Dun & Bradstreet: Big data dealer to the Fortune 500

Dun & Bradstreet CEO Bob Carrigan talks big data use cases, cloud delivery models, strategy and where his company fits in.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Dun & Bradstreet CEO Bob Carrigan and team just unveiled a brand overhaul that modernizes a company which dates back to 1841 and now ranks as a key player in the big data market.

The overhaul, which includes a new logo, brand mission and tagline, revolves around Dun & Bradstreet's trademark ampersand and began more than a year ago.

"There's a distinction between an ampersand and "and," explained Carrigan. "An ampersand is a universal message of collaboration. The 'and' doesn't necessarily mean collaboration."

For Dun & Bradstreet to grow, it will have to expand its data services to more use cases. Carrigan's role is to modernize the culture, become cloud friendly and ultimately make D&B a key collaborator and innovation partner in the big data market. D&B delivered revenue of $1.68 billion in 2014, up from $1.65 billion in 2013.

Here's a look at some of the highlights from my chat with Carrigan and where D&B is headed.

The big data challenge and where D&B fits in. Dun & Bradstreet already does business with 90 percent of the Fortune 500 and the company has potential to increase wallet share because it has an integrated view when it comes to resolving identities and matching people. "As companies do things digitally they're trying to get an integrated view of the customer," said Carrigan.

"We have that view at D&B because of all of the identity resolution and matching." Carrigan added that D&B has 240 million identifiers and that can be combined with a company's database to create a single integrated view of a customer. He noted that one customer had 100 instances of the same customer, who not surprisingly was being targeted by various sales people.
D&B CEO Bob Carrigan

Adding analytics value. An integrated view is a worthwhile goal, but Carrigan aims to put D&B where the analytics and algorithms reside. That goal means that D&B will be an integrated ingredient brand to key platforms such as Salesforce.com and Oracle yet also offer its data and intelligence directly. For instance, D&B has various products that use algorithms and scoring to predict what companies are likely to pay their bills and highlight most profitable customer profiles.

"We have a lot of use cases, but it has to be more than the data. How do we make that data useful, actionable and embedded into workflows?" said Carrigan. Sometimes D&B will provide intelligence and other times its data will be inside an analytics platform. For instance, D&B data is available natively inside Salesforce. In the not-too-distance feature, the company's data will also be available inside Oracle applications. Sales people often use D&B data for leads.

Use cases. D&B is best known for its risk metrics and data used by financial services firms. The company's data is also a handy sales tool. Carrigan said the D&B data is used by retailers, procurement officers, pharmaceuticals and increasingly advertising as programmatic advertising takes off. Manufacturing and consumer product companies are also key verticals. "We have expanding use cases and can take it beyond raw data," he said.

Overall, I could see D&B expanding in multiple markets. I consider the big data potential---D&B is a lot like an arms dealer for information---to be vast. While D&B may cater to a procurement manager inside a company today, it's not a stretch to see it expanding wallet share to the chief marketing officer and other business line execs. As every company goes digital, customer data is the most important asset. Consider D&B's strategy a bit of a delayed land and expand. D&B landed in 90 percent of the Fortune 500 years ago and now the conditions are ripe for expansion.

Internal change. Carrigan was brought into D&B in part to modernize and change the culture. The brand transformation that was outlined last week with a new logo and revised mission started internally. Carrigan said part of that change was using its own data internally. For instance, the same models D&B provides to customers were used to realign its sales organization. "We moved over 1,000 accounts into different sales models using our own propensity models," said Carrigan.

Other changes internally started with crowdsourced ideas about the D&B culture and brand more than a year ago. D&B held Salesforce Chatter jams to gather feedback on what was working at the company and what was a cultural failure. Things like bloated processes and meetings were surfaced.

The role of the cloud. At D&B, the cloud has two roles. First, the cloud makes for a great sales channel. Salesforce and Oracle combined can embed D&B and add incremental sales without a lot of effort. Speaking about the Salesforce relationship, Carrigan said that D&B can leverage the cloud platform's brand and sell data directly within the Salesforce environment.

Internally, the cloud is also making D&B more agile and creating better ways to distribute data. D&B's DNBi risk management service has moved to a cloud delivery model and allows the company to expand globally more easily, said Carrigan. "The cloud is just a better delivery method," he said. To get bolster its talent base, D&B about a year ago bought Indicee, a business intelligence cloud company based in Vancouver, Wash. The Indicee purchase, announced April 29, 2014, followed the acquisition of the social data matching unit of Fliptop 12 days earlier.

Shortly after the Indicee purchase, D&B built a cloud innovation center in Vancouver. D&B has re-platformed DNBi and is benefiting from the cloud development team that was housed inside of Indicee, said Carrigan.

What do people miss about big data? Carrigan said the amount of commercial data produced every year continues to explode. "The deluge of data will continue. The challenge is the signal-to-noise combination," said Carrigan. The integrated view has to be complemented by insight and analytics, he added.

I asked about the role of narratives to go with big data. I'm increasingly being pitched by two camps: One that sees visualization as the front door to big data insights. Another says that narratives have to be built around the data and put in plain English for the business to thrive. Carrigan offered a more nuanced take that sits in the middle. D&B's goal is to provide analytics but also be in relationships that can put the information in context, said Carrigan. For instance, D&B counts Lattice Engines as a partner. Lattice aims to make data science and analytics easier to consume.

Carrigan wasn't about to declare a winner between visualization and narrative technology---data and text to speech tools are an example---but said information has to presented "in a way that's useful for business decision makers and users." "That (presentation) is the only way to get (big data) past data scientists," said Carrigan.

Is D&B a tech company? I had to ask Carrigan whether D&B is a tech company. After all, every company is going digital and technology enables the enterprise. My working theory is that some enterprises are going to get caught up in digitization, think they're tech companies and lose their core focus. Carrigan's answer indicated that D&B has its eye on the core. "We're all tech companies on some level, but D&B is about data and analytics enabled by technology," said Carrigan, who added the company has data as a service, APIs, mobile and ways to leverage technology. "Technology is more of an enabler."

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