Nick Chapallaz, managing director of GeoPlace, explains how its guidance can be used to extend the use of UPRNs and USRNs in public sector digital systems
Awareness is spreading around the public sector of the value of UPRNs and USRNs.
Unique property reference numbers and unique street reference numbers provide authoritative identifiers on every addressable and street location in the UK and provide a ‘golden thread’ for linking datasets, obtaining new insights and taking services to a higher level. They are increasingly used to integrate the activities of different agencies to better target the delivery of services to the people who need them most.
But there is also a sense of frustration at the barriers to linking them with some business applications that are crucial to the delivery of services.
Software suppliers have an important role to play in supporting progress, but some have been reluctant to incorporate UPRNs and USRNs into their own systems, demanding high charges to make it happen. There has been a sense among customers that some suppliers are standing in the way of progress.
The solution to this has to be in the procurement process. Public sector bodies need to make it clear that they expect system vendors to meet specific standards that include the capability for a smooth integration and handling of UPRNs and USRNs.
It is part of a broad and complex issue that has been difficult to resolve: incorporating standards within procurements has been on the public sector agenda for several years but there has been limited progress.
It requires a willingness to take on some risk in migrating from legacy systems to alternatives that may bring their own challenges. It also involves questions about a software’s capability to meet more than its most direct requirements, and how it can be used with other systems in a range of more complex processes.
A matter of integrity
From our engagement with local authorities, we know that 56% of the software they use does not fully mandate the use of UPRNs or USRNs. This means the software either does not use or only partially uses the identifiers, and allows the inclusion of free text addresses, which reduces the integrity of the address data.
Where the software does not cater for UPRNs/USRNs this makes the linking of data across datasets and address verification difficult.
Equally, where the software does partially allow for this, it requires sustained maintenance and effort to ensure those freely entered addresses are subsequently matched and merged with the assigned UPRN/USRN and official address. The potential benefits are made harder to achieve or diminished without the golden thread enabled by the identifiers being used effectively.
Guidance for support
GeoPlace – the organisation that manages UPRNs and USRNs at a national level – is providing support with its guidance on how to procure the gazetteer management systems that are at heart of the effort.
It has produced a series of tips on improving the procurement of software and enhancing data integrations using UPRNs and USRNs.
The steps are to:
- define the scope and reason for mandating and integration the identifiers into software systems;
- perform an analysis of where you are now;
- gather requirements, draw up a plan and evaluate the alternative sources of data;
- set out a roadmap that takes all the above into consideration;
- connect and engage with everyone who can help, including internal teams, external stakeholders and software suppliers.
The last point relates to the procurement process, as talking in advance with software suppliers can shed light on areas where a system may not have the functionality and features to support the linking of datasets using the identifiers. This should be a key stage in any procurement.
Data is at the heart of public services so we've also developed guidelines to help realise the potential of data using the UPRN and USRN as the golden threads.
These include Procurement Criteria Suggestion tools for use in buying gazetteer management systems. They set out questions and considerations in the procurement process, one for address gazetteer software and the other for street gazetteers.
In the form of spreadsheets, they provide specifics on the key areas of:
- compliance with data standards;
- exporting, importing and integration of the software;
- spatial data consumption and interoperability;
- access control within the software;
- how it complies with relevant local authority policies;
- application functionality and inferred usability;
- existing customer engagement;
- support and maintenance;
- and how the software works with GeoPlace.
The statements represent a 'bank' of procurement criteria from which local authorities can pick and choose depending on what they find relevant to their situation. They can be adapted as seen fit, and there is a need to consult with the departments responsible for the procurements in finding methods to assess and score a software in each category.
These are accompanied by generalised guidance notes on how to use the tools, which make clear they are not designed to replace existing processes or documents but can support the assessment, consideration and building key elements into a procurement.
Building a core capability
All these assets can help an organisation work towards embedding the use of UPRNs and USRNs throughout its digital estate, providing that core capability to link data from a wide range of sources.
A crucial point in all of this is that the identifiers can link datasets without the identification of individuals, which makes it possible to enable data sharing while alleviating concerns over privacy and data protection.
The procurement guidance can help an organisation to apply that golden thread and harness the power of the identifiers to connect and leverage data held by others. In turn, this can support the development of better services, better intelligence and impressive returns on investment.