Addressing: it pays to get it right

24th August 2017 • Features

Aron Gelbard
| CEO, Bloom and Wild
Graham Clark | Sales Director, helpIT Systems
John Griffiths | Client Accounts Manager, Hopewiser
Maria Hopper | Data Protection Manager, Cleveland Police
Phil Fryer | Head of IT, Safestore

It may slip under the radar, but addressing software underpins a multitude of key business functions, as the following case studies show.

Name and address processing is the unsung hero of customer data management. Every day of every year, vendors and service providers help their clients realise serious ROI across campaign income, brand reputation, cost reduction, compliance and beyond. This month, we report on case studies of addressing software and services in action.

Flower delivery company Bloom & Wild is our first example. Founded to make sending and receiving flowers a joy, its meticulously presented flower gifts ensure that both the recipients and the senders are completely delighted. The company works hard to make every detail just so, like the bespoke presentation boxes that reflect the beauty of the flowers inside while still protecting every petal.

“Not only is Bloom & Wild committed to the quality and aesthetic beauty of our flower gifts, but we are equally committed to giving customers a seamless and friction-free website experience,” says co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Aron Gelbard. “Capturing customers’ accurate address details to ensure a fail-safe delivery process was the most important challenge for us.”

That means that assuring reliable delivery via mobile ordering was a high priority. Gelbard says that using PCA Predict’s solution has eliminated failed deliveries at the receiver end while reducing keystrokes and improving the user experience for his customers.

“Rescheduling a delivery is expensive and time consuming as it involves so many resources,” he explains. “This includes replacing the flowers, packaging and postage as well as admin time. As a company we are responsible for these costs even though the addressing error may not have been our fault.”

Simple to integrate, the addressing solution has not just delivered a better user experience but has also boosted web sales conversions. “From using PCA Predict’s software, we’ve definitely seen significant double-digit percentage increases in conversion rates,” notes Gelbard.

The range of international reference data available is another plus point, with support for Eircodes paving the way for Bloom & Wild’s recent expansion into the Republic of Ireland. “That international capability means that it also gives us the scope to extend our operations further afield should we want to increase our geographical market presence,” notes Gelbard.

One of the UK’s largest and most successful estate agency and property services providers, Connells Group faced a familiar but serious issue with their data warehouse and BI operations. Large amounts of inconsistent data across multiple internal and external systems made matching and validating records extremely time-consuming and challenging, restricting its ability to extract insight from its data assets.

“Being able to match properties across systems is a powerful insight requirement,” says Martin Caine, the company’s Data Solutions Developer. “However, from a technical perspective, this is much more difficult than it sounds.”

The existing in-house solution employed basic string-matching processes based on postcode and house number/name fields but only achieved 40-60% match rates. To improve results, Connells Group built matchIT SQL into a bespoke enterprise address matching solution. This acts as a fully scalable incremental loading framework, facilitating easy updates and able to cope with new systems or data sources as the group expands.

“We have seen a significant increase in accuracy and a reduction in false positives,” says Caine. “In a typical data set, with user-inputted data, we will often see a match rate in excess of 90%, compared to 40-60% previously. This increase, when applied to our millions of rows of address data, is huge! This product is significantly faster, more flexible and easier to use than anything we have used previously.”

For Connells, achieving an accurate and reliable “Single Property View” was the ultimate goal. Here, matchIT SQL’s SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services) components provided something very close to an out-of-the-box solution.

“With a property-centric view, they can find anyone associated with a property regardless of who sells, buys or surveys it,” says Graham Clark, Sales Director at helpIT Systems. “A customer-centric view will be the next development.”

With matchIT SQL running natively within Server SQL, Connells Group can use the SSIS data integration and workflow applications to quickly build and customise precisely the ETL processes they need. Extremely fast loading and matching plus the ability to only rematch changed data have reduced processing times during nightly refreshes dramatically.

“Because our software is just an extension of the SQL Server system, SSIS makes it easy to script and build the matching and other routes that matchIT SQL uses,” explains Clark. “Though we usually run it locally for outright performance, more clients are choosing to deploy all or part of their SQL database to the Azure cloud platform.”

Hopewiser has almost 30 years of experience in providing sophisticated addressing systems to major UK blue chip companies. However, one new FTSE 100 client presented a considerable challenge.

It had multiple addressing applications and data sets distributed across different business units, all within a complex IT infrastructure. Multiple instances of PAF within the business meant devoting considerable operational and technical resource to update each PAF file and the addressing software itself.

Significant sums were also being wasted on licensing. Due to the number of suppliers involved and the sheer complexity of the technical environment, the client simply hadn’t noticed.

“They wanted to reduce costs, maintain or improve service levels and make use of the latest technology,” says John Griffiths, Client Accounts Manager at Hopewiser. “Minimising the risk of any changes was also vital.”

