Validation for the nation

19th August 2015 • Features

by James Lawson, Contributing Editor

As more businesses begin to see the benefits of addressing software, competition is intensifying, leading to increased pressure on validation services, however cloud-based services are making life a little easier, allowing vendors to maintain data based on the very latest ecommerce and web information.

Alex Bryan | Head of Acquisition and Retention, PCA Predict
Barley Laing | Managing Director, Melissa Data
Dan Cooper | CEO, Allies Computing
John Griffiths | Account Development Manager, Hopewiser
Martin Doyle | CEO, DQ Global

Day by day, month by month, addressing software and services are becoming a standard part of business and consumer life in the UK and the rest of the developed world. With the market more competitive than ever, addressing vendors are continuing to invest in new and upgraded software as well as adding to and updating the reference data their products work with and the channels through which they can be delivered.

The benefits of excellent addressing have, if anything, increased over the years. Capturing address data at the point of entry and maintaining its validity through regular verification helps to ensure that direct mail campaigns, essential correspondence and valuable items reach the customer quicker and are not wrongly delivered.

Validating UK and international addresses for ecommerce purchases and web form registrations has been a big growth area for addressing. This is an application that today’s cloud-based services are perfectly placed to support, with per-click charging and rapid deployment. On-demand address look-up services continue to be the main focus of development in this sector, with addressing vendors able to deliver their services and data globally with no need for expensive reseller networks in each country.

Easy updating for both the software itself and its associated reference data is another key benefit that centrally-hosted SaaS tools offer. That lets addressing vendors quickly mirror the thousands of additions, deletions and alterations made to files like PAF every day.

Allied Computing’s move to daily updates for the PAF data that its PostCoder Web address lookup API employs means that look-ups will always be based on the very latest information. The company even sends daily tweets on the number of changes it has made via the #addresslookup hashtag.

As well as the most up-to-date version of the PAF, PostCoder Web now supports OS AddressBase Premium. Public sector users have royalty-free access to the file, via the government-backed Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA). That means they need only pay for the use of the service itself, typically a small fraction of the full royalty fee.

“AddressBase Premium is fast becoming the geographic dataset of choice for many organisations,” says Dan Cooper, CEO of Allies Computing. “Government departments and councils increasingly rely on the UPRN to identify properties, while the emergency services are using the spatial information to pinpoint incident locations. PostCoder Web now provides these teams with a straightforward and cost-effective way to use the data.”

By the time you read this, Postcoder Web will also offer direct per-click access to data from Eircode – Ireland’s new postal code system launched last month. Unlike UK postcodes, each seven-digit postcode identifies a single address rather than a collection of addresses.

“The launch of Eircode is a significant event for the people of Ireland and for businesses operating within this market,” says Cooper. “We will be one of the first to offer Eircode within an API and expect PostCoder Web to play a leading role in facilitating widespread adoption of the data over the coming months.”

Moving to daily PAF updates for the Cleanse+ on-demand batch cleansing tool is also part of a current major upgrade at Postcode Anywhere. Unifying the platform’s back-end engine with that of Capture+ will give Cleanse+ users access to the supplementary Alias and Multiple Residency files for the first time. As well as a new engine capable of processing 1.2m records per hour, the service’s interface is getting a makeover to make file set-up as swift and easy-to-use as possible.

“There are quite a few big ongoing changes to Capture+ and Cleanse+,” says Alex Bryan, Head of Acquisition and Retention, PCA Predict. “We are adding a lot of new datasets to improve the quality of international data. Where no local post office data is available, we use TomTom data.”

Capture+ will see improved fuzzy matching and both applications will now share historical matching data: the common mistakes people make in entering address data and the final addresses they choose within Capture+. With an average of two million autocompletes running every day, that’s a lot of extra evidence to apply to matching decisions.

“You might have a common abbreviation for a town in France,” says Bryan. “If enough people use it, Capture+ will learn it and return it in search results.”

A complete rebuild of the company’s Store Locator service is also in the works. “We’re bringing that up to date using the Capture+ engine,” says Bryan. “Users can just type in their address to return their nearest store.”

Melissa Data has released a host of new applications this year, typically delivered with the option of both cloud or installed software. Its Global Express Entry service is a good example, building international data capture into any web form process, with a per-click charging structure.

“Like a search engine, address suggestions are offered as the user types,” says Barley Laing, Managing Director at Melissa Data. “A single click will auto-populate any form with a postally-correct, standardised, formatted and verified deliverable addresses, wherever the customer is located.”

Fresh competition

The company’s plug-in for the Magento ecommerce package performs a similar role, supporting simple address entry for customers while ensuring addresses are valid and deliverable. Another new arrival, Global Email Solutions, performs a set of verification processes to check the syntax and formatting of email addresses provided by customers. The service confirms the domain name and also makes an instant live verification of the individual mailbox.

