How many ways can you scribble Massachusetts Avenue? The major Boston thoroughfare reportedly was recorded under 15 different names in one clothing company's database. Such information duplication is a drag on speedy and efficient data processing.
That's why the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) adopted address-verification software designed to clean up its contact lists and eliminate delays when corresponding with its members. With the new technology, Oregon aims to improve its customer service and data quality as it moves away from its legacy mainframe pension platform to a more modern application.
Oregon PERS -- which administers retirement, disability and death benefits for about 320,000 members -- receives the bulk of its data from approximately 870 employers. When this data is sent to the organization, human errors can allow incorrect addresses into the database.
"As we were migrating data, that's where we decided to implement the data-validation tool to help us control the quality of the data," said Jordan Masanga, manager and technology officer of Oregon PERS.
The software -- QAS Pro Web from Experian QAS -- verifies addresses against 150 million addresses in the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) data file. With 12 keystrokes, the software presents a fully verified address and automatically adds the "plus four" to the ZIP code.
The verification tool, which is designed specifically for Web site forms, will be rolled out first in the Oregon PERS customer service division, which collects information from employers. Later it will be used in the organization's benefits processing division, which processes benefit estimations and allocates members' checks. The software is customizable, which made it stand out from other market solutions, Masanga said.
Oregon PERS will pay an annual license fee to operate the software and have access to tech support. "The annual subscription model is convenient and predictable," Masanga said.
The agency has completed functional testing of the software, and expects to begin full-scale use in summer 2009. Oregon PERS also acquired a separate product -- QAS Batch -- to cleanse, complete and verify addresses in its existing database before mass mailings of correspondence and member statements.
Oregon PERS is among a growing number of state and local agencies deploying address-verification technology. Others include the city of Boston; Charleston County, S.C., Parks and Recreation; and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Mail is the Nevada DMV's primary, and often, only point of contact with motorists, said Tom Jacobs, lead public information officer of Nevada DMV. If someone moves, communication can be wiped out; the USPS won't forward information like registration renewal notices because that costs the state money, he said.
"So it's critical for us to know that addresses are correct," Jacobs said.
As central repositories of statewide contact data, DMVs tend to be especially keen on adopting the technology, said Joel Curry, chief operations officer for Experian QAS.
The twin drivers of increasing reliability and decreasing costs have drawn governments to use address-verification products. "The current economic situation is an accelerator for us," Curry said.
Other address-verification software providers have noticed a similar trend. Business is up for White Plains, N.Y.-based Intelligent Search Technology. "We've seen more interest from all clients, governments included," said the company's president, Sean Failla. "This is a logical and relatively painless way governments can save money."
Failla said governments can get additional bulk mailing discounts with her company's data quality solution -- called CorrectAddress -- because it's Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) certified. The USPS uses CASS to ensure the accuracy of addresses and ZIP codes -- certification is awarded to bulk mailing lists that are run through USPS-approved software. QAS
Batch also qualifies for CASS certification.
To take address validation one step further, Intelligent Search is rolling out software that tracks change of address cards submitted to the USPS, Failla said, so governments can keep up with frequent movers.
Both Experian QAS and Intelligent Search insist their products deliver a quick return on investment. Light users can expect to see a return within nine months, Curry said. Because it saves money fast, Experian QAS's front-end validation software is especially popular. "You have a perfectly accurate piece of data, so you don't have to carry as many support staff," Curry said.
For 20 years, Oregon PERS operated solely on a COBOL mainframe system, and the agency validated data as it sent out member statements and mail was returned. Two full-time employees manually corrected the data for returned mail.
Fixing address information by hand has entailed similar back-end upkeep, with agencies cleansing data manually or through scheduled bulk cleansing efforts. Although back-end data quality checks are valuable, especially for updating old or flagged information, they are inherently limited because there's no ability to request more information. The only way to guarantee correct addresses is to verify them straight away, while the customer or person is still engaged.
So in 2003, when the Oregon Legislature mandated an overhaul of the PERS system, Oregon PERS leaped at the chance to upgrade. "Oregon PERS decided to go a modern route and develop a whole new solution for long-term maintenance purposes," Masanga said.
After several years of implementing the new pension system, Oregon PERS began searching for a third-party product to validate addresses migrating to its modern application. Oregon PERS purchased the Experian QAS software license in February 2008.
For correcting data on the back end, QAS Batch has been helpful, Masanga said. The software automatically changes definitive address matches or notifies the user of possible errors. The agency will use it until the data migration is complete in 2010.
So far, feedback on the address-verification tools has been positive, Masanga said.
"I think this is going to be a huge value because we're data stewards of that information, so we want to make sure it's correct," he said. "I would recommend other government agencies integrate solutions ... to remediate poor quality data from pervading their systems."