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Location standards deliver services around people

18/07/16

How the standardised reference of the National Address Gazetteer supports high quality services, by Steve Brandwood, head of engagement, GeoPlace

'Transformation’ is about bringing services together in a way that’s meaningful to the end user.

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Because so much of what the public sector does is based around a location, a standardised approach to collecting and holding location data provides a solid mechanism to link service systems to one another.

As such, for location data to really benefit your citizens you need a dependable standard reference, packaged for their convenience rather than the convenience of the organisational structure of the public bodies involved in delivering services.

Conveniently, such a dependable reference also provides the key to joining up services around the citizen and reducing costs in delivery – everybody lives somewhere, and 80% of council services relate to a geolocation.

This universal key is based on a common standard: BS7666, the national British Standard for referencing land and property data established in 1994. This underpins the address datasets used by all local authorities and enables the creation of a national dataset.

GeoPlace has been using this standard in working with local authorities to pull local datasets together and co-create the National Address Gazetteer – the authoritative repository of street and address data for the UK.

Collectively they manage over 2.5 million transactions each month within the 40 million addresses held. This address data is validated and synchronised, then made freely available for re-use to the public sector and under paid-for licence to the commercial world via GeoPlace’s AddressBase range of products.

Obviously, there is considerable cost and effort involved in creating and maintaining this data. But what is the value of the National Address Gazetteer to citizens, the public sector and UK plc? How can it facilitate effective service delivery and help local government become more efficient, joining services together in ways that are more meaningful to the citizen?

Computer says no

Take something like registering to vote. Originally this was based on an annual paper-based process to register people on the electoral register. Now, individuals can do so on GOV.UK, which accurately records all the properties, linking local authority electoral registers with National Address Gazetteer data to ensure that the registration request arrives at the right authority.

But what do I mean by ‘accurately recorded’? Address data that comes from non-standard sources can cause inefficiencies and blocks to processes by, for example, providing details of a building in a street, but not of the individual flats it contains.

This is more common than expected. I recently renewed a contract with a mobile phone operator, but my address – a flat in a converted building – did not appear when the company tried to look me up. Without that way of uniquely identifying me as a customer, we wasted an hour on a customer service helpline and in a phone shop. I was in address limbo.

That’s just one person and one transaction. Imagine that inefficiency multiplied across individuals and organisations.

Picture what happens when you apply this situation to the emergency services, such as when an ambulance that has been called to an incident. How many more stories will we hear of ambulances being unable to reach a sick person in time because street numbering is not accurately reflected in satnav and non-standard addressing databases? 

If we don’t get this right in the public sector, we’ll be wasting the time and effort of many thousands of individuals and many government organisations.

Linking mechanism

The use of address data as a unique identifying reference fits well with the self-service models that so many councils are moving towards, aiming to reduce costs by minimising ‘avoidable contact’ and making the process simple for everybody.

When a citizen logs in via their account to access a service, such as checking whether a bin has been collected or if they are on the electoral register, they must validate themselves and the property they call home. The address forms part of the validation and becomes a standard linking mechanism to other systems.

Without this single interface to access multiple services, a resident would need to contact the relevant department, because in general departmental systems are not linked, which is often more time consuming for everybody.

We know that this saves time, provides savings to the public purse and improves service quality. According to research we commissioned earlier this year, the local government sector – responsible for maintaining the data – could get £4 back for every pound spent.

From tax revenues to route optimisation in waste management, the savings stem from transforming the way services are delivered, enabling channel shift and reducing duplication of effort.

Far-reaching benefits

Sound, definitive local land and property data to improve services and streamline processes can be spread beyond the public sector to benefit the UK economy.

For example, it can support the insurance industry in providing more accurate location information to be used in assessing where a property sits in relation to a flood risk.

Secondly, if you’re dealing in highly dependable address data, you can identify whether people are using false addresses for fraud. In the past, it was possible to create a false address and use it to apply for finance, but now the available data makes it possible to run accurate checks and carry out investigations.

Thirdly, haphazard, non-standardised address data costs business money. Any company that needs to make deliveries and does not have access to the best geodata will surely waste time and effort, impacting on its profitability.

In future there will be an even deeper need for good quality location data. Smart cities and internet of things initiatives, particularly driverless cars, will rely upon it heavily, and it could help to provide a more fine-grained analysis based on information gleaned from a range of devices or sensors, allowing analysis of a huge range of data by ward or postcode.

From a town planning perspective, it could help in testing insights based on property and street level information, such as how people move around a city and the impact on buildings and surrounding areas.

The National Address Gazetteer is the trusted, ‘gold standard’ dataset for UK addressing. But unless standardised, accurate location data is adopted across the board, we run the risk of adding unnecessary processes to services at a time when we should be doing our utmost to remove them.

Learn more from here about the GeoPlace report on the transformational power of address and street data; and from here about the potential 4:1 return on investment.

GeoPlace is a Limited Liability Partnership jointly owned by the Local Government Association (LGA) and Ordnance Survey and describes itself as "a world class expert in address and street information management." Read more about GeoPlace.

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