An Expedition into the Abyss of Addresses: The IEE Conference Exposes the Achilles Heel of the Location Intelligent Enterprise

By Joe Francica

Disclosure: DMTI Spatial supported travel and hotel expenses to attend and participate in the IEE through a media partnership with Directions Media.

At the Intelligent Enterprise Expedition (IEE) Conference hosted by DMTI Spatial in Toronto on March 5-6, I heard a recurring theme that is reverberating throughout the industry: Addresses linked to customer files are too often wrong. This problem is costing forward-thinking companies time and profits to fix and clean customer records before they even attempt spatial analysis. Even basic geocoding is still a major "pain point." Businesses can't dig themselves out of the geospatial hole without first cleaning, standardizing and sometimes manually correcting addresses - residential, commercial or otherwise.

This continuous headache plagues companies looking to become more location intelligent. The problem will continue as long as businesses seek customers who do not correctly spell their own address. Despite the many years since the advent of computer-based address validation, the process goes on.

Terry Canning, vice president and general manager of business services for Rogers Communications
Keynote speaker Terry Canning, vice president and general manager of business services for Rogers Communications, the Toronto-based telecommunications company, explained why he needs every residential and commercial address in Canada in order to help grow his company's business. He needs to expose that information to his business development teams who have access to the Web, at call centers or any other customer facing touch point.

Rogers's business had slowed and mass market advertising wasn't working to boost sales. "Sales growth slows because you run out of customers. [You] advertise like hell; we try to wear you down until you say 'yes.' As growth slows, you have to shift activity into the customers you have, and less on those that you want to acquire. As the population ages, you see a change in the demographics and you put cash into customer retention and maintenance," said Canning.

DMTI had come to the rescue for Rogers before, by supporting cleaning activities and building address files. But it was clear that Rogers needed the process to occur more regularly and to build better in-house capabilities. Rogers, a seasoned GIS user, started building a more comprehensive enterprise GIS in February 2007 and rolled out a geospatial executive dashboard on the Web to the entire organization this past February. "Mapping really allows us to look into our database. Street level [view] really gives us the intelligence to look into the marketplace," said Canning. "As management and an executive, I can actually see things." Rogers began asking questions of the address database such as, "How come nobody on that street is buying anything from us?" The new solution provides the company a better sense of where services are provided and to what customers. The company can draw conclusions to enable sales people to talk to customers. Customer service information like service outages can be displayed on a map as well and gives insights into customer retention.

Rogers uses DMTI's Location Hub. DMTI developed and marketed Location Hub as the solution for a host of address-related problems in a single platform. The objective was to perform address validation, incorporate points of interest, reconcile postal codes, and provide the ability to do a better job of total enterprise data management. Location Hub was developed using a Microsoft .NET environment and is supported by an Oracle Database 10g data warehouse. This platform not only mitigates the problems of data hygiene, it also allows the user to derive better business intelligence related to customer segmentation and target marketing. Rather than try to provide these functions as separate services, DMTI chose to follow a software as a service (SaaS) delivery model, an appealing approach for information technology (IT) departments that don't want the added hassle of managing yet another IT platform.

What's next for Rogers? Canning said his company needs a shared database. "We are trying to know our customers." Applications on his list include recognizing homes passed over for service, real-time serviceability, and completing and cleaning addresses at the source.

The difficulties surrounding address cleaning are felt by more than just Rogers Communications. Guy Bantleman, vice president of risk operations at Genworth Financial, recognized a similar problem as a private supplier of mortgage insurance. "We face the dilemma of finding customers. Our customers are lenders and we have to tell them of the value of their portfolio." His main concern: address management scrubbing. To Genworth, postal address standards are only one dimension of the multidimensional address landscape across Canada. From the parcel level to multi-story buildings, better addresses tell them where, or where not, to lend.

"Customers need a faster turnaround time to have fewer appraisals, which minimizes the time to make a decision on the offer of a mortgage loan," said Peter Robinson-Gray, manager of risk technologies at Genworth. Robinson-Gray is responsible for loading 14 million address records every month. Address scrubbing needs to be done correctly at the outset because it is linked to an automated valuation model (AVM) for a given property. The AVM passes to an automated adjudication method to determine if the risk is appropriate for Genworth. But the methodology is not always perfect. Properties can potentially be matched to wrong addresses. A high number of unmatched or mismatched addresses forces costly "manual" appraisals - sending appraisers to the field.

Address mismatches affect profits in the appraisal and valuation business. But, with this challenge comes opportunity. Paul Keppel, of First American Spatial Solutions (FASS), provided information on ParcelPoint, a parcel level geocoder to match properties correctly the first time. FASS processes 80,000 flood certifications each day and 80% of those are automated. Parcel-level detail is important in assessing risk when properties fall into flood zones. ParcelPoint is the largest national parcel database in the United States and now encompasses nearly 80 million parcels.

The challenge of address cleaning has undoubtedly caused companies to hesitate before fully embracing location technology. Although it may be distressing to realize that there is no short cut to cleaning address files, solutions are available. Companies like DMTI Spatial and FASS understand the importance of location-based data and offer software products to leverage that potential in a variety of enterprise applications. Alex MacKay, CEO of DMTI Spatial, pointed to the transforming effect that spatial data management solutions can have on a company. "Location Intelligence and the ability to transform that into profit are latent in just about every enterprise."

Published Friday, March 14th, 2008

Written by Joe Francica

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