“This multiple functionality can ensure that up to 95% of ‘bad’ emails are identified in advance, before they can cause any issues later on,” explains Laing. “Organisations can perform these checks using a batch mode for stored databases or interactively at the point of entry.”

Excel is the near-universal standard that Listware, Melissa Data’s latest new service, employs in making batch data cleansing accessible for the masses. Users simply submit their list of addresses in Excel format and the online service checks its validity, correcting mistakes, filling in missing information, standardising, formatting and appending additional information such as geocodes if required.

The output file clients receive displays colour-coded results alongside the input data, noting where changes have been made. For certain territories, Listware can return demographics and property information too.

“Anyone, anywhere can perform database correction and enrichment quickly and easily from a desktop, laptop or tablet,” says Laing. “We identify exactly which elements of an address have been corrected and improved, so that the user can determine how to use the new data most effectively for their own purposes.”

SaaS delivery is also becoming more prevalent in broader data quality management tools. Earlier this year, DQGlobal released the SaaS version of its Perfect & Merge data cleansing software reviewed in this magazine last month.

Specifically designed for MS Dynamics CRM, Perfect & Merge delivers massively more powerful functionality than the limited duplicate detection that MS CRM offers straight out of the box. Multiple records can be auto-merged or manually reviewed and processed side by side. Versions for Salesforce, Sage CRM, Infor CRM and Sugar CRM will follow in the coming months.

SaaS also makes it simple to add extra look-up functions and non-postal reference data that can also be accessed by an on-demand addressing application. Hopewiser’s BankCoder is a good example, working with the Extended Industry Sort Code Database to let users check the validity of an account number and sort code combination.

A per-click service is now available alongside the existing installed application and a new optional enhancement means that once an account has been verified, users can retrieve the bank address, telephone number and other items of data. BankCoder will also verify International Bank Account Numbers (IBANs) if the optional IBAN data is employed.

“Inaccurate capture of a bank account sort code or account number can lead to issues with fraud, late payments and lost customers,” says John Griffiths, Account Development Manager at Hopewiser. “With BankCoder, you have the ability to check the validity of bank account numbers in conjunction with the banks’ sort codes and with the additional information, capture other details, such as address, accurately and easily.”

Installed software is still often the best solution where in-house bulk processing is the task, a description that fits mailing list sortation perfectly. Hopewiser’s AtlasSort sortation software already supports existing Royal Mail tariffs like Advertising Mail and Business Mail. Now the vendor has updated the application to add support for Royal Mail’s Mailmark service.

“Mailmark is a new option for existing Mailsort services aimed at those producing large volumes of machine readable mail,” says Jon Good, Hopewiser’s New Products Manager. “Given that we already have a large involvement in the sortation and creation of machine-readable mail, upgrading AtlasSort to include Mailmark allows our customers further sortation options to reduce their costs.”

Mailers use the software’s integrated PosterUploadClient application to create and upload Mailmark eManifests to Royal Mail. The software can also confirm, reschedule or cancel eManifests already on the Royal Mail server and print Mailmark 2D and 4-State barcodes. Other similar Hopewiser sortation applications are available that support DSA providers like UKMail.

The sheer horsepower of in-house processing is particularly effective when combined with web services for access to the latest reference data and upgrades. This is the approach that DQ Global takes with its flagship DQ Studio application, launched earlier this year.

A suite of utilities for data migration, application integration, business process automation and data cleansing, its Windows Workflow Foundation architecture offers easy integration via web services and APIs to promote flexibility and automated workflows. On top of that, DQ Studio’s business rules engine and many other client-configurable options let users combine its functions into a single custom application that can handle a broad range of data processing tasks.

To do this, DQ Studio offers an icon-based drag and drop designer to make it easy for non-technical users to map out their own data and business processes, while custom coding in C# and Visual Basic give advanced developers plenty of options to extend the standard offering. The software connects to an array of different data source types, working with traditional extracts or plugging straight into databases and applications, inserting and updating data within the target system.

“Our new DQ Studio software was released in Q1 2015 to help database marketing managers solve the issues faced in maintaining the integrity and quality of customer data when migrating to a new CRM systems or consolidating multiple marketing data sources – from text files to big data,” says Martin Doyle, CEO at DQ Global.

Finally, EDQ has now rebranded the Pandora application it bought in October 2014 as the Data Quality Platform, filling a gap at the top end of its product range. The platform supports data profiling, discovery and migration as well as data quality management and is able to handle any type of product, order or financial data as well as customer data.

Though billions in UK business revenue are still lost annually due to bad customer data, the continued development of accessible, simple-to-use services alongside in-house applications means there’s even less excuse for poor practice. Data quality management may never become exactly easy, but suppliers are striving to get as close to that goal as they possibly can.

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