Episode Fifty-One: The 400 Million Milestone

Why Data Is Key To Timely, Consistent And Accurate Decisions

Data brings transparency, accuracy and consistency to your decision-making process.

Gary Kotovets, Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Dun & Bradstreet explains how the company uses its data on 400 million businesses to help clients around the world deliver a competitive edge. He discusses the depth of insight provided via Dun & Bradstreet’s Data Cloud and how the firm is using alternative data to drive increased value for global businesses to support growth.

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(Please note that this podcast was recorded remotely.)


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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 51: The 400 Million Milestone

Guest: Gary Kotovets, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Dun & Bradstreet
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO at Dun & Bradstreet

Sam 00:00
Welcome back to the power of data podcast. You're joined by me, Sam and today, I'm delighted to be joined by Gary Kotovets. Our Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Dun & Bradstreet. Welcome, Gary.

Gary 00:09
Thank you Sam for having me. I've heard a lot of your previous podcasts and I'm very excited to be here.

Sam 00:15
Well, the pleasure is all mine and we're gonna get stuck into the detail quite quick, but I want to talk a little bit about serendipity. And before we get into your current role at Dun & Bradstreet, let's start off by telling our listeners a bit about what you did previously. And I asked that, it's a loaded question, as you probably suspected, because you only joined us here in January. Not an easy time, we'll come to that in a moment. But historically, in your career, you've been instrumental in turning different parts of Bloomberg into world class operations that drive growth and revenue, particularly around Bloomberg’s financial products. So I'd love to hear a little bit about that and what it was that brought you to Dun & Bradstreet at this interesting time.

Gary 00:54
Sure. So I started at Bloomberg, about 20 years ago now. And my career started just around the time, I would say when Bloomberg was a very, very rapidly growing and expanding company, a bit of a startup, let's put it that way. And the opportunity growing within our company was tremendous. There were a lot of transformational initiatives that we took on throughout the years in order to bring data quickly, accurately and timely to our customers. That experience and everything I've learned through that very rapidly growing stage of the company is the exact experience that I'm bringing back to Dun & Bradstreet now. I think Dun & Bradstreet is in a very unique position to be able to grow exponentially and expand their data coverage and quality in a very similar fashion. D&B has been around for a long time, it's sitting on a tremendous amount of data and it's got an amazing amount of customers that it distributes data to. And I think the result of both of those is positioning D&B in a very unique way, especially now with data growing so rapidly and the decisions that people make using data is growing at an exponential rate. And the result of those things is what's going to drive the growth in D&B amongst its existing customers, but as well as into new territories, new sectors and new countries.

Sam 02:24
So you talk about the journey we've been on, I think when the privatization happened, when we took D&B private, nobody could have predicted the intensity of the transformation or the richness of the rewards. And the other thing no one could have predicted at the time was COVID-19. And you joined during that time. You came in as the Chief Data Officer to evolve the company's data strategy, but your team was very quickly pulled in to help solve some of our clients biggest challenges to mitigate risk, limit uncertainty and help clients through times of extreme uncertainty. I was walking past a church recently, and I saw a quote on it and it said: “when everything is uncertain, everything that is important becomes clear”. And I think to some extent COVID-19 has done that and data is at the core. Everything that's becoming clear is what the data is telling us. Can you tell us about some of the work your team's been doing through COVID-19 to support some of our largest plans at this time?

Gary 03:20
You're absolutely right, I definitely did not predict and none of us predicted the time when I walked in that we're going to be where we are and have been in the last 10 months, it's certainly been a very interesting opportunity. And I call it an opportunity because I really think it was. Even with everything that's going on around the world and the crisis we're in today, the opportunities for organizations like Dun & Bradstreet are enormous. The nature of the crisis itself and the impact it has on the economy, particularly within the small business sector and private business sector, as well as you know, the transparency or lack of transparency into that private business sector is what I think brought D&B into top of everyone's list of data providers around the world, we became very uniquely positioned to be able to bring quickly, accurately and I would say consistently, data in front of a variety of different sectors of our customer base, particularly in the government. The transparency they needed to understand the economic impact this crisis is having on their industry and the economic impact this crisis is having on again, small and medium sized businesses around the world and the United States.

