To maintain an effective and profitable supply chain, companies must have reliable financial and historical credit information on the stability of their customers. Credit managers worldwide rely on the Dun & Bradstreet Corp. as a source of this type of information.
In recent years D&B has extended its offices into more than 200 countries and built knowledge banks on more than 57 million companies. Yet D&B continued to regard itself as a network of local branch offices rather than a global enterprise, collecting information on predominantly local and regional markets. As a result, its information on multinational corporations often was fragmented and dispersed.
"We had to find a way to [consolidate and] cleanse the data structures to ensure the integrity of our information and bring them together as a single view in a central data warehouse," says Tom Roberts, D&B's vice president of global alliances in Lehigh Valley, Pa.
D&B had already begun a process of replicating its data to a central data warehouse in early 1999 when it was in the first stages of its global data access initiative (GDA). The company converted and standardized multiple data formats on the eXtended Markup Language (XML), making it consistent and reliably accessible from anywhere in the world.
However, delivering the consolidated data from the warehouse posed significant technical and design obstacles. One task was to provide sufficient bandwidth to meet the needs of 11 million subscribers logging in from around the world. More importantly, D&B needed to streamline the delivery process to ensure delivery of the desired information in the most appropriate format. This issue was particularly relevant for companies that regularly download updated credit reports on hundreds or thousands of customers through dedicated lines.
In terms of cost and time, D&B decided that the most efficient way to implement this process was to Web-enable the delivery system and develop software tools that pushed appropriate information views into standard enterprise applications such as a database, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, a financial system or an enterprise reporting system. "We realized from the start that we could not do a re-engineering of this magnitude alone," Roberts says. "So we outsourced the application development to the professional services teams at companies like Oracle, SAS Institute, SAP, Siebel Systems and webMethods. They helped us scope our objectives and then built the solutions for us."
Customers are finding the direct and immediate access to data to be more efficient and customizable than fixed-format credit reports. Michael stack Jr., corporate credit manager for Continental Resources, now orders information through his SAP Credit Management application, and the data flows directly into folders for his customer accounts. These electronic feeds contain only essential data he needs to make most credit decisions, stack says, but each costs only $17 versus the $35 he used to pay for printed reports. He estimates that savings will reduce his $130,000 annual credit reporting budget by 30 to 35 percent, since he has to order full reports only for new accounts.
D&B's delivery system also enables Continental to subscribe to automatic quarterly updates on all accounts. These updates are delivered by e-mail in which data fields are formatted so the information flows directly into the appropriate account folders.
The Cost Factor
While refusing to discuss cost details, Roberts insists the GDA initiative will substantially reduce D&B's large IT expenditures. Currently, its budget exceeds $200 million and represents 10 percent of D&B's annual revenues. Nearly 70 percent of that IT budget goes toward maintaining regional data centers, which will be eliminated over the next few years.
Today, D&B's GDA infrastructure runs on a network of business-to-business (B2B), extranet and database Web servers designed by webMethods, a B2B software vendor and integrator in Fairfax, Va. "WebMethods... provides prewritten adapters to move data from one application to another. A B2B server is separate from the Web server that publishes information and separate from the database server behind the scenes." says Laurie Orlov, research director for e-business applications for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
The project is progressing on schedule, and online delivery of reports and daily updates is now available in U.S., Canada and most of Europe. Data for companies in the rest of the world will be loaded into the warehouse soon.
Roberts credits being on schedule to D&B's planning and pilot programs with customers, which eliminated many of the potential technical glitches. Some nontechnical issues have been more difficult to resolve as the company completes its shift from local to global focus. For example, sales and marketing teams were concerned about how they would be compensated when information their offices collected was sold in other countries and regions. "We're working on resolving the compensation issues and educating everyone on the fact that they are working for a global organization, not a franchise," Roberts says.
Although the GDA initiative is a very large data migration project, D&B's reengineering wasn't focused exclusively on simplifying the delivery of existing content. A parallel purpose was to build a system that could support whatever types of new content D&B might offer in the future. The company wants flexibility to integrate its content with other information marketers and to grow revenues while simultaneously controlling costs.