The news that Dun & Bradstreet has acquired Avention brings to a close one of the more interesting chapters in the annals of company information services. The firm came into being as OneSource, a CD-ROM company data aggregator that took the Internet plunge early and had more recently morphed into a $60MM hybrid product/service firm.
My career and the 30-year history of OneSource have crossed paths a few times over the years. IEI worked with Avention on and off. I worked with ex-OneSource execs at NetProspex. My former employer, Hoover’s, licensed data to them back in the 1990s.
Of course I’ve crossed paths with D&B more than once as well. I was a fan of the marketing masters at iMarket (acquired 2001), I worked for Hoover’s (acquired 2003), and I worked with the folks at NetProspex (acquired 2015). D&B also bought marketing automation player Indicee (now Stych) in 2014, so they’ve spent a good deal over the years on talent-spotting in the aggregated company data space.
Which all begs the question: Is D&B helping or hindering innovation in the company data business, or is it simply killing off competitors to the detriment of true innovation? All the acquired firms seem to be repurposed as simple marketing channels to sell more of the same, less than stellar, data after acquisition, while many other firms are still finding creative ways of making money in this space.
Among these are big established firms under new management such as InfoGroup and data.com, profitable maturing start-ups like DiscoverOrg and InsideView, and sleek new business models under the hoods of well-financed companies, including Unomy and Owler. Mixed in with these players are a sea of specialized information services and software offerings that make this market as large and dynamic as it is.
Will any of these push the envelope of quality, usability, and integration into workflows so far that they can take a run at the top dog in company information? Or will D&B, like the relentless Borg of Star Trek The Next Generation, just keep on absorbing every firm in their space that hits a certain revenue threshold? Of course, D&B’s corporate mission is about improving the ROI for their shareholders and not pursuing innovation for its own abstract sake and increasing top line revenues is certainly a valid means to that end, but can’t both growth and innovation go hand-in-hand? Perhaps it will take spinning off the company data business from D&B for it to play less the spoiler and more of a positive role in leading innovation in this multi-billion dollar market.
I don’t know what the future holds for D&B, but I am pretty sure that the real innovators in the growing company information space will continue to reap rewards one way or the other: either through their own success or by being absorbed by the Borg.