US government switches over to open company identifiers

Today is a milestone in the trend towards a world of transparent company data

The US federal government announced that as of 4th April, any entity doing business with it will be identified by a new Unique Entity Identifier (UEI). This identifier is non-proprietary – unlike the DUNS number, which was previously used. 

The US government’s embrace of open company identifiers is the latest in a global trend towards their use. This is a significant step in the right direction for us all since open identifiers carry many benefits for their users, as we outlined in a previous post.

In this post, we look at the defining characteristics of open identifiers and explain why they are more useful than proprietary identifiers.

Introducing the new Unique Entity Identifier

From 4th April 2022, any entity doing business with the US federal government will be required to be registered with a Unique Entity Identifier. This is now the US government’s method for uniquely identifying all entities that do business with the General Services Administration, the Treasury and other departments.

Prior to this, the US government used the DUNS number to identify these entities. This proprietary identifier uses its own often-imprecise schema for identifying companies. 

What are open identifiers?

An identifier is a unique code to identify a particular entity in a given dataset.

Proprietary identifiers, such as the DUNS number, have traditionally dominated the company data market. These often fail to disclose precisely what they represent and are subject to terms and conditions that can hinder ease of use and re-use.

These identifiers also carry other serious drawbacks for users of company data: they lock users into using that data in the future (since you’ll always have to refer back to their proprietary identifier to know which company is which in your data) and they are difficult to combine with other datasets.

Open identifiers are the opposite, as they: 

  • Identify entities according to a schema which is not proprietary to a particular provider
  • Are open to anyone to use
  • Are transparent about what they represent

Why do open identifiers matter?

One reason for the trend towards non-proprietary company identifiers is the recognition that they bring advantages for their users. 

These include:

  • Quicker to start using data effectively
    For companies looking to use company data at scale for the first time, open identifiers allow them to do this without worrying about unknown usage restrictions or other technical challenges.
  • Enable insights more easily
    Data using open identifiers can be combined with other datasets more easily, which enables data analytics and technology platforms to work their magic to derive new insights and opportunities.

Open identifiers allow you to utilise our data more easily

We practice what we preach as our data is underpinned by an open identifier. We have combined two widely-recognised standards: the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) codes indicating which jurisdiction a company was incorporated in, and a legal entity’s official number in their respective company registry. 

By employing non-proprietary identifiers, and offering traceability of each company record back to the official source it was collected from, this means our users know exactly what each of our company data records represents.

Towards the future

The US government’s new unique identifier is not the perfect example of an open identifier. After all, it’s not mapped to the counterparty entity, but rather to a location – duplicating many of the challenges of the DUNS model.

But it is a significant step in the right direction. We all stand to benefit from this wider trend towards open company identifiers.

You may also be interested in…

  • The UEI
    Read more about the US government’s move away from the DUNS number.
  • Benefits of open identifiers
    Find out why open identifiers enable greater insights and lower barriers to innovation in our previous blog.

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