We have been able to very quickly organize ourselves and not only repackage some of the most critical content and bring it forward that D&B already had, but also we're able to bring in a lot of new data, additional transparency in a more real-time fashion, into the impact of closing small business, impact of opening a small business and the period of time that business was recovering. So for example, we've been able to provide operational activity or business all the way down to a county level or zip code level across the United States during the time which it was non-operational. For example, if it's a restaurant, and then we're only doing takeout business, we were able to see what kind of activity that takeout business was bringing to that restaurant during the COVID crisis. And when that takeout activity was stopped, for example, that restaurant was allowed to be reopened, what impact did that reopening have on that business and how long? If you think about that kind of detail, and that kind of insight, in real-time for someone who is a government, you know, a local county official responsible for economic recovery within their particular region, exactly where D&B was able to become the primary source for that kind of insight and more.

Sam 06:29
As you're talking about being the primary source, and data coverage is essential. And anyone who's listening to this, who's a chief data officer, or a data scientist, or someone that's been around data for a long time will understand the gravity of this next achievement. We announced yesterday that we hit a special milestone at Dun & Bradstreet with our Data Cloud, the news that we released was about reaching an impressive milestone of 400 million businesses globally. And that's a significant portion of global corporations around the world. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about this exciting new development?

Gary 07:02
Absolutely. It definitely is one of the most exciting developments that D&B has had historically. If you think about the last 24 months on where D&B came from, to where it is now, this growth represents at least a 33% increase from just 24 months ago.

Sam 07:19
Hold on one sec, because we've had a 33% increase in the last 24 months average. And that's tracking all the way back to Dun & Bradstreet first started.

Gary 07:28
That's exactly right. That is a huge, huge achievement. What does that mean? It means obviously, a lot of things besides just this being, you know, historical achievement. What it means is we are able to give our customers an insight into – I would say and this is an interesting statistic, an interesting kind of reference points are a benchmark, one of many benchmarks that we use to measure our accuracy and consistency of data – our customers come in typically and request let's say, a file, a file that says I need all these businesses that are in this particular sector, in this particular region, or in this particular zip code. And the way we measured the completeness of that file is by how many companies were able to cover and give them as a result of their request. And as a result of adding these 400 million businesses, we now are measuring at about 93% – 92.8% to be exact – in our accuracy and completeness of that file, which means that our customers are seeing at least 93% coverage across any one of their requests. So again, this kind of further emphasizes not only with the number is, 400 million, but also besides the fact that we're now at a significantly higher rate of accuracy and completeness in terms of satisfying our customer requests, which is huge. I also think that this 400 million is a critical foundational block that we had to put in place in order to them be able to build on top of. If you think about now we have all these 400 million businesses we are now able to create additional insights, additional depth and give our customers the depth and breadth of insights related to one of those or all of those 400 million, “businesses” I think that opportunity is, I would say almost infinite in terms of the amount of new data and insights you could build using that data, we can now bring an associate and match to the 400 million businesses that we have in the system.

Sam 10:28
Firstly, the magnitude of what you and your team have done in recent months to exponentially increase our coverage has been truly incredible. But most importantly, the impact we can have for our clients is lightyears ahead of where it was historically, and we talk about bringing Dun & Bradstreet back to greatness and this is a huge step in that direction. Steven Daffron group President at Dun & Bradstreet has been a guest on this very podcast. And he's talked about the importance of opening the aperture of data for the company and focusing on bringing in many forms of alternative data. So what types of alt data are out there and are you seeking? And why do you think that's so important in today's business landscape?

Gary 11:07
Just to kind of reiterate what I was just saying before, that foundation that we built with the 400 million businesses is what's going to allow us to bring in particularly all this alternative data in and associated to these businesses, which is where I think D&B has a very unique and exciting opportunity to provide their customers with a, I would say unparallel insight into any kind of business around the world. So in terms of alternative data, if you think about what it is, this concept has been around, obviously, for a long time, alternative data is really alternative, because it's not traditional, so to speak.

Sam 11:46
That much we know.

