Friday, November 13, 2009

Business Information Consolidation: D&B Pursues InfoGroup to Diversify Offerings

While business information remains a robust market segment in the content industry, it has not been without its challenges in recent years. Increasingly rapid changes in organizations and careers trigger demand for ever-fresher information on companies, people and products, making services that can help it to be found and used effectively critical to most business operations. What was once an industry of bulk data, mailing lists and a few integrated company reports is now a market that demands integration of business information into sales and marketing platforms, strategic dashboards and all-in-one online services.

It's no surprise, then, that Dun & Bradstreet is among the companies mentioned by Reuters putting in a bid for infoGroup, the Omaha, Nebraska-based business information service that produces mailing list services and OneSource, an integrated database of global business information sources targeted at major corporations. D&B finds itself in the awkward situation of having a "gold standard" reputation for its core company information listings but relatively few options for it to leverage that information for greater profits in its own operations. D&B's Hoovers online business information service is doing well in capturing users in small and medium organizations with a mixture of subscription and ad-supported services, but that leaves larger organizations and bulk data services to others - including its parent D&B.

While the infoGroup bidding process could go any number of ways, including a "no-sale" decision, my guess is that we're very likely to see D&B come out on the top of this process. D&B and infoGroup have much to offer one another, in terms of both operations abilities and markets. For infoGroup the pluses it brings include a huge wealth of business and consumer contact data, its ruthless efficiencies in driving out costs from data acquisition and maintenance and a OneSource platform that brings together a very broad array of high-quality business information sources in both its own online services and in enterprise platforms such as CRM and business intelligence portals. For D&B, its company ratings, profiles, Hoover's online savvy and its highly respected brand and enterprise sales and support organization would combine to provide a parent that could build a far more complete portfolio of business information services. No merger is perfect or without pain, but this looks like one that will create some pretty strong market mojo.

And it will take some mojo to keep up with the changes in the business information market over the next few years. The emphasis on business information services is on integration, real-time freshness and usefulness and having all of the sources at your fingertips needed to make decisions about corporate strategy, sales and marketing. Companies like Axciom and Experian are expanding their footprints in business information services rapidly, making an expansion of D&B's overall profile in business information services a priority if they are to leverage their brand effectively. And in the wings are expanding business information services from Dow Jones, and probable expansions by Thomson Reuters as well - with perhaps even an acquisition of LexisNexis assets from Reed Elsevier in play. Throw in younger business information brands such as Jigsaw, InsideView and Zoominfo beginning to cater to not only online-aware companies but core corporate markets as well, and you can see that business information is not a sleepy content market sector by any stretch of the imagination.

This appears to be one of those situations where two companies with both the right needs and the right level of maturities in their operations and management come along at the right time. It took a few years for infoGroup to whip its properties into better shape, and it's taken a few years for D&B to integrate Hoover's operations effectively and to identify the greater opportunities for their products and services. Here's hoping that these two companies find that their fits are as complementary as they appear to be.
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