Nick Chapallaz, managing director of GeoPlace, explains the potential for financial benefits from extending the use of address and street identifiers.
Local government is increasingly seeing the financial value of the intelligent use of address and street data, not least in the recognition that it can achieve a return on investment of 6:1 from unique property reference numbers (UPRNs) and unique street reference numbers (USRNs).
But councils are still finding their way towards obtaining the full benefit, with a need to relate the quest for the RoI to other issues in the use of data.
This provided the basis of a recent UKA Live discussion in which I shared perspectives with Nadira Hussein, CEO of public sector association Socitm, Juliet Whitworth, head of research and information at the Local Government Association (LGA), and UKA publisher Helen Olsen Bedford.
It threw a spotlight on the role of UPRNs – the unique identifiers for every addressable location in Great Britain – in procurement strategies and information governance, and how they can provide a financial return in the linking of people and place.
The fundamentals of this have previously been highlighted by GeoPlace – which manages UPRNs nationally – through a report that analyses details of the RoI and provides guidance for authorities in obtaining the benefit. It shows the RoI figure is rising from 4:1 over 2017-21 towards 6:1 over the next five years, with significant returns in areas including:
- data integration;
- non-domestic rates;
- highways asset management;
- adult social care;
- customer relationship management;
- waste management.
Operations and insights
The roots of this are in the strength of the UPRN as a reference point that can support the linking of a multitude of a datasets, providing immense scope to support evidence based decision making in operations and provide data insights for strategic planning.
There are plenty of examples of this in councils such as Barnsley, which has used the identifier to link for purposes such as identifying vulnerable individuals during the pandemic, maximising local taxation revenues and addressing the needs of troubled families.
As the financial pressure intensifies organisations will be able to be able to experiment in linking datasets to find which produce better outcomes and the financial returns, both through direct savings and ‘softer’ benefits that reduce the need for spending. The effort to encourage councils to adopt UPRNs in all their location datasets has made good progress, but there are frustrations in dealing with organisations that have been slow to do so, especially some suppliers of IT systems.
GeoPlace works closely with suppliers of gazetteer management systems, which often work as a foundation for other systems used by an authority, and with some application suppliers to embed the UPRNs. But others see it as an expense, are under pressure from other demands on their systems and reluctant to follow the lead.
It could require legislation to change this attitude, but it could also be done through procurement policies. If a procurement department asks for specific standards to be implemented it provides a major incentive for suppliers to comply. A number of councils have taken this approach to ensure the inclusion of UPRNs, effectively forcing suppliers to step up or step out.
In July 2021, central government announced that UPRNs and USRNs are the public sector standard for referencing and sharing property and street information and mandated their use as an open standard to identify geographic location. This followed their release earlier that year under an Open Government Licence.
The Central Digital and Data Office has also provided guidance on their use. Check out the GeoPlace blog that sets out the published government guidance on using UPRNs and USRNs.
Intelligent clients and templates
Nadira Hussein said this reflects the need for councils to be more intelligent clients across the board, and that there is scope for Socitm, LGA and GeoPlace to signpost examples of where organisations are using templates for requirements like this in procurement.
“Why don’t we make those more readily available where people could lift and shift and adapt them locally?” she said, adding that it is important work with suppliers through every available channel to signal the importance of the issue, making them responsive to how councils work.
The discussion also acknowledged that the linking of datasets often comes with concerns over data protection and ethics. In response to this, a crucial point is that the UPRN is not personal data, but an identifier that can neutralise the concerns in data sharing, providing valuable connections relevant to address.
Juliet Whitworth emphasised that UPRNs are key to almost everything delivered or achieved by councils, and highlighted this with an example of it being used to indicate that a household is receiving a council’s family services and that this could be relevant if they are facing problems such as debt or rent arrears. An officer checking datasets linked by the UPRN could see the connection and make further enquiries before calling in bailiffs.
In addition, it has to be stressed that a big element of local services is about the link between people and places, that it needs a ‘golden thread’ to bring the relevant data together, and that this can be provided by the UPRN. It is a crucial element of place based services.
It is clear that councils need to press on in developing new uses and, in collaboration with the LGA, GeoPlace has also put together a three-step process to help councils obtain the RoI. It involves:
- identifying and talking to the local address custodian, using the tool developed by the LGA;
- requesting a free integration report from GeoPlace and using its UPRN integration tool;
- making sure that procurement of new systems supports the integration with a tool for commissioning and purchase of local authority systems software.
But everyone involved has to play their part in raising awareness, and this is not just the data specialists in an organisation. Hussein made the point that the latter are best placed to understand what it can do on the frontline, but have to be equipped with the appropriate guidance, tools and capabilities to make informed decisions. There has to be plenty of internal collaboration and joining up of priorities.
“We’ve got to work smarter and harder and sell the benefits realisation case,” she said.
There is also a huge potential in building literacy in address data throughout an organisation, so that people at all levels in different service teams understand its potential and think about the solutions it can provide. It all comes back to data being fundamental to the vison of local authorities being about services for geographic areas.
Building this mindset inside a local authority will do a lot to provide the RoI.
Find out more on the GeoPlace website, including case studies, videos and further guidance.
Catch up with the UKA Live: Delivering RoI of 6:1 on your data: