1993 to 2023: How Data Intelligence has Evolved Over the Last 30 Years

How did data get so intelligent? What started with hand-held calculators is now writing college essays for students, creating award-winning art, and diagnosing sick patients better than most physicians based on the input of just a few prompts. But one thing that remains to be common is the shared understanding of how we can continue to empower ourselves and our businesses to make quicker, better decisions with digital data at scale. Clearly, too much of anything may be bad, but it certainly doesn’t apply to data.

Cato Syversen, the Chief Executive Officer of Creditsafe, has been a first-hand witness to the evolution of the data intelligence industry. From the early days of the paper trails and couriering credit reports of the 90s to blast emailing business information during the boom in the 2000s to our presenting day AI-driven, decisioning models – he’s seen it all. In this insightful fireside chat, Cato joins fellow Creditsafe Norway colleague and Senior Key Account Manager, Bente Thorbjørnsen to unpack the data intelligence trends from the past 30 years and forecast the next 30 in all things data intelligence, business information and credit reporting.

Chapter 1

Tell us about when and how you started in the data intelligence industry and how you know each other?

Cato: This day, 30 years ago (3 May 1993), I walked in through the doors of the Experian Norway office and saw someone else by the reception – that was Bente. We had both been made redundant on that day after sitting across from each other at work at a different job, where we gave out credits, and we were both going to start on the same day at Experian, Norway, selling credit reports. It’s been 30 years now, and we’re still in the industry and never looked back.

Bente: We share a lot of history together. I was so lucky to be able to join Creditsafe when we relaunched in Norway in 2015, and combining it all, it has been so many decades now.

Chapter 1

Despite the 30 years in between, what are the parallels between the data intelligence industry in ’93 and now?

Bente: At the point that we are now, in present-day recession and inflation, it feels a lot like the banking crisis in ’93. That crisis increased the attention and focus on the credit management function of any business, and I can see some of the same focus returning to the industry now amidst the recession. Most importantly, the priority and importance of the credit management function in any organisation seems to be higher up on the business planning agenda.

Cato: The banking crisis left everyone scared at that time, it was a true crisis, and there’s a similar focus now with an added element of growth in the marketplace today during recession times.

Chapter 1

How have things evolved in the industry from ’93 to present day?

Cato and Bente broke down the evolution into three different segments:

1. Cost and Availability of Credit Information

Bente: If we’re talking about differences at that time, credit information wasn’t a commodity, it was a necessity. Businesses tried to gather information from anywhere and everywhere so they could avoid the risks of the economic crisis in those days.

Cato: The biggest difference is that data providers are now paid 30 times more per the report.

Bente: It also takes seconds now to get a report compared to it being days and months at the time, especially if you wanted information outside of your own country.

Cato: There were also more people involved in gathering data than working in sales, and this was combined with it being expensive to produce the report. We would host our reports on the IBM mainframe, and that alone would cost €1.50 to process a single report. We would also send a whole bunch of faxes, and there was no internet to do any of this either, so every little thing was manual. We also did monitoring work through the posts, so at every meeting we went to, we came across a big stack of parcel envelopes sent by us to clients who hadn’t gone through them yet.

Bente: In this case, if you wanted an industry prospecting list, you had to buy a big, old phonebook, which almost weighed 2 kilos, also sent to you by post.

Cato: I think it took 3-4 years after they started sending that, that phonebooks and cold calling became a prospecting tool. Before, in the 90s, that just did not exist.

2. Competition

Bente: I realise that competition was also different then. It was very cut-throat, even at that time, but we always went the extra mile to open up the sources and get the same data as our competitors. We organised networking events like football tournaments to build better relationships with our data partners.

Cato: Yeah, I had stitches on my forehead after that - I remember it well! But overall, it was a very conservative industry, and we may have had a hard time fitting in at first, but eventually, the industry evolved and adjusted to us (I think you could say…).

But at the same time, I think about the deal we won with the second largest bank in Norway, ABI, and their demands were high-end: They wanted the response times to be no longer than a second. So, some of the things we see today were already starting up back then, even without the internet and with slow connections - but still fast and advanced for those times.

3. Customer Needs: From Operational to Strategic

Bente: I think the Nordics were early adapters of API tech when talking about decisioning models and just going from posts/parcels to implementing decisions models - the Nordic market adapted to that quickly and well. That continues to be in high customer demand amongst our client base today.

Cato: Yes, what truly has changed is how our customers now use Creditsafe to make strategic decisions and look into historical data, building their own credit models and then implementing them into products like ‘Check and Decide.’ You could’ve possibly done these things in those days as well, but it would’ve cost a fortune due to the lack of software and technical capabilities, and it shows how workflow processes now are also considerably different. Businesses now use data providers to do other kinds of decisioning for them, not just credit reports.

Cato Syversen
Chapter 1

What will the next 30 years of the industry look like?

Cato: One thing that’s coming up is the importance of blending the customers’ data with ours. Whether it’s us extracting intelligence from it or clients doing it themselves, the ‘doing’ can go both ways but xqthings our customers need from us has changed drastically and I understand why.

My sleepless nights are no longer about bad debt, it’s more about which customers are growing, not growing and which we are about to lose and the same goes for our clients. So with artificial intelligence driving our data and our customer’s data, there will be a big shift in the next 30 years. I’m also hoping to see that in the next few decades, there will be a trend of more customer giving us their ledgers.

The technical or the solutions part will be an important area that’ll grow and develop in the next 30 years. There will be a higher alignment and coordination between risk management and sales teams. It’s on us to be ‘customer-obssessed’ and analyse these changes in our clients and industry.

That’s a good one. We will always be a data provider but we need a much larger focus on distributing data from other sources as well. Especially if we are talking ESG, compliance, people want to know: is this a good company from all sides? In that sense, we will evolve into being more of a software and platform services provider, we already are with products like ‘Check and Decide’ but we will partner and play with big players like Salesforce and SAP to join forces in putting the best products out there. I’m very excited to see where the road will take us.

Editor’s note: Excerpts from this interview have been rewritten for better readability and grammar. 

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