Data cleansing through the Web

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Tweaking data so they are up-to-date just got an Internet spin.

Hot Data Inc., Austin, Texas, this month announced a service that can correct data stored in a company's lead and customer profile database. The service compares the information against a warehouse created by aggregating data from more than a dozen major suppliers, including Claritas Inc., Arlington, Va.; Dun & Bradstreet; and Experian North America, Orange, Calif. The data include such information as correct business name and address, and most recent verifiable job title.

Dubbed Marketing e-Luminate, the service works without ever taking a company's database down. It is designed for use by in-house sales and marketing departments. For a one-time set-up fee of $10,000 and an ongoing subscription based on use, Hot Data will integrate its data directly into a company's customer relationship management application.

"We expect trading exchange operators will use our services to verify the business data of people visiting the exchange," said Roy Springer, Hot Data senior product manager. "The implied buyers for the product are marketing managers, who are familiar with tools designed to work across marketing databases."

Clean data mean salespeople will be better equipped to quickly follow leads generated by Web inquiries, and information technology departments won't have as many headaches over allowing potential customers into password-protected sites, according to Springer.

No down time

Hot Data's move is significant for a number of reasons. By introducing pay-as-you-go sales and real-time Internet updates with no down time, Hot Data lowers the expense in dollars and time lost for mid-tier companies looking to improve their data.

It also turns up the heat on other Internet start-ups looking to sell similar services, such as Intarka Inc., San Jose, Calif. And it could spur new Web services from such high-end data services as Harte-Hanks Inc., San Antonio; Dun & Bradstreet Corp., Murray Hill, N.J.; Acxiom Corp., Little Rock, Ark.; and Epsilon, Boston.

Chris Selland, VP of e-business strategy at The Yankee Group, Boston, said the Hot Data service should find buyers in the b-to-b space. With companies driving toward buying consortiums and trading exchanges, the need for accurate profiles becomes more critical, he said.

For example, an Internet order that automatically ships, but to the wrong address, is of no value. Moreover, trading communities promise new buyers arriving in real time, making the ability to profile their credit worthiness and business interests based on accurate records all the more vital, Selland said.

Privacy challenge

The challenge for Hot Data will be around privacy. With DoubleClick recently changing its privacy policies after an extensive Federal Trade Commission inquiry, the entire information-management industry is on guard, Selland said.

Hot Data's idea of checking a company's proprietary information against a huge list and adding to it accordingly is ticklish, said Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

"You can make the case none of this is personal data, but it gives me the privacy willies," Nail said. "It could open a whole new quagmire in the privacy issue."

Bob Dale, president of Austin Data Systems, Austin, was less worried about privacy than he was with results. Over 14 years, his business software and services had accumulated a customer database of 1,500 companies and 7,000 contacts, as well as a leads database of 15,000 companies with 60,000 contacts.

"We'd accumulated a lot of sediment," Dale said. With new competition arising because of the Internet, Austin Data Systems has started using Marketing e-Luminate to cleanse its existing database and create new marketing lists. It is saving money in direct mail costs and generating new leads, he said.

At the same time as Marketing e-Luminate, Hot Data launched Web e-Luminate, a similar service that works with data collected on Web site databases.

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