A short while ago, my wife received two seemingly identical catalogues in the post from a well-known online fashion retailer. Both were addressed to our home, but the catalogues differed in two respects. Firstly, one was labelled using her maiden name, whilst the other used her married surname. The second difference was more interesting. The first catalogue promised a 30% reduction on all purchases as a loyal customer reward. The second catalogue promised a 20% reduction. This told me two important things: (1) my wife spends more with this retailer since we married; (2) the retailer in question has no master data management (MDM) strategy for addresses.
MDM refers to everything an organisation does to manage their critical data, the goal being to provide a single version of the truth. Let’s explore why MDM is necessary for addresses.
The addressing problem
We all use addresses to refer to places; typically these are properties where people live or work. Ask someone for their address and you’ll probably be given a house number, road name and perhaps a postcode to help you navigate. This structure has its roots in our postal system and delivering mail. In this regard, addresses are extremely effective. They’re easy for us to communicate and remember. But crucially, addresses are a very poor way of storing and managing locations in a machine environment. Consider the following ways in which we could write an address:
- Flat 1, 4 Acacia Avenue, Southbourne, Bournemouth, BH1 1ZZ
- Flat 1, 4 Acacia Avenue, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 1ZZ
- Ground Floor Flat, 4 Acacia Avenue, Bournemouth, BH1 1ZZ
- The Lodge, 4 Acacia Avenue, Bournemouth, BH1 1ZZ
All of these variations refer to a single (fictional) property. It’s not uncommon to see addresses written in many different ways. All of the above examples are legitimate as they will facilitate the delivery of mail or services to the property.
Managing address data
However, business systems, including those used by retailers, can have great difficulty in knowing these different addresses are the same property. Addresses are strings of text, so there is also the possibility of introducing spelling errors.
Factor in that an organisation may have multiple contact points with customers and gather the same address multiple times. Plus they may obtain addresses from other sources such as third party suppliers. And don’t forget that addresses are constantly changing as properties are sub-divided, demolished or built afresh. In one six-week period for AddressBase Plus, the address product we produce at Ordnance Survey in partnership with GeoPlace and the Local Government Association, over 67,000 addresses were added and more than 23,000 were deleted.
Is it any wonder that many organisations can experience address meltdown? This can reveal itself in a number of ways, but commonly seen examples include:
- Address records stored in multiple databases – each database holding its own copy of addresses.
- Duplicate records held for the same property – some large organisations hold two or three times the total number of addresses in Great Britain!
- Invalid or dummy addresses – entered by customers or employees to bypass business processes.
- Continuous address matching – regular and never-ending effort spent by the organisation to clean up and match addresses.
As well as being inefficient, this also affects the service level the organisation gives to its customers. Returning to my retail catalogue example, does that retailer really want me to know they offer varying levels of discount depending upon how much they value me as a customer? I now want to know if someone else is getting a 40% reduction. And what about the wastage in printing and posting two catalogues to the same address?
How to fix your organisation’s addressing problem
There is a solution at hand if you can start to treat addresses as master data and implement appropriate controls. Steps include:
- Select a reference address dataset.
- Despatch controller and AddressBase Plus.
- Cleanse, match and de-duplicate.
- Maintain one master record of the address.
- Know what to do when an address changes.
Organisations implementing an MDM strategy can expect to see efficiencies and service improvements. Business can learn a lot from government where for many years, a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) has been used widely as a means of referencing and sharing addresses. It underpins a range of joined up local and central government services.
Organisations can also start to link other data to the address record to unlock new potential. For instance, addresses can be given an accurate geocode to locate them precisely on the ground, the usage can be classified between residential and commercial, single or multiple occupancy properties can be highlighted. Organisations are already using this approach to better understand risks such as flooding, optimise delivery logistics through pin-point accurate routing and deliver more personalised customer service.
At Ordnance Survey we work with Partners to maximise the use of our data in various markets including retail. Visit PCA (a GB Group company) to find out how they can help you work beyond the limitations of the Royal Mail PAF, providing access to over 3 million addresses and supporting all organisation’s addressing needs: https://www.pcapredict.com/ukaf