Arthritic to Agile: The Software Revolution

Tim JonesThis post was originally published on DnbCloud.com on April 7, 2015.

When my cloud analytics startup, Indicee, was acquired almost a year ago, many people I spoke to were confused as to why Dun & Bradstreet had acquired the company, its software and its development team. “But doesn’t Dun & Bradstreet do financial stuff?” was something I got asked on a regular basis.

Many more people were confused by my choice to join the rest of my team as part of the newly founded D&B Cloud Innovation Center. After all, I’m a startup guy. A software startup guy at that. Taking a position within a large, established financial data company apparently just didn’t fit.

Well, eleven months on, and I’m happy to say that it was and continues to be a great fit. In this blog series, I want to talk about why the Indicee and Dun & Bradstreet story works so well. I want to share some of things we’re up to here at the Dun & Bradstreet Cloud Innovation Center, and why they’re exciting for a software startup guy like me.

Having transitioned from a lean startup of 17, to a strategic product team inside a 173 year-old multinational, I believe we have a cool and interesting story to tell about enterprise transformation and a unique vantage point from which to tell it. Today we sit in the midst of a complete transformation of one of America’s oldest and most iconic businesses. My team is not only helping to drive product innovation but bringing our startup culture and modern technology lens to proceedings. We’re also building a new version of Dun & Bradstreet’s flagship global credit management software… but more on that later.

It’s no secret that Dun & Bradstreet is going through a whole lot of change right now. The company has an amazing history (seriously—we list four U.S. Presidents among our corporate alumni) and has been dominant in the business information space for a long time. But it also suffers from many of the classic business challenges that come with age. Like so many established enterprises, Dun & Bradstreet finds itself needing to innovate in order to stay competitive and grow.

Which means Dun & Bradstreet has to become more like a software company.

As Marc Andreessen famously said, “Software is eating the world.” He was right. The software revolution is upon us, and more and more businesses will have to be run as software companies in order to survive and thrive. However, to do so requires a fundamental rethinking of how companies deliver their services and structure their business models. It involves the introduction of new skillsets and sometimes whole new technology teams to bring about the change needed. Those that fully embrace this need for change early, and do it well, end up disrupting entire industries. Amazon did it with books. Netflix with video rental. Spotify and Pandora with music.

Dun & Bradstreet is also embracing this change.

In order to stay relevant in an age of rapid technological advancement and globalization, Dun & Bradstreet is shifting from a traditional data collection and aggregation business into a modern technology company. It’s about more than simply avoiding stagnation. This change offers an enormous opportunity for a company with such a wealth of global data and market expertise—it’s one of the things that got me most excited when we first started acquisition conversations. Dun & Bradstreet has the largest commercial database in the world and the technology transformation path we’re now on as a company gives us the opportunity to open up whole new revenue streams and partner ecosystems around this data that simply weren’t possible before. But it’s only by leveraging modern, cloud-based software, models and practices that we can make this happen.

Let me give you some examples…

By providing deeper business insight with analytics rather than just selling raw data, we can solve new customer problems. By delivering those insights to customers and partners through modern channels and devices, we add value to our customers’ experience. By bringing in new sources of data from, say, social streams, we provide greater value and relevance and can reach entirely new markets. Opening up our data and analytics via APIs, and we can unlock a previously untapped ecosystem of partners and developers.

In short, by modernizing the way data is packaged and delivered through software, Dun & Bradstreet will fundamentally change its business.

So that’s where my team comes in. Before being acquired by Dun & Bradstreet last year, we were a small team of business intelligence software geeks in Vancouver, Canada. We rocked at building software (and still do), with very little money, and fast. We operated on agile and lean startup principles. We were close to our customers, iterated often, and failed fast. All good stuff. Then we got acquired, and entered into a new world, with different challenges and a whole lot of opportunity.

We’ve since grown to a team of 50 and are currently focused on building a new generation of D&B’s credit management application, DNBi. Frankly, it’s a daunting job. The DNBi application is used by tens of thousands of companies around the world to make credit decisions and manage corporate risk. Building the next generation of such a longstanding and critical business tool means making a lot of changes—to the software itself, to the product development process behind it, and to the end customer experience.

It’s also what gets me out of bed in the morning.

By leveraging all the tenets of a modern cloud technology platform (our Indicee platform), we’re able do some really cool stuff on top of the Dun & Bradstreet database. A smart, ambitious team of software engineers, unconstrained by what’s gone before, is making it happen. Of course, introducing modern toolsets and agile working practices will affect every layer of the business. But having this ‘outside-in’ perspective is a big part of the overall transformation plan. It’s essential for a company going from what CEO Bob Carrigan candidly describes as ‘arthritic to agile’.

So it’s this journey, as we experience it from the Cloud Innovation Center, I want to share. I want to be as transparent as possible because while Dun & Bradstreet is not unique in its need to take advantage of the software revolution, it is tackling the challenge head on. After just 11 months as part of the team, I can honestly say the changes have been dramatic.

I should add that I don’t believe that technology stands alone as the sole driver of enterprise change. Alongside the work that my team and other product and technology divisions are doing at Dun & Bradstreet, there is a big focus on changing the corporate culture. Whole teams are working on removing the barriers that prevent innovation across the business, as well as modernizing the external brand. In doing so, Dun & Bradstreet is not only looking to transform its technology stack, but to fundamentally change the DNA of the company.

So yeah, we do financial stuff. We also do sales, marketing and a bunch of other cool things. All of it is powered by data, and driven by software.

Image credit: Tim Jones

 

Posted in Credit & Risk, Solution Partners, Strategic Partners by Mark Cunningham

Mark Cunningham is the Founder & President of the Dun & Bradstreet Cloud Innovation Center

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