What Organizations Should Do To Handle Rural Street Addresses

One of the challenges that most organizations face when working with address data is how to handle street addresses in small towns and out in the countryside. Canada Post maintains the official list of all Canadian mailing addresses, but in rural areas, these addresses are rarely street addresses. Instead they are PO Box, Route Service (RR) or General Delivery (GD) addresses.  There is also a hybrid category: “street served by route” (SSBR) which includes both street address information and rural route number information. At the same time, most people with rural mailing addresses also have a street address. In some cases, this is known as an emergency address or “911” address and it is used to help fire departments and ambulances find rural properties.

The problem facing organizations who need to handle these addresses is that there is no single, authoritative source for rural street addresses.

There are a number of software tools, including nCode, which use the Canada Post reference data as the standard against which addresses are measured. These tools are eligible to be recognized by Canada Post under their Software Evaluation and Recognition Program (SERP), as long as the software can pass the SERP tests. SERP software, by its very nature, is not able to recognize, validate or correct rural street addresses because these addresses are not part of the address reference data that Canada Post maintains.

So why don’t SERP tools recognize rural street addresses too? There are two main reasons; one is that if your SERP software handled rural street addresses as if they were like urban street addresses, instead of treating them like rural mailing addresses, then you wouldn’t be able to pass a SERP test. Without SERP recognition, your address quality software can’t produce a Statement of Accuracy Report and you would lose the ability to obtain postage discounts from Canada Post.

Another, perhaps more fundamental reason why SERP software can’t handle rural street addresses is that there is no definitive, authoritative source for this information. This may seem surprising; after all it’s easy to find rural addresses using tools like Google Maps. While it’s true that there are sources for rural street address information, the problem is that there are indeed multiple sources, that none of these sources is truly comprehensive, and that the most common and widely used sources sometimes disagree. If Navteq, TeleAtlas and Google can’t agree on exactly what to call a street segment then who do you trust? Also, street segment based maps as used by GPS products and mapping websites generally don’t relate full postal codes to address ranges. Many of these data sources relate FSA (the first half of the postal code) to a street or town, but they generally don’t map the full postal code. Since mailing addresses all have a full postal code, this represents another challenge to reconciling rural mailing addresses and rural street addresses.

What Does nCode Do With Rural Street Addresses?

For SSBR addresses, nCode can match on the street information and add in the route information, if it is missing. For PO Box, RR, and GD addresses, we have no street reference information to use for matching purposes. nCode follows the Canada Post rules for matching rural addresses and so most rural addresses are “declared valid” and left alone, as long as they have a valid rural postal code. For example, take the following address:

33 Main Street
Wilcox SK S0G5E0

This address is a real address used by convention in the town of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. The postal code, however, is for the following range: PO BOX 1 – 507 WILCOX SK.

nCode would call the street address “declared valid” without actually fixing it up. This works really well for Canada Post because sending the mail to the Wilcox SK post office at S0G5E0 will put the mail in the hands of a local delivery person who knows full well where “33 Main St” is. Unfortunately, this is not as helpful for other organizations trying to ensure high address data quality, especially at the data capture point.

If the above address were entered without the postal code, then nCode would tell you that the address is invalid, or it might suggest that there are one or more possible matches based on some combination of addresses in Wilcox SK and other places with a 33 Main St.

What Should You Do About Rural Street Addresses?

What your organization does to handle rural street addresses will depend on what your business requirements are. If you are mostly concerned with mailing things to customers or if you are concerned with de-duplication or matching for business intelligence or analysis purposes, then the rural mailing address will work fine for you. Even if you are interested in geocoding an address, it is very likely that a proper postal code will give you as much geo-location precision as you need to get the right answer.

One exception to this would be if you need to physically drive to a rural address. If you are in the emergency service, utilities or the package delivery business, then you might care more about the physical address than the mailing address. In some cases, as with utilities, you actually care about both for different reasons.

There is no single, simple, perfect answer for handling rural street addresses. If this type of address is a top priority you might want to consider a tool like Location Hub from DMTI Spatial. Nova is partnered with DMTI Spatial, who use our nCode technology for some SERP processing purposes. We also use some of DMTI’s geospatial data as the reference for our nCodeGeo Programmers Toolkit geocoding product. If you are unsure about what your best alternative might be, give us a call and we will be glad to help you analyze your options.

If you want to know more about what nCode can do to help you with your address data quality, or if you want to discuss the options open to you for handling your specific address quality challenges, contact Nova Marketing Group. We’re here to help.

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