Ten years ago, address management software did just what it said on the box. But, as companies have added more and more datasets, the term has become somewhat limited. These days a typical programme will not only match for accuracy against the PAF and suppression files, but will also enhance with a wide range of lifestyle and geodemographic information.
"Most departments that want to clean the address can make some use of other data, too, for marketing, security, attrition, or a number of other purposes," says Martin Bradbury, client services director at EuroDirect.
"Clients ask us to add all sorts of details, such as the length of residency, type of house, lifestage and credit risk. We can now supply council tax bands for every house in the UK, which is nice data to have."
Martin Turvey, managing director of Optima Global Address, says the term 'address management' is increasingly giving way in his company to 'data quality', which more accurately reflects what it does. "Five years ago we were providing an address from a postcode, but now we offer a much more complete, enterprise-wide solution," he says.
Business-to-business users also have an increasing range of options, thanks to new arrangements between address management specialists and data owners.
In one such deal, Capscan has integrated its Matchcode address management engine with Blue Sheep's UK Business Universe. Similarly, QAS's new QuickAddress DataWorld product includes a combined PAF and Dun & Bradstreet file. This is in addition to the 70 datasets that provide such details as business names and SIC codes, Electoral Roll, lifestyle and geographical data.
Convenience and economy are key considerations when combining addressing software with rich data. Companies that take advantage of the Capscan/Blue Sheep deal will be able to make enhancements from their desktop on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Capscan managing director Terry Hiles expects the tool to be especially useful in call centres, with agents adding data to their existing records as needed. "At base level, users will find the company name, address, telephone number and SIC code, but they can also access other data sources, such as number of employees, turnover, and directors' names," he explains.
Another factor is confidentiality, particularly with financial services companies and others with sensitive data they may not wish to give to a third party. "Many organisations send data out to be cleaned or enhanced.
Our philosophy is to empower marketers to do that themselves," says Rebecca Clayton, head of marketing at QAS. "They know exactly what they want to achieve and this way they only need to buy it once."
Plugging in more and more datasets can slow down the speed of access to information. However, QuickAddress DataWorld claims to take care of this by ramping up the power of its search engines and providing a single integration point, which means any amount of new information can be added without reducing its efficiency.
Many address management products now include geodemographic information.
QuickAddress DataWorld offers details such as TV regions and mapping details based on Ordnance Survey data. Individual sectors are catered to, for instance with patient administration codes for healthcare organisations, and gas and electricity meter points for utilities.
This last feature is also available from GB Group, which is working with BT to add meter point numbers to its address management software's basic PAF and Electoral Roll data. One user is ScottishPower, which can now identify householders more easily to ensure it is not targeting people it already supplies - a common cause of confusion.
"The data is being used far more intelligently than before to help resolve sector specific challenges," says head of marketing David Green. An example is the way it is helping financial services companies to fight identity theft, the UK's fastest-growing crime, which costs £1.3bn a year.
Responding to pressure from the regulator, Bristol & West now uses GB Authenticator software to validate the identity of loan and mortgage applicants.
Drilling down into the data enables the company to learn about their background and check they are who they say they are.
Serco Group uses GB Accelerator to check the names and addresses of fare evaders on Manchester's Metrolink tram system. Inspectors can access the records of 430,000 Manchester residents from handheld computers, enabling them to cross-check names and addresses in a matter of seconds and spot false information given by fare evaders.
There has also been a boom in the use of international data with address management software. Capscan says its business in this area more than doubled last year, largely driven by UK-based multinationals, such as car companies running pan-European loyalty campaigns.
This can include longitudes and latitudes for logistical planning, or lifestyle data similar to that which is provided for UK addresses, although not always including as much detail.
Optima Global Address claims to have the most geographically extensive data of all, covering 237 territories around the world. "As more and more companies centralise their marketing, the requirement for international capability is growing, and we are seeing that in a number of areas," says Turvey.
Not everyone agrees that depth of data is an essential requirement for addressing tools, however. Some argue that marketers should not let themselves be distracted by bells and whistles.
