By Dinesh Thanigasalam, Head of Sales for Address Data Solutions, Idox
Many people I speak to are surprised to learn just how difficult proper address management can be, with considerable risk involved in getting it wrong. For hard-pressed utilities, it has always been tricky, but never more difficult than now. A slew of UK supplier collapses creating more bulk switching events, margins are paper-thin with the current gas price crisis, and – the cherry on this particular cake – it looks like next-day-switching is finally imminent.
An outsider might be forgiven for wondering why address management is so difficult – surely it’s just a matter of keeping a database up to date? However, that is to vastly undersell the scale and complexity of the task. Every six weeks in Great Britain, millions of new address records are created. This includes new developments, vanity addresses, changes of use (e.g. conversion of houses into flats) and more.
These are then typically captured manually, making the utility reliant on a human being, and the sheer volume of changes makes effective manual updates impossible. Not only is human error rife, but there is huge variation in how people would naturally think to format or structure an address. Number 1a Paisley Road to me might be Upstairs Flat, 1 Paisley Road to you.
It is very easy indeed for erroneous, duplicate or inconsistently formatted address records to be created and only come to light when there is a problem.
Even so, is it really that important? Absolutely. If a bill doesn’t find its recipient, then the payment doesn’t find the utility. Mistakes that lead to ill-treatment of customers can also incur significant reputational damage, redress costs and even potential fines.
And the fact of the matter is, things are only set to get harder. We have all witnessed the spate of smaller energy suppliers going bust and we may see more to come. In 2021 alone, more than 4.3 million customers were displaced by these collapses. That creates an administrative whirlwind for the new supplier which must take on new customers in bulk and quickly reconcile them to their own systems and address formatting. When next-day switching rules finally start to bite (and we expect them to imminently), then utilities really will be hard pressed to maintain service levels while avoiding fines and reputational damage.
Then, looking to the slightly longer-term, utilities may well find life even more complex than today. There is a possible future where utilities also supply homes and businesses with added services such as EV chargers, batteries and solar panels. Today’s model of one service line and one or two meters at each address could be replaced by one with multiple interconnected services and distributed energy devices.
How to resolve address data cleansing within your organisation
These are headaches utilities could do without. Especially at a time of wafer thin or non-existent margins thanks to spiralling wholesale costs outstripping the price cap. So, what can be done?
The single most effective thing a utility can do is to partner with a company that has been there, done that. Idox, via its Aligned Assets platform, is the address technology partner to the Central Switching Service, and has worked with more than a hundred large, complex organisations. The company’s technology helps utilities with an initial data reconciliation and clean-up process, making their existing records consistent and conformant with BS7666, resolving exceptions and removing duplicates by assigning Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs), and matches the correct meters to the relevant address. It then keeps those records current with ongoing updates from Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase Premium database. In a stroke, utilities are ready for next-day switching and whatever else the future may bring, and are protected against avoidable errors that can cause real harm at a delicate time for the sector.
Get in touch with our expert team to arrange a demo or hear more about how we’ve helped customers achieve more.