a data strategy consultant at Dun & Bradstreet. This has been Data Talks. We hope that you've enjoyed today's discussion, and if you have, we encourage you to please let a friend or a colleague know about it. If you'd like more information about what we've discussed on today's episode, I urge you to visit www.dnb.com or to talk to your company's Dun & Bradstreet specialist today. I'm George L'Heureux, thanks for joining us. Until next time.