Gary 11:47
That much we know. My point is that alternative, it evolves all the time, and the perception of what is alternative, it evolves all the time as well, hence, why D&B used to be alternative data provider and now it's a foundational data provider. We have the capability as we bring in sources to transform them from alternative to foundational. So if you think about credit card data, if you think about weather data, if you think about foot traffic data, which by the way, is all kind of data that we just brought in, in the last, I would say 10 months, particularly as a result of the crisis. I was mentioning before around the ability for a customer to needing to see in real-time, operational and physical activity of a business on a daily basis, and weekly basis, you know, that kind of foot traffic, then that kind of credit card data is critical to provide that real-time insight to clients. So what we've been able to do is take those three data elements and combine them with our data and make them all foundational. Foundational, meaning critical, and foundational meaning almost by default, assuming that now an operational insight or traditional business activity inside that has the foot traffic and credit card transactions and weather data is a component of the customers, either a commercial customer, whether your supply chain manager, whether you're a small credit lending bank, or whether you are a government agency, that insight becomes something that you can't really live without, right.

Sam 14:23
All of this takes me back to where I started my career in an investment bank in a in a trading role. And I remember well, when we were there trading, and we'd be talking to hedge funds, we're always talking about getting the edge, getting alpha by looking at big data sets that other people didn't have access to. And it strikes me that in a world we're living in now working with Dun & Bradstreet, where we're turning alternative data into foundational data, we can give that edge, that ability to get alpha to any of our clients. And in a world where we're moving as fast as we are the technology is exponentially increasing access to this data. But also the creation of this data, surely we can help firms of any size by gaining access to alternative data?

Gary 15:07
Absolutely. That's exactly the point. You know, alternative data to your point has been primarily used by capital markets over the years. The ability to now use it in a way which allows that content to be incorporated into chief procurement officers’ supply chain management applications, for example: How do I know very quickly what suppliers are exposed and what suppliers are closed, in what countries and what regions, what suppliers cannot produce, the products that I need cannot produce the critical components that I need to incorporate into my product that I am building. I mean, those are all decisions that need to be made in real-time. And I strongly believe that no one other than Dun & Bradstreet can bring that kind of insight quickly, accurately, consistently. And that's huge.

Sam 16:45
When we're talking about alternative data, I think about the role the internet has played. And it's been enormous, right? I mean, from the Internet of Things, generating so much alternate data that's usable to even some of our sales and marketing solutions today that use all data thinking about internet activity, and being able to analyze where the traffic is coming from what the traffic's intending to do. But one of the areas that has had a profound impact on the acquisition of alt data is web harvesting, where computer programs leverage algorithms to search websites for specific data on specific topics. But it's not that simple, is it? Because when you find this data, you've got to mine it, you've got a structure and cleanse it, you've got to then put it into the data supply chain and you've got to ensure that that high quality data isn't just captured, but it's managed as a continuous process. So what are the key tenants of our internal data supply chain and quality management programs? And why is this plumbing of data so important?

Gary 17:45
If you think about everything you just said, right from ingestion, from acquiring the data, to cleansing it, to normalizing it, to transforming it, and then to associating it to a D-U-N-S®, which is what D&B core capability is right is the ability to take that D-U-N-S® that is associated to that particular business and match it to a data element. That is a very unique and extremely important and critical capability that no one else out there provides, right is that matching. If you think about our supply chain, and you think about that entire data journey from that website to that matching engine, when you think about the amount of again, as I was saying transformations that have to happen along the way, it is critical, absolutely critical that our supply chain is able to ship that information to our clients in a timely manner, consistent matter and accurate manner. And the transformation of our supply chain is driven by those three main objectives, time, accuracy, and consistency. And we needed to transform and rebuild our supply chain in order to achieve those three things so that we can give our customers the most complete picture, especially as we're bringing in not just our own foundational content, but all of this alternative data, as well as content from the web, all that stuff needs to be put together, right, and all that stuff needs to be represented to clients in a way in which they can consume it. They can take it and incorporate that data into a risk building model, for example. And so again, going back to the criticality and importance of having a good supply chain technology and the capabilities, it's for all those reasons.

Sam 19:46
We're gonna move on to something that we announced last year and actually it was with Steve Daffron that we announced it on the podcast, we announced the launch of our Analytics Studio last year. And that was our way of trying to help analytics teams in corporations solve problems that you might not expect them to have, you know, they were facing obstacles around a lack of consistent analysis-ready data, the inability to be familiar with new important data sources, and sometimes the lack of technology to then extract those insights. And what we saw, when we launched the Analytics Studio was the customers were now able to see changing components in their business in real-time across all of their business, they were able to understand relationships better, understand how they're being impacted, and then accordingly, adjust that business strategies. Since we've launched Analytics Studio has evolved over the past year, we've seen different use cases, how is it benefiting our clients today?