Replacing the various incumbents with a single vendor’s software was the obvious step. But with addressing a business-critical tool and deeply embedded in several core business applications and systems, any rationalisation had to be quick, seamless and low risk.

Hopewiser’s API technology was the answer, slotting easily into existing systems with no need for re-coding, interface changes, additional user training or expensive third party licence costs. Its address server technology was the other part of the solution, providing a robust – and rapid – central hub for all address look-ups across the business.

“During peak times, it can support over 10,000 users submitting nine address lookups every second without any drop in response time,” says Griffiths.

By centralising look-ups and reference data, the single address server reduced server space usage by 60% and slashed support costs. In fact, it made several servers redundant, reducing the client’s Citrix server farm size by 75%.

By opting for a single Corporate Licence to cover the various instances, Hopewiser also managed to cut fees significantly for both reference data and the applications themselves. Delivering excellent performance plus initial and ongoing cost reductions, there’s no doubt this project was a standout success.

Turning to centrally-delivered look-ups was also part of AFD’s solution for client Safestore. With nearly 50,000 customers across 107 branches, Safestore is the UK’s largest self-storage group.

For security, legal and financial reasons Safestore requires customers to provide a full, accurate postal address. This is not as easy as it seems.

Head of IT Phil Fryer explains: “Domestic customers are often in transition when they arrive at a Safestore. Those about to move into a new home or rented accommodation don’t necessarily know their new postcode. We need to quickly search and find the precise address out of the 30 million addresses in the UK.”

Safestore’s bespoke AFD Postcode Plus addressing system runs on 200 computers across the UK. Until recently, a locally installed version was distributed and updated with software upgrades, using drive imaging and group policy updates.

To avoid sending large monthly address data update files. Fryer started to investigate a better, more efficient solution.

“We decided to have each desktop computer carry out postcode lookups and address searches by calling the AFD Postcode Plus Evolution hosted service,” he explains. “By using the AFD Software hosted services, we have cut internal IT costs.”

“We didn’t even need an integration as we used the AFD Robot which automatically detects a Postcode entered onto our system and returns the exact address or a pick list of options,” Fryer continues. “We no longer need to distribute or update or manage address validation services as AFD do it for us so reliably.”

Invoices, statements and changes to terms and conditions for all 107 Safestore branches are consolidated, printed and mailed by an outsourced fulfilment company. Accurate addresses are vital to minimise the possibility of returned invoices.

“Each one returned carries an increased risk of non-payment and can result in significant internal costs to research and correct an address,” says Fryer. “We also face financial penalties on data inaccuracy from our mailing house. AFD Postcode Plus is saving us time and money and improving cash flow and compliance – through excellence in address capture.”

Dealing with duplicate names and addresses is a classic challenge for data quality experts far beyond marketing. In one recent project, Experian Data Quality (EDQ) worked with Cleveland Police to build a deduplicated “golden” view of its customers. A term used by public sector bodies, a “golden nominal” record is effectively the same as a Single Customer View: a single person record with an appended URN that can be accessed by all relevant systems.

For the Force’s operational users, duplicate records make it harder to find accurate information quickly in order to respond in the most appropriate, informed way. Behind the scenes, much time and resource is involved in manually linking and managing duplicate records within in the system and meeting MOPI regulatory requirements.

In a project championed by Superintendent Alastair Simpson and the Force Data Protection Manager Maria Hopper, EDQ instituted automated daily maintenance of the golden nominal using Experian’s verified reference data and intelligent, reversible matching rules. Employing EDQ’s SAP-specific address capture tool also made sure addresses entered the database right first time and created no new duplicates.

Making the SCV available to all users at point of entry offers increased intelligence for deployment of resources and reduced data entry time. With a 20% minimum reduction in duplicate accounts at the input stage, this project is projected to not only save more than £250,000 per annum through reducing time spent inputting, processing, reviewing and amending data but also add valuable insight to every interaction with customers and investigations.

Increased access to reporting offers intelligence for better deployment of resources and delivery on MOPI legislation requirements, along with a greater ability to identify vulnerable people at the point of interaction. The project has been recognised at national level, gaining approval from the Home Office for co-funding from its innovation budget.

“This solution offers Cleveland Police
a clear opportunity to deliver tangible benefits,” says Maria Hopper, Data Protection Manager, Cleveland Police. “Operationally we’ll be able drive real efficiencies and also provide an even better response in terms of speed, efficiency and appropriateness. Having improved confidence in our data allows us to deliver real benefits to the community because with better insight comes better decision making on how we allocate the right resource where it’s really needed.”

This month’s case studies give a flavour of the data management benefits today’s addressing and data quality solutions can confer but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Watch this space for more examples that demonstrate just how valuable these products and services really are.

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