Man on a rooftop looking towards a city
Oct 2021 | Data Quality | Data Enrichment, Data Management
By Posted by Steve Farr

Were you paying attention in geography lessons?

Knowing where your customers physically are is a vital piece of information for all manner of business reasons. From wanting to ensure that your package will be delivered, to allocating resources, analysing markets and planning for the future, geography just became your most important subject.

This blog is designed to provide a quick guide to some of the jargon around Location Intelligence and provide a reference point for many location-based data sets that you can take advantage of.

You will all have some geographic information about your customers (prospects, suppliers, citizens etc.) today, in that you will have an address – full or partial. And whether or not that address is accurate and complete for most organisations adding additional location data can be a valuable and profitable thing to do. This is because addresses are often not enough to get you where you want to be. There are a number of reasons for this, but they boil down to the following main issues:

Location Data Glossary:
Term Definition
OWPA’s (Objects Without Postal Addresses) Places that don’t have an address.
Geocoordinates (also known as geocodes, lat/long or X, Y coordinates) References that usually to physical things such as a building. A precise point on a map.
Grid references (eastings and northings) References based on a geographic coordinate system that defines area locations on a particular map projection. A square area on a map.
UPRN (Unique Property Reference Number) A consistent, unique numeric identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain and other objects maintained by the Ordnance Survey in combination with local authorities. Street addresses as well as things like monuments, park buildings maintained over time.
UDPRN (Unique Delivery Point Reference Number) An eight-digit unique numeric code by the Royal Mail in the UK. Delivery points on the Postcode Address File® (PAF) file. UDPRNs are assigned to each delivery point to give a specific designation to a delivery address.
TOID (Topographical Identifier) A dataset of unique identifiers for a wide range of landscape and built environment features, with a generalised location, extracted from OS MasterMap products. Roads, junctions, buildings and landscape features.

 

1. The place you want to find does not have address, or the address is not specific enough – Such as in an apartment block or industrial estate. It might be a loading bay, a wharf or another location to which you may want to send goods. Or you may wish to send people such as surveyors, engineers etc., to an area of land, a physical feature of the landscape, a monument, car park or a marquee set up in a public park for an art exhibition. The list of places that don’t have an address is bigger than you may think. Collectively such locations are called OWPA’s (Objects Without Postal Addresses) and, as you will see, those involved in location intelligence do like an acronym or two. Warning: more coming up below.

2. The location may not have an address yet – For example a newly built housing estate. Although local authorities have a statutory obligation to record all addresses, they are usually only notified after the build is complete.

3. The address you have has been superseded – Addresses may seem fairly permanent, but building names, street numbers and even street names can change over time. Houses may get split into flats or be demolished completely. Occasionally there are also major re-organisations of post codes. Anyone else having issues with Sat Nav in Cambourne Cambs in the late noughties?

4. In some countries the infrastructure may not support precise addresses – Especially in rural locations.

5. Two or more addresses might be almost identical but refer to different places – This leads to mistaken deliveries. For example:

  • 7 Wooda, Launceston, Cornwall, PL15 8JB
  • 7 Wooda Rd, Launceston Cornwall, PL15 8BJ 1

The consequences of all this confusion amount to so much more than the occasional missing birthday present.1

So here are the top 10 reasons you may need location intelligence to supplement your address data:

  1. Missed deliveries
  2. Risk of deliveries to properties with shared entry
  3. Missed service calls
  4. Poor route planning between drop offs
  5. Assessing the risks associated with a location (e.g. flooding, previous use)
  6. Planning of services, now and for the future
  7. Assessing where to locate distribution hubs, stores, offices and people
  8. Understanding business addresses by usage type (HQ, branch office etc.)
  9. Dealing with newly built properties
  10. Dealing with locations outside of the UK

In all of these instances a simple address may not be enough to get the job done. We need to add additional information. So, what is available?

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The most obvious alternatives will be of no surprise to those of us that have got lost looking for an address and have found the option in the Sat Nav to enter a geocoordinate. Geocoordinates (also known as geocodes, lat/long or X, Y coordinates) are references, usually to physical things such as a building. Some caution still needs to be applied as the accuracy of a geocode will depend upon how it has been calculated (geocoding). In general, “rooftop” geocoding is the most accurate geocoding process available.

You also need to exercise caution if you convert geocodes to addresses and back to geocodes, or addresses to geocodes and back to addresses – anomalies can occur because of the inaccuracies of addresses (as above). Special caution applies to converting postcodes to geocodes: for example, CV4 7AL contains over 5,000 addresses with many geocodes. Another good reason not to get sent to Coventry.

Grid references (eastings and northings) are another alternative and are based on a geographic coordinate system that defines area locations a particular map projection. If you think of geocodes as a precise point on a map, grid references represent a square area on a map. The coordinates of that square may be more or less precise. For example, a 6-figure grid reference describes an area 100 m2, a 10-figure reference of an area of just 1 m2, but they are nonetheless, areas, rather than points. As such they may be less useful at directing a delivery vehicle but are very useful for dividing up areas for practical reasons (farming, laying roads, exploring for oil setting distribution areas) and also analytical reasons where you don’t want to be bound by the conventions of postcodes, towns, cities and counties.

One more point about grid references. As stated, they are based on map projections. We will all be familiar with Mercator’s projection from the school atlas (you were paying attention in geography, right?). And while Mercator seems ubiquitous it is more accurate in the northern hemisphere than the southern. There are a multitude of global and local map projections available – all taking different decisions on how you organise a spherical 3-d object (the Earth) into a series of flat squares.2

Lastly, we come to some specialist location items such as UPRNs (Unique Property Reference Numbers) and TOIDs (Topographic Identifier). If you want to know precisely what these identifiers cover you can find them in our handy data guide. But a quite note about UPRNs. These are unique references given to address and non-address locations in the UK by the Ordnance Survey – so they cover street addresses as well as things like monuments, park buildings etc. As unique references they can help you build a trusted indexing system for all the addresses you hold. But also interesting (and in contrast to the Royal Mail’s UDPRN system) they persist over time. So the plot that became the house and then the set of 3 flats and then was demolished can all be grouped as one.

Whatever choices you make about location data will depend on the industry you are in, what logistical issues you face and what intelligence you want to derive about the world and your customers within it. Hopefully, this will have given you a useful introduction to some of the more popular resources out there and the good and bad of each approach. If you want to know more about Location Intelligence then please get in touch with our data quality experts today.

1I have changed the actual house number to protect the guilty, but if you got an extremely rare book on Lawrence of Arabia last October, please take it round to Wooda Lane as my brother-in-law is a great Lawrence fan.

2Check out some cool map projections on Wikipedia, you will be amazed. And if you want to know why the Gall Peters projection worried President Nixon as well as get a potted history of maps, check out this brilliant book by Simon Garfield.