Smart Data Data-driven marketing

Master Data

26 Apr 2019

No data-driven business without master data. Those who do not have their data under control have no chance of mastering the digital transformation. Because every project, every campaign and every customer loyalty measure always starts with data.

What correct data is, what is meant by master data and master data management, and what the path to clean master data looks like: On this page we have explained all aspects of master data in detail.

Table of contents


What is master data?
What is master data management?
Who is responsible for master data in companies?
Which stakeholders does master data have in companies?
What are data silos?
Why does data has to flow in the company in order to achieve added value?
What are the benefits for companies that maintain clean master data?
Why is master data the basis for a data-driven business?
What is digital transformation?
What are the 4 Cs of master data?

Data and quality

What types of data exist?
What does data quality mean in respect to master data?
For Key Master Data requirements
Why should you never use free data?
What is D&B's data quality assurance process called D&B DUNSRightTM?

Master data project

How to start a master data project?
Which steps are typically included in a master data project?

Cleaning up data

What is data cleaning?
How do you prepare your customer data?

Enriching data

What is data enrichment?

Keeping data quality high

How do you ensure that data quality remains high in the long term?
How can master data be integrated into processes and system landscapes?

Unique identification

What means unambiguous identification?
What is the D-U-N-S® number?
I'm an entrepreneur. Do I have my own D-U-N-S® number?
Who issues the D-U-N-S® number?
How do I request my D-U-N-S® number?
Why do I need a D-U-N-S® number?
What is the benefit of the D-U-N-S® number for my customer database or my CRM?
How does the D-U-N-S® number prevent me from keeping duplicates in my CRM?
How does the D-U-N-S® number help me to conduct marketing campaigns more efficiently?

What is master data?

Master data is defined as the master data of a company. These are all data on products, suppliers, customers, employees, leads, etc. that is relevant to business management and has been collected. They are also referred to as basic or reference data.

What is master data management?

Master data management is a compilation of the technology, tools and processes that make master data available across the enterprise. The aim is to ensure correct, consistent and complete data across departments and between other companies. Master data management is responsible for generating and maintaining the data.

Who is responsible for master data in companies?

Traditionally, the responsibility for master data lies with IT. Recently, the roles of Chief Data Officer (CDO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) have become increasingly important. But if you look at it in practice, you will see that master data is often driven by the department that suffers the most damage if the data is not managed and is incoherent.

Which stakeholders does master data have in companies?

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Accounting
  • Operations
  • Category Management
  • eCommerce
  • Customer Service
  • CRM Managers

What are data silos?

Data silos in a company are different databases or systems that store and manage all data, but there is no interface between them. Thus it is not possible to merge and evaluate data - or only with great effort - often this can only be manually conducted.

Why does data has to flow in the company in order to achieve added value?

Data must flow. Only if data is available in the right place at the right time you can unfold their full value. This means that data has to flow across systems. The faster, the better you are able to correctly anticipate and make predictions.

What are the benefits for companies that maintain clean data?

The advantages of clean data are great for a company. You secure an effective advantage over your competitors. The advantages are the following:

  • You are ready for "data driven", i.e. making the right decisions based on data.
  • You have a uniform view of all areas of the company.
  • You have uniform reporting across all areas of the company.
  • Correct data enables consistent decision quality.
  • You have a basis for feeding artificial intelligence systems.
  • You generate more sales thanks to correct data and reduce costs at the same time.
  • You have a basis for managing risks optimally.
  • You are ready for digital transformation.

Why is master data the basis for a data-driven business?

“Data driven" requires correct, current and complete data. Therefore, the beginning of a data-driven project is always master data.

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a megatrend that has occupied people and the industry for years. It describes an ongoing process of change based on digital technologies.

What are the 4 Cs of master data?

  • Code: Each entry in a database needs a code to ensure that it is unique. But every system has its own codes. In other words, companies have several processes, departments and regions in use. In practice, you need to bundle them or set a standard to clearly identify entities in the business process.
  • Company: Corporate hierarchies have many levels: Local offices, branches, departments, all the way to their global mothers. The larger a company, the more complex its hierarchy is likely to be. It is essential to know and depict them fully and correctly. This prevents you from selling to the wrong companies and doing business with risky companies.
  • Category: Categories define the markets and enable segmentation. They are also the lowest common denominator for market penetration. Targeting is often based on categories and their attributes. This helps to find potential customers by industry, segment, sub-segment, etc.
  • Country: The last C refers to the country, or simply to the geographical origin. Here, too, there are hierarchies: Country, region, metropolitan area, province, city, postcode.

