While personal physical mail seems in terminal decline (and even my junk mail seems to be following suit, if not online) the matter of addressing seems forever in a state of flux - one moment all the right noises, then righteous indignation and carpet chewing, then barely a ripple on the pond. I'll try not to rehearse recent history (mainly because I know Bob Barr (and others) will correct me) but suffice to say that relatively recent 'events' might indicate that the waters are about to become choppy once more.
The March budget contained a commitment to an open address register with upto £5m of government backing. After the Postcode Address File (PAF) went with RMG into the private sector in 2013, with the possibility of an open national address gazetteer stalled (and the NAG 'brand' in the hands of Geoplace) and with openaddresses struggling, surely this was a glimmer of hope for open data advocates.
To my mind the notion of a £5m stimuli to the delivery of a single consistent national address data set that meets the gazetteering, delivery, identity and other challenges and opportunities that extend from the allure of such a thing represents but a drop in the ocean and really begs the question as to what that £5m can do, what else might be done and whether it is all going to be wrapped up with a suitable sustainability commitment to meet the alleged needs of those that cannot or will not use products that currently meet their needs (as well as those who absolutely rely on those existing products to meet their public tasks, from emergency services, utility companies, the ubiquitous delivery vans et al).
Now £5m might seem like quite a lot to splash in this area but whoever ends up getting whatever is really in the pot is going to discover very quickly that it goes nowhere near solving the challenge.
Which kinds of lead one to wonder what else might be done and with what consequences. The obvious answer would seem to be that the notion of an open address register has sharpened this minds of those who argued for it and seek to get it delivered and they have landed on the idea of opening up Geoplace's NAG in some way. So is the £5m for them (Geoplace is an OS/LGA joint venture)? Excluding PSMA revenues from addressing are allegedly in the £10m+ area per annum with a substantial share of that going on to RMG. RMG may not notice the loss (PAF already generates them over £20m) but Geoplace/LGA/OS sure will if they have to maintain NAG for the foreseeable future. Having to maintain it works both ways - fine if there is a government spending commitment but if that were not forthcoming would GeoPlace have to maintain it (and with the CSR pretext of selling public assets (see section 10.5) why would they)? What next then for open addresses?
Which finally brings us to what characteristics of addresses make such a gazetteer fit for purpose. For sure, all of completeness, consistency, accuracy, currency, geocoding, links to other data sources (property, people, organisations, ownership, value, security, H&S etc etc) or other attribution as you would expect. But under-pinning all of that are implicit factors such as the trust, confidence, integrity, brand, longevity required of the market in the provider.
As those factors are eroded, or are seen or perceived to be at risk of erosion, so adoption and utility are diluted. The risk is that a negative feedback loop ensues and, fast forward, there is no single source of truth, no one to trust and no one to blame. Deliveries, emergencies, emergency deliveries even, potentially falling foul of a fragmented, dated, incomplete, inaccurate data set. Opportunities develop for market specific sub data sets attracting new entrants, commercial pricing and the possibility of multiple versions of the single source of truth.
Doomsday scenario? Maybe! But £5m was never enough and is an irrelevance (except perhaps those seeking to bid for it) alongside the resource commitment, physical infrastructure, political will and commercial nous needed to sustain trusted addressing for UKplc.
As PAF licence fees (£75-£15k) illustrate myriads of users (over 35000 I believe) will adopt a product if the licensing and pricing make sense and the brand is trusted. It may well be that in seeking to create a more widely accessible single source of addressing truth the powers that be will land on the idea that the current primary source (AddressBase family from Ordnance Survey) would fit the bill if only more people could be persuaded to use. The key tool in that persuasion is the licence fee. So maybe that £5m could be a sweetener to OS while they get the address licensing sorted (almost freemium anyone?), cushion OS from a possible dip in revenues while the market gets re-educated and then earns back the revenue foregone in years ahead. Perhaps not altogether open addresses (the risks I think are real) but a new and sustainable model (and one that leaves space for innovators bringing other content to the address/delivery/identity/navigation/value party)?
That might be seen as an injection of public capital to help move the separate discussion on private capital further along the corridor too!
Every Concorde in a year…
3 weeks ago