Address validation plays a crucial role in data quality for many functions in municipal, state, and federal agencies
Address validation is the process of correcting and verifying that a street or mailing address is a real place. Accurate addresses are essential for many public processes, such as voting, public safety, and tax collection.
Where insufficient address validation practices exist, it can lead to problems such as:
- Increased costs
- Slow delivery service
- Reduced public trust
- Poor communication with the public
- Faulty data analysis
In 2022, the USPS reported that 5.6 billion mail pieces were undeliverable and marked as Unavailable As Addressed (UAA). USPS reported internal expenses exceeding $1.36 billion related to mail return, forwarding, and disposal. Direct costs to businesses and organizations are estimated to exceed $20 billion annually.
Some examples of undelivered government mail in Q1 2023 are 26.4% “Not Deliverable as Addressed,” 14.1% “Vacant,” and 6.4% “Insufficient Address.” Many of these reasons for returned mail and others are solvable with address validation.
Mail represents a small part of how agencies use addresses. Still, delivery failure statistics provide insights into the hidden costs of poor address data quality beyond returned mail costs. Typical government mail deliverability rates range from 5% to 30%. Such high mail failure rates signal significant address data quality problems for government senders. These agencies’ analysis, communication, home visits, property assessments, and other address-dependent activities may have similar failure rates and high associated costs to go with them.
Address validation is essential for municipal, state, and federal agencies and includes many benefits.
Critical benefits of address validation
A primary benefit of address validation is increased efficiency in government service delivery. Correct address data reduces the time and resources needed to identify and provide services to citizens. For example:
- Emergency responders can more quickly reach people in need with access to accurate and reliable address data.
- Tax collection agencies can reduce delinquent accounts while enhancing communication by ensuring that bills reach the correct address.
- Counties can validate addresses in preparation for geocoding to improve data visualization and analysis and reduce manual address validation.
Address validation can also increase trust in government entities. Citizens that receive accurate services and information promptly are more likely to trust and rely on public entities. Allowing bad addresses into your system leads to inaccurate addresses, misdeliveries, service and shipping delays, or incomplete services, which can undermine the perception of competence and trustworthiness of the services.
Costs of skipping validation
The cost of implementing address validation is generally lower than allowing messy addresses to remain in a system. Here are some visible and hidden costs:
- Inaccurate & incomplete data: Without address validation, government agencies may collect incorrect or incomplete data, leading to errors in tax collection, emergency response, assessments, and other critical functions.
- Inefficient processes: Inaccurate & incomplete data leads to operational inefficiencies. Time spent correcting errors or manually entering address data reduces productivity.
- Increased costs: bad address data combined with inefficient processes may require additional work hours for existing employees or hiring new employees to keep up with the workload.
- Legal risks: Inaccurate address data can lead to legal liabilities as citizens can challenge decisions based on incorrect or incomplete data.
- Security risks: Inaccurate and incomplete address data can make it easier for hackers to access sensitive information.
- Reduced citizen wellbeing: Inaccuracies can lead to poor communication, delayed emergency response, unfair tax assessment, flawed planning, & suboptimal placement of public services.
Of all the costs associated with bad addresses, inaccurate & incomplete data, followed by time spent on inefficient processes, are the easiest to quantify. While the remaining costs are real, affixing a specific dollar amount can be nearly impossible.
A good starting point to identify the costs of bad addresses within an organization is to set up an audit to assess current address data quality and track how many incorrect and incomplete addresses exist in the system. Next, identify the most common issues, those errors, and bad data that are likely to create and how they enter the system. Finally, estimate how much time, money, and resources are spent remediating and manually correcting the address errors.
Address validation implementation: best practices
Establishing the cost of incorrect address data is the first step; the next step is to stop new bad data from entering your system.
The entry point is the best place to ensure an address is complete and valid. The person entering wants to provide correct data and is best qualified to know if an address contains errors or is missing components. An optimal way to verify directly is in partnership with the user by incorporating address validation into all address entry forms.
An address autocomplete API is an application programming interface that automatically suggests addresses as the user enters their address. Depending on the autocomplete API used, results can contain exclusively valid addresses and geographically biased results based on user IP address. Filtering suggestions by ZIP Code, city, or state is also possible.
Autocomplete allows the user to select from valid options in a drop-down list after entering only a few address characters. The process helps speed up entry, prevents typos and misspellings, and improves form completion percentages compared to manually entering the full address.
Step 1 – Identify where to implement autocomplete
Addresses enter systems in various ways, and each entry path should be identified and flagged as a candidate for autocomplete implementation. Possible entry paths include:
- Website address forms by user entry
- Paper address forms or reports transcribed by employees
- Bulk upload from internal or external data sources
- Addresses transcribed from phone calls
- Address updates in web portals by the user or by an employee
Once new incoming data is clean, the next step is cleaning up the backlog of address errors in the database.
Step 2 – Identify existing addresses datasets to cleanse
After flagging each address entry method, the next step is identifying and evaluating existing address datasets. Consider each of the following questions.
- How many records in each dataset require cleansing, validation, and standardization?
- How often are the records in each dataset currently updated?
- Which processes exist to update records in each dataset?
- What is the typical length of time each record should remain in the dataset?
An address validation API is usually the best option for large datasets, addresses that update frequently, or contain records with a short lifecycle. An address validation API integrates directly with the database and can validate addresses automatically each time records are added, edited, or at any specified interval.
Bulk address validation tools may be sufficient for small datasets that are changed or used infrequently. Bulk validation tools allow copying and pasting or uploading lists of thousands of addresses at a time for validation. While bulk tools like this aren’t triggered automatically, they’re less technical and can operate as a temporary measure before integrating a validation API.
Step 3 – Identify processes for invalid addresses
As large address datasets are validated, a percentage of addresses will be too far from the correct version of the address for any software to identify correctly. The percentage will depend on the established address data quality standards for each address record at the time of creation. Establish a standard process for correcting the data manually for these addresses.
Usually, manual validation would include contacting the user directly to confirm information, visiting the location, validating through online mapping solutions, or some combination of the three. While future addresses like these are preventable with an address autocomplete API, it can’t help with overly messy data already in the system.
Once an address is clean, it should get the same treatment in all datasets where the address exists to prevent confusion or conflicting information.
Address validation is critical for government agencies
With the increasing importance of data quality in today’s digital age, validation is essential for governments large and small to prioritize address validation in their processes to provide reliable, effective, and even life-saving services to their citizens.
Address validation is critical for government agencies. It ensures accurate and efficient service delivery, increases public trust, and helps avoid high costs associated with inaccurate data. By implementing address autocomplete and validation APIs, agencies can significantly reduce undeliverable mail, mistakes, costs, and other liabilities related to bad address data.
Written by Vijay Yadav, Product Manager at Smarty
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