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Why the public sector must spring clean their databases

By Barley Laing, the UK Managing Director at Melissa

With little attempt to increase public sector budgets in the Spring Budget, apart from for the NHS, most public bodies are continuing to face significant cuts to their spending power in real terms over the coming years. This is backed up by figures from the Resolution Foundation that predicts many in the public sector face a 16 per cent drop in spending power between 2022-23 and 2027-28, despite inflation showing signs of easing.

At the same time the Government is actively encouraging public bodies to be more productive in how they operate.

This means the core focus for the public sector has to be on fiscal due diligence and investigating possible efficiencies, from top to bottom.

Why clean databases?

With spring in the air a great place to start delivering efficiencies is by maintaining clean databases of those that use their services. This way they can avoid wasting time and precious budget on inaccurate communications, and continue to provide a standout service to the public. 

Barley Laing

Also, with accurate data on users it’s possible to obtain valuable insight, such as a single citizen view (SCV), which can be used for better targeting, including personalisation with communications. This will help to deliver a consistent, positive user experience, which is something people expect in today’s increasingly digital world.

In fact, best practice decision making is based on high quality, reliable user data, because the insight that it helps to provide makes it possible to create informed decisions; for example, on the future of a service, or the creation of a new one.

Data decay an ongoing issue

A big issue for the public sector is that data decays on average at two per cent a month and roughly 25 per cent a year, as people move home, divorce or pass away. With data continually degrading it’s essential to have data cleaning processes in place not only at the onboarding stage, but to clean held data in batch. The good news is such an approach usually involves simple and cost-effective changes to the data quality regime.

How to effectively clean databases:

Use an address lookup or autocomplete service

To obtain accurate contact data at the onboarding stage it’s essential to use an address lookup or autocomplete service. These tools deliver accurate address data in real-time by providing a properly formatted, correct address when the user starts to input theirs. At the same time the number of keystrokes required is cut by up to 81 per cent, when entering an address. This speeds up the onboarding process and improves the whole experience, making it significantly more likely that the user will complete an application or purchase.

Such a service is very important because about 20 per cent of addresses entered online contain errors; these include spelling mistakes, wrong house numbers, and incorrect postcodes, typically due to errors when typing contact information.

First point of contact verification can be extended to email, phone and name, so this valuable contact data can also be verified in real-time.

Deduplicate data

The average database contains 8-10 per cent duplicate records, which makes data duplication a common and significant issue. It occurs for a number of reasons, for example when two departments merge their data and errors in contact data collection take place at different touchpoints. It adds cost in terms of time and money, particularly with printed communications and online outreach campaigns, and it can have a negative impact on the sender’s reputation. Using an advanced fuzzy matching tool to merge and purge the most challenging records is the best solution to create a ‘single user record’ and source an optimum single citizen view (SCV). The insight from which can be used to improve communications.

Additionally, organising contact data in this way will increase efficiency and reduce costs, because multiple communication efforts will not be made to the same person. Finally, the potential for fraud is reduced with a unified record established for each user.

Data cleansing and suppression

It is important to undertake data cleansing or suppression to reveal people who have moved or are no longer at the address on file. Along with removing incorrect addresses, these services can include deceased flagging to stop the distribution of mail and other communications to those who have passed away, which can cause distress to their friends and relatives. By employing suppression strategies the public sector can save money by not distributing inaccurate messaging, protecting their reputations, while boosting their targeting efforts to overall improve the user experience.

Use a data cleaning platform

Today, it’s never been easier or more cost-effective to deliver data quality in real-time to support wider organisational efficiencies and the delivery of a better user experience. One that stands out is a scalable data cleaning software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that can be accessed in a matter of hours, and doesn’t require coding, integration, or training. This technology can cleanse and correct names, addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers worldwide. It also matches records, ensuring no duplication, and data profiling is provided to help identify issues for further action. A single, intuitive interface offers the opportunity for data standardisation, validation, and enrichment, ensuring high-quality contact information across multiple databases. It can deliver this with held data in batch and as new data is being gathered. As well as SaaS, such a platform can alternatively be deployed as a cloud-based API or on-premise.

In summary

Delivering databases that are clean and accurate must be one of the first things those in the public sector implement during these challenging times for budgets. Making a concerted effort to spring clean their databases, something they should do on an ongoing basis, will make sure they deliver significant efficiency savings, while also providing a standout experience to those that use their services.

For more information about Melissa and how our data quality and identity verification services can help you, please visit: www.melissa.com/uk, email: barley.laing@melissa.com or call: 020 7718 0070.

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