When less is more
"Less can sometimes be more," says Andrew Greenyer, director of customer relationships solutions at Group 1 Software. "Why purchase a product with built in geodemographics if you only need the software for rapid address-checking on a web site?"
These are very different disciplines that require two very different mindsets, according to Marc Stares, sales and marketing director data cleansing activities at Marketscan. "Overlays are all very well, but in simplifying prospect selection, companies are likely to run the risk of glossing over the basics and getting carried away with the latest fad."
Instead of piling on new datasets, some companies have preferred to continue down the road of providing greater accuracy. There is clearly a growing need for this, as many addresses are now gathered via free, text-based web registration forms, where people can make mistakes or even type in false information.
"We need far more subtlety and sophistication in the way we manage data," insists David Laybourne, technical director of DPS Direct Mail. "The worse condition your data is in, the more difficult it is to accurately match it to PAF and improve it."
DPS has focused on parsing an address, breaking it into its component parts, removing superfluous information and reconstructing it prior to PAF matching. Its software deals with 'jumbling', where the words in the address field may be in the wrong order, 'truncation', where bits are missing, and 'concatenation', where no spaces are left in between words.
But while accuracy remains the basis for addressing management software it is clear that many companies now expect it to do a lot more. And so sophisticated are many of today's products that they can often serve to supply much, if not all, of a marketer's data needs.
Rob McLuhan is a freelance journalist
CASE STUDY: MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United is one of the world's most famous football clubs, with an army of fans spread around the globe. However, this poses special challenges for its marketers when communicating information and offers.
Call centre agents may easily make mistakes when trying to capture names and addresses from foreign language speakers, especially unfamiliar ones like Japanese or Finnish. Abbreviations, gaps and duplications are just some of the problems. And every wrong postcode or misspelled street potentially means a disappointed fan and a lost sales opportunity.
To improve the accuracy of its addressing, the club brought in Optima Global Address, which went to work standardising and validating records.
Optima identified individual components, assigned them to particular fields and, where necessary, filled in the blanks.
The software highlighted "funnies" - records that might or might not be erroneous and require attention from the software operator. It ran the record against the PAF file and dealt with problems such as discrepancies between similar sounding names, for example Cleveland and Clevedon. Where necessary, addresses were also reformatted to accord with the preferences of the local postal authorities in different countries.
CASE STUDY: TRAVELEX
Travelex is the world's largest foreign exchange specialist, which uses its own call centre to capture orders from consumers and financial institutions. These can be for foreign currency, travellers cheques and pre-paid cards.
Crucial to success are the ease and accuracy with which agents can capture details of callers. To improve these, the company recently switched to QuickAddress Pro with Names, which adds a full name and title to any specified residential address.
One advantage of the system is that it can easily be integrated with an in-house system. In the case of Travelex, full implementation and testing was achieved within nine days.
"We are now able to drill further for address information, as far down as flat numbers," says Peter French, head of procurement and IT financial and asset management. "This has had a positive impact in enabling us to retrieve address details of callers more quickly, providing them with a more positive customer experience."
The return on investment has been so good that the company is now planning to deploy QAS software that will enable consumers and business customers to make transactions on the internet.
WHAT IS... ADDRESS MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
The basic function of address management software is to capture, clean and enhance address data. By ensuring addresses are validated at the point of data entry, and then updating frequently, the user can ensure the database accurately reflects external changes.
Address management requires constant attention. As time passes, perfect data inevitably becomes outdated and inaccurate. People move house, addresses change, and postal authorities revise postal code sectors. A programme of address quality review should be established to ensure addresses remain as fresh as possible.
Without a unique reference number, name and address data is often the only way to identify an individual. But where data quality varies from database to database, cross-matching is somewhat hit-or-miss. So the software should ensure that all new data is validated to ensure its accuracy, regardless of the time or channel of entry.
Accurate address data can provide a wide range of commercial benefits, ranging from postage discounts and enhanced database analysis through to improved customer retention.
Dave Arkley is IT director at Information Arts.