To sum it up: The code says that something is unique. Company says who owns it. Category says what exactly it is and where it is located. With all this information, you have the potential to manage and develop business relationships across the entire enterprise.

What types of data exist?

  • Unstructured data: They are present in emails, papers, articles, internet, product brochures, etc. A typical file format is PDF.
  • Transactional data: They arise from sales, deliveries, invoices, complaints and other monetary and non-monetary transactions. They form the basis for analyses. Transactional data uses master data to describe the process, such as product or customer data.
  • Meta data: Data that describes other data. This data is available as repositories or in other forms such as XML files, definitions, log files or configuration data.
  • Hierarchical data: This data stores the relationships between different data. It is available as part of the accounting system or as descriptions of real relationships in the business world such as organisational structures or product specifications.
  • Reference data: It categorises other data or assigns data to information that lies outside the boundaries of the company.
  • Master data: Master data is also referred to as core data, that objects enter as part of business activities. It changes irregularly over time and contains reference data if necessary. Master data is not transactional data, but describes transactions.

What does data quality mean in respect to master data?

The criteria for high data quality are:

  • Precision
  • Completeness
  • Topicality
  • Consistency
  • Conformity
  • Integrity
  • Coverage
4 key master data requirements

Four Key Master Data requirements

There are four common requirements to mastering your data: structure, connectivity, coverage, and quality.

We start with the most fundamental, most foundational aspect, which is structure. You need a standardized structure or data model for your relationships and for the most important data you have about those relationships. The four components to focus on are the entity with its own unique identifier or key, its hierarchy, its location, and its role. Defining and capturing data with this structure will drive a lot of your reporting, a lot of your analysis, a lot of your go-to-market. If you have a standardized structure and common definitions across the enterprise for those four components, a lot of data problems go away.

That structure needs connectivity across the entire data ecosystem, across all your different systems and processes, both internally (across your sales channels) and then externally (with your third parties and partners). If you apply your common data structure across all those different types of workflows and processes, then this data comes together much more seamlessly. Ideally, this data should also flow into and across your different processes, workflows, and enterprise systems.

Then, Master Data needs to have coverage – the appropriate level of coverage to manage and grow your business. In order for our first two requirements to make an impact on your business, you need to ensure that you have access to a majority of your relevant business universe. It doesn’t need to reside in-house today, but it but should be available within your data ecosystem so you have visibility and access to it as needed.

Finally, there’s quality – the most subjective and emotional Master Data requirement. Quality includes accuracy (ability to verify against multiple sources or against an external authority), completeness, timeliness (latency), and cross-border consistency. A lot of quality problems are really due to a lack of structure, uniqueness, hierarchies, proper segmentation, and standard geographic definitions. So, structure is where to start.

Infographic Four Key master Data requirements

Why should you never use free data?

If you want to use freely accessible data for your company, there are some dangers to which you expose yourself:

  • Time-consuming search for relevant data
  • Lots of false, out-dated and incomplete data
  • Lack of automatic link with existing data in CRM
  • Overwhelming amount of unstructured, not sensibly linked data
  • Automatic web crawling links incorrect data, such as the wrong photo with the wrong profile.
  • In the case of freely accessible data, this often leads to expensive licenses for Smart Data, or the data is only available against registration and disclosure of personal or company data.

What is D&B's data quality assurance process called D&B DUNSRightTM?

Dun & Bradstreet defines data quality as accurate, complete, current and globally consistent. To ensure this, D&B uses the DUNSRightTM process to collect, aggregate, edit and verify data. The data comes from thousands of sources with countless changes daily. The process ensures that customers always have up-to-date and accurate information that they can use to make better business decisions in less time.

How to start a master data project?

Usually a company introduces a new CRM system and wants to clean up the data in advance. For others, major marketing campaigns or market cultivation activities are on the agenda. The trigger is therefore always the recognition that the master data is either qualitatively poor or incomplete, or that important information is missing. With this knowledge, many companies turn to an economic information service such as Bisnode and seek professional help there.

Which steps are typically included in a master data project?

  1. Cleaning data: Add missing data, correct incorrect data, compare using the D-U-N-S® number and eliminate duplicates.
  2. Enriching data: Add additional information such as risk indicator to each entry
  3. Maintaining data: By defining mandatory fields or linking the D&B data universe via an interface, the data can be kept complete and correct in the long term.