Gary 20:38
If you think about how any customer interacts with data, especially D&B data, as I was just previously talking about it, whether it's a visualization, whether it's a backhand, the risk management application, or whether it is just a download of a regular file into Excel, and having the ability to just review it on a piece of paper, those have been kind of traditional methods, which not only D&B data, but any data has been consumed. I think the Analytics Studio brings a very unique opportunity, especially for Dun & Bradstreet data. you're able to take Dun & Bradstreet's own content, you're able to take Dun & Bradstreet’s alternative data content that we provide, you're able to marry that information together in a way that is unique to you due to the fact that you can build your own unique perspective and your unique model inside that studio and give you an insight that no one else, no other provider in the world can give you out of a box, okay? And the ability to interact with that content, and the ability to then clean it and normalize it and everything else that you would typically do in a variety of different not so easy to use applications or scripts, we're basically bringing all of that to you in one box, giving it to you in a way that I don't think anyone else has been able to.

Sam 22:38
Perhaps Gary, we can talk about some of the use cases then. I don't I don't know if you have any off the tip of your tongue. But what are we seeing then with clients are they using it? Have we got live examples?

Gary 22:47
So we've used the studio internally to quickly create a perspective or an insight into economic impact of a business during the COVID-19 crisis. And we were able to create it and deploy it within four weeks. So if you think about what that means, typical model kind of creation cycle and deployment cycles, and all of that usually take, I don't know, at least eight weeks to 12 weeks. The capability that studio provides not only gives our customers but ourselves the ability to create, test and deploy a brand new insight within a very, very short period of time. So whether you are a large retail customer, you're looking at a holistic analysis of existing TAM leads with conversion inputs, you know, having a capability that Analytics Studio provides allows you to create major strategic optimization opportunities. So what does that mean? That means that you can create an insight that optimizes your marketing and sales opportunities. So we've seen a lot happening in the retail customer space, we've seen a lot also happening in our federal government space as well. We're seeing our studio being used in a variety of different government agencies, helping them take our data and their data, marry it inside the studio together and create unique insights that have real economic impact on the United States economy. And that is a tremendous capability that I don't think anybody else can provide.

Sam 24:55
I completely agree and I love hearing about when we use our own tool and solutions internally to then benefit the external world. I think you're right, the development of the COVID analytics, like the COVID-19 Impact Index is a perfect example. And Analytics Studio from what I've heard from our colleagues allowed us to do that in record timing, which is another great feat. When we began the transformation of this organization, there were many data related challenges, including within our own functions. So for example, within the marketing department, we didn't have a customer data platform, we didn't have a way to connect all the disparate data sources, so that we could do high quality segmentation of our client base, and so that we can do always on activation and highly targeted activation. And that's just one example. We acquired Lattice Engines, a West Coast CDP company, and we've rolled it out across the firm. But from your perspective, as a Chief Data Officer, I'd be super interested to hear what you see is critical data related challenges and opportunities for businesses both big and small out there.

