Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mergers and Acquisitions: Data's Influence on Company Value

Caveat Emptor! Many large companies have a growth strategy that includes mergers and acquisitions, but many are missing a key negotiating strategy during the buying process.

If you’re a big company, buying other companies in your market brings new customers into your fold. So, rather than paying for a marketing advertising campaign to get new customers, you can buy them as part of an acquisition. Because of this, most venture capitalists and business leaders know that two huge factors in determining a company’s value during an acquisition are the customer and prospect lists.

Having said that, it’s strange how little this is examined in the buy-out process. Before they buy, companies look at certain assets under a microscope - tangible assets like buildings and inventory are examined. Human assets, like the management staff are given a strong look. Cash flow is audited and examined with due diligence. But, data assets are often only given a hasty passing glance.

Data assets quickly dissolve when the company being acquired has data quality issues. It’s not uncommon for a company to have 20%, 40%, or even 50% customer duplication (or near duplicates) in their data base, for example. So, if you think you’re getting 100,000 new customers, you may actually be getting 50,000 after you cleanse. It’s also common for actual inventory levels in the physical warehouse to be misaligned with the inventory levels in the ERP systems. This too may be due to data quality issues, and lead to surprises after the acquisition.

So what can you do as an acquiring company to mitigate these risks? The key is due diligence on data. Ask to profile the data of the company you’re going to buy. Bring in your team, or hire a third party to examine the data. Look at the customer data, the inventory data, the supply chain data or whatever data is a valuable asset in the acquisition. If privacy and security are an issue the results of the profiling can usually be rolled up into some nice charts and graphs that’ll give you a picture of the status of organizational information.

In my work with Trillium Software, I have talked to customers who have saved millions in acquisition costs by evaluating the data prior to buying a company. Some have gone so far as evaluation of the overlap between their own customer base and the new customer base to determine value. Why pay for a customer when (s)he is already on the customer list?

Profiling lets you set up business rules that are important to your company. Does each record have a valid tax ID number? What percentage of the database contact information is null? How many bogus e-mails appear? Does the data make sense, or are there a lot of near duplicates and misfielded data. In inventory data, how structured or unstructured is the data? All of these can quickly be ascertained with a data profiling technology. All of these technical issues can be correlated into business value, and therefore negotiating value, for your company.

The data governance teams that I have met that I have done this due diligence for their companies have become real superstars, and are very much a strategic part of their corporations. It’s easy for a CEO to see the value you bring when you can prove that they are paying the right price for a company acquisition.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Steve. This is a great way for chiefs to understand the data quality value proposition. And a fabulous way for techies to get strategic.
I am concerned that we don't find out about acquisitions until it's too late, but I'm still going to float this idea the next time there's a rumor.
By the way, what kind of car is that you're driving in your profile? MG?

Steve Sarsfield said...

Thanks, Anon. You see me in a 1996 Mazda Miata. I won't be going to Home Depot in it, but it's a lot of fun.

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