What is data cleaning?

Starting point of a data cleaning is usually a project such as the introduction of a new CRM system or a marketing campaign. Typically, a company makes its master data available to a credit information service such as Bisnode. That's where the clean-up takes place. For this purpose, the existing information such as address, company name, email address, contact person or telephone numbers is checked to ensure that it is complete and correct. Missing data will be added, wrong data corrected. In the next step, the matching with the D-U-N-S® number, the worldwide unique identification number for companies, takes place. In this step, duplicates in the database are eliminated.

How do you prepare your customer data?

In the first step you have to know what you will use the data for. Ideally, some form of problem solving is the basis.

This is followed by data preparation and the definition of processes that ensure high data quality. This also includes the process for capturing new data so that it is entered completely and correctly.

It is important to constantly develop your customer directory further. Follow-up actions are suitable for this. Every campaign and action must be meticulously evaluated. The findings flow back into the customer database.

What is data enrichment?

After the data cleaning the enrichment takes place. Each company in the database receives additional information such as a risk indicator. It makes a direct and fast statement about the financials of a company and helps to make the right decisions about the conclusion of a contract quickly.

How do you ensure that data quality remains high in the long term?

Managing a business database and keeping it up to date is very time-consuming. Every day hundreds to thousands of changes take place. When entering new data, it makes sense to define so-called mandatory fields in CRM that employees must fill out. This ensures that data is always captured completely. Another way is to connect the CRM with the database of an economic information service such as Bisnode or Dun & Bradstreet. This is usually done using an API/interface. If an employee opens a new company, the complete, current and correct data is immediately drawn via the interface.

How can master data be integrated into processes and system landscapes?

There are various methods for integrating master data into processes and system landscapes:

  • API (interfaces)
  • Add-ons
  • Offline
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)

What means unambiguous identification?

A unique identification is a combination of numbers or letters that uniquely identifies a company or individual. This means that this combination occurs only once. 

What is the D-U-N-S® number?

The 9-digit D-U-N-S® number uniquely identifies companies, business sectors, public institutions and self-employed individuals worldwide. D-U-N-S stands for "Data Universal Numbering System" and has been published by Dun & Bradstreet since 1962. In the meantime it has established itself as an international standard. Over 260 million business units today have a D-U-N-S® number.

Does every company have a D-U-N-S® number?

Yes, Dun & Bradstreet gives each company its own D-U-N-S® number. In Switzerland, every company receives a D-U-N-S® number as soon as it is entered in the commercial register.

Who issues the D-U-N-S® number?

The D-U-N-S® number is provided by Dun & Bradstreet.

Where do I request a D-U-N-S® number?

Bisnode D&B issues the D-U-N-S® number in Switzerland. The order is placed online on the website

Why do I need a D-U-N-S® number?

Once Dun & Bradstreet provides a company with a D-U-N-S® number, it simultaneously creates the so-called Business Credit File, which is required to check the company.

App developers need to mandatorily request their D-U-N-S® number. Apple, for example, requires this information when you submit an app to the App Store.

What is the benefit of the D-U-N-S® number for the customer database or CRM?

Since the D-U-N-S® number identifies companies worldwide, it is perfectly suited as a primary data key in master data management. It thus forms the so-called Single Source of Truth for the collection and storage of information on customers, partners and suppliers.

How does the D-U-N-S® number prevent duplicates from being kept in the CRM?

The D-U-N-S® number is unique worldwide and therefore forms the Single Source of Truth in your customer database. So you can easily see if you have duplicates, i.e. if the D-U-N-S® number is registered for more than one entry.

How does the D-U-N-S® number help me to conduct marketing campaigns more efficiently?

Thanks to the use of the D-U-N-S® number as an identifier in your customer database, you have many advantages:

  • No duplicates, which prevents you from sending duplicate letters to the same recipient.
  • The number of undeliverable letters and postal tours is much smaller if you keep correct and up-to-date data. The best way to do this is to use an API like D&B Direct for Master Data, as it always pulls the latest master data from Dun & Bradstreet and keeps the customer database up to date.
  • We know about the so-called family trees, i.e. we know which companies and divisions are related and how. This prevents you from sending duplicate letters to the same company.
  • Enriching the master data with risk data makes it possible to only contact companies that have a good rating and solid financials. This prevents dubious and risky transactions.
  • You have access to an enormous amount of data and information on your target group, such as size, industry, region, etc. This helps you to segment and define the right messages for each target group.