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Think you know addresses? You may need to think again

Published: Friday June 17, 2016

Have you ever stopped to wonder what your address is for?

It might seem simple - it’s so you can get stuff delivered to your home and your mates can come round for dinner, isn’t it?

In the majority of cases, the humble (yet unrivalled and way ahead of its time) 6-7 digit postcode from the Royal Mail has fulfilled those particular demands pretty well. Incidentally, it’s this little nugget of data that has created a bigger address management market in the UK than practically anywhere else in the world. It’s also why the vast majority of leaders in the global data quality market have their roots here.

In some recent analysis conducted by GBG, we’ve found that there are over 3,000,000 properties that are not on the Royal Mail's Postal Address File - that’s a staggering 10% of UK properties! The Royal Mail themselves know this, and supplement this file with two further datasets that account for around 1,000,000 extra properties. Despite this, we know that the vast majority of Royal Mail’s clients don't take these extra address records.

And why should they? As I said at the top, it’s mainly a bit of data for the Postie and they still work it out, right?

Wrong.

It’s the data that the ambulance drivers are often using to find you at home.

It’s a crucial element for our clients who use our services to verify the age or identity of someone they transact with online, protecting their businesses from fraud and ensuring young minds don’t access inappropriate content.

It’s the piece of information our energy providers use to help ensure the bill they send to you is matched to correct meter.

These are just a few example of the myriad of functions address data has. To borrow a term from the agile development world, all of these “Use Cases” are clearly unique and require different reference data and additional information - premise level rather than postcode level, geocodes, or the Utilities Register for example.

Even the postal service currently needs local knowledge or unverified additional data entered by the user (because the flat 2C you’ve lived in for four years doesn’t exist according to the postcode look-up on the website). This is essentially the case for 10% of UK properties and with the ultra-competitive delivery market and a data driven world, we should not, and need not, have to rely on the local knowledge of a single person.

In this regard, as in so many others, things are changing.

I am seeing businesses (such as the pioneering What3Words) develop address solutions aimed at helping in emergency situations outside of a property, as well as in servicing citizens in developing countries without a modern addressing systems who may no longer need to wait for governments to finally deliver.

I also applaud the move in the latest budget that approved a second round of funding that will help the UK move towards an open address register, recognising that data is a “core national infrastructure” and that “address data serves a broader purpose than the delivery of post”. We look forward to seeing the results of the project and subsequent innovation that will ignite the nascent value within the data.

In our own work with our customers we’re beginning to see businesses working with a combination of multiple UK datasets, allowing them to provide a better, more efficient service to all of their existing and prospective customers – regardless of whether they’re a business, in a new-build, or in Flat 2C.

It’s clear then that when we’re considering address quality, there’s a wide variety of Use Cases coupled with a vast array of routes by which we might look to solve the current challenges. What’s clear though (and this is in no way meant as a slight to the Royal Mail and its world leading address data file) is that we ought not to approach every business challenge with the same solution.

We’re seeing that the businesses that are most alert to this, and are open minded to the depth, quality, and range of data that’s now available, can get a step ahead of the competition; whether it be through improved customer service, greater operational efficiency, or enhanced identity verification to name but a few.

This is why GBG is launching the highly configurable UK Address File, blending the best data from multiple UK address sources and overlaying Location Intelligence – in itself built from a mixture of open and private data sources – to solve the unique challenges that your own business faces.

Would you like to know more? You can watch my recent webinar on the subject here.