Gary 26:00
Look, the world has been already at a pretty significant transitional state in terms of making data related decisions, data driven in many different ways, decisions are made automatically almost, especially in in the capital market space to someone like a supply chain manager, or credit risk, or a credit commercial bank that gives out small business loans. Those decisions have become even more dependent on data. I feel like it's been further exacerbated, probably, you know, 10 times over as a result of the COVID-19 crisis that we're going through right now. And people have to make those decisions inside this unfortunate environment that we're in today, where they have minimal interaction with other people to give them some of that help or insight, they have to be able to share those decisions with each other digitally. And, you know, data, as I said, has become even more critical than I think, where we weren't even seeing it right in terms of its trajectory and growth. It's also becoming more critical, not just to the large, medium sized organizations, but really to the small ones. If I'm a you know, small pizza shop somewhere in let's say, New York, or in New Jersey, and I'm closed, I'm the owner, and I'm sitting at home, I don't know what's going on, right? It's very difficult for me, other than physically to go outside and see what's happening in my neighborhood, and whether people are starting to come out or people are still stuck at home or whether I'm seeing parks be opening whether I'm seeing you know, museums reopening in my area, whether I'm seeing tourism, if I'm stuck at home, if I'm closed as a result of the lockdown, it's very difficult for me to understand what's going on. So my natural next step is to really go to the internet and look right, look at you know, local government postings. Look at whether there's any kind of news announcements from local newspapers in terms of changes to re-openings policies, or lockdown policies in my neighborhood or my zip code. Think about all that and the amount of effort I would have to go through to put all of this information together to really understand and have a complete picture of what's happening, and how do I manage my risks as a small business owner? How do I manage paying my loans? And how do I manage paying my employees? And now, let's say D&B comes in and gives you all of that insight in one comprehensive view. And it literally not just gives it to you in a way that you can sort of look at the news, and you could look at some of the government activities that are happening in your neighborhood. I’m now actually taking all that information and giving you an indicator, a unique insight that says let's say other businesses that are like you in this region reopening is 70 to 80%, based on the trends that we've seen in other similarly situated regions and zip codes and counties and neighborhoods, that to me as a small business owner gives me some level of comfort. And so my point is data is becoming an insights and becoming and will become even more critical in these kind of ways to anyone from a very large size organization all the way to the very, very small and even in a new or very, very old small business out there. And the opportunity for us is to bring all that insight quickly, accurately and consistently in front of those people so they can make the best decisions for themselves and for their business.

Sam 30:11
Gary, we're coming to the end of the podcast and everything you've just said, in particularly some of those four lucky views is got my brain thinking business data is already a point of differentiation in this hyper disruptive world. But I want to as a final question, get Gary, Dun & Bradstreet’s Chief Data Officer, you know, one of the most revered roles in the industry to think about the future. One of my favorite movies is The Matrix. I don't think it's a coincidence that you see scenes where they're looking at the world and it's ones and zeros, the world is viewed as data. What do you think the future holds? If we look ahead? 20 years, 50 years, hundred years? What is the opportunity? How does data play a role? What are some of the biggest problems we can solve for?

Gary 30:53
Data brings transparency, and data brings accuracy to your decision-making process and brings consistency to your decision-making process. Think about it that way, the opportunity for us at D&B to be able to connect all the strengths that are out there to each other through all the different data elements, and therefore connecting each business to each other around the world, either whether it's through direct association, or through 2, 3, 4 degrees away from that association is absolutely critical for anyone who wants to make that decision in a timely, consistent and accurate manner. And the transparency that we can provide to a customer and the insights that we can create overlaying on top of that data, those insights are absolutely critical. And I think the biggest opportunity are those connections. And the biggest opportunity is that transparency that we can give about those connections. And the third, and probably the biggest is why those connections important. And how do those connections impact you as an individual or business owner, or a chief risk officer or chief marketing officer, chief procurement officer of major global corporation, and that I believe very strongly is our job, here at D&B, to create that transparency, create that connection, and tell you why those things are critical and important. And tell them to you in a timely, accurate and consistent fashion.

Sam 32:30
Gary, thank you, I have in my head a vision, I'll give you another movie analogy of the first Terminator movie and Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a bar. And you see through his vision and he's looking at all the people in the bar. And every time he looks at a person, all of this information pops up anything he could possibly want to know about that business with predictive insights, and the ultimate level of transparency. And that's the vision I've got here. Being able to look at any business and understanding in a highly transparent fashion, everything you could possibly want to know about that business as an aggregation of thousands of sources. And that's an exciting future.

Gary 33:05
Absolutely. And just FYI, Sam, that's exactly how I see things all day, every day, 24 hours a day. I feel like.

Sam 33:12
And that's why I want to be Gary Kotovets.

Gary 33:15
I think my vision has literally changed permanently just to that.

Sam 33:21
That's awesome, Gary, it's been such a pleasure as always. I have the pleasure of working with you every day. But our listeners don't anyone who's out there who wants to know more about the power of Dun & Bradstreet’s data, the power of our solutions to get in touch right. There's a world of incredible opportunity out there that we can help unlock. So, Gary, thank you for being such an enlightening guest today, and we look forward to speaking again soon.

Gary 33:44
Thank you Sam for having me, it was my pleasure.