Have Addressing Problems Become Status Quo in Local Governments? Why?

Everybody who deals with addressing seems to understand the problems – too many people/departments maintaining addresses in too many vertical applications. The result: bad addresses, inconsistencies, etc. that cause a slew of problems—including issues with public safety. There isn’t a single presentation I’ve given on the issues and problems of addresses where I don’t have people nodding their heads up-and-down in violent agreement.

So…why hasn’t this problem been fixed before? I think a lot of it comes back to the basic structure of local government. In local government, each department typically acts as its own business – if addressing is critical to their business than they’re going to take care of what they need first.

By the way, this type of issue isn’t restricted to local government; it’s more about human nature in general (and it’s also common within private enterprise). Both Mike Wierzbinski (a co-founder of Farragut) and I, for example, got our start at IBM designing solutions for a variety of large governmental and commercial clients. A lot of the solutions that we designed focused on creating repositories of information (oftentimes, huge databases) with the intent of reducing the need to manage individual “silos” of data and instead managing information as an enterprise resource.

Addressing is one example of that, but this issue affects other types of information as well, including streets, parcels, and land records. Any time you manage the same set of data in different databases, you run into problems with consistency and quality of information. Enterprise repositories allow information to be centrally managed and shared with other downstream users, thus increasing efficiency and resulting in better data.

I Know Where I’m Going (I Think)

My wife and I recently went on vacation in the Seattle area to visit my wife’s family. Our plan was to meet up at my sister-in-law’s house and then go sea-kayaking in the San Juan Islands (great area, by the way, I highly recommend a visit). As I was driving along looking for her 742 house number, I passed the 900 block, then the 800 block, and then 1172 showed up. I said to myself: “OK…I’m an addressing guy, I can figure this out.”

So, I turned around and retraced my drive, and yes, indeed, the address changed from 812 to 1172 on the way to 742 (which I didn’t know yet). The roads were fairly crooked, so I just figured that I lost my road. Finally, I figured out what had happened. The addresses on the corner lot had an address for the intersecting street, but the entire house and driveway faced onto the street that I was on.

During all this time, I kept on thinking of what could happen to an emergency vehicle. Unless they were familiar with that road (or already had designed a workaround in the dispatch center), they would have very likely spent that same amount of time that I spent finding the address that was beyond 1172 (about 10 minutes). It was a reminder to me of why I do what I do—that bad addressing can crop up just about anywhere. (The good news is that I did still make my ferry in time.)

The Showdown: Parcels vs. Addresses

When we started Farragut back in ’94, I used to say that parcels were the key to everything happening inside of a city or a county. Maybe that was because we were doing a lot of work with parcels and we were integrating parcel data with all kinds of other applications (e.g., CAMA systems, permitting applications).

Well, I was wrong. About 10 years ago, we started to get involved with addressing and I began to realize that addresses are actually much more critical to a local government. Yes, there are addresses associated with parcels (the situs addresses that we all know and love), but what about all of the other addresses that may or may not be tied into a parcel such as incidence reports, E911 addresses, units, condos, meters, signage, etc? Let’s not forget about mailing addresses, which may or may not be directly tied to a physical address.

I was recently talking to a friend about the importance of addressing (which may help explain why I rarely get invited to parties), and, of course, he mentioned the address on his house. That launched me into my usual spiel. Until you start dealing with addressing in local government, you don’t really realize how addressing is the hub around which everything else in a local governments rotates—from tax collection, to collecting garbage, to emergency services. It all goes back to the address.

The Enterprise Addressing Nightmare Sound Familiar?

Scott Black, the GIS manager for Burke County, N.C., was interviewed for the article based on our press release announcing the County’s purchase of FARRAGUT AddressOne. The article reads: “New technology will make it faster and easier to find and create addresses in Burke County.” Pretty cool! It was neat to see a newspaper write about the issues of addressing in local government.

Burke County had been maintaining its addresses for many years on three separate systems: paper maps, on an old mainframe computer system and in a GIS system, a process Scott called “a management nightmare.” Every time a change was rolled out it had to be updated in all three systems. Sound familiar?

It seems like every city and every county that we work with struggles to maintain addressing data across multiple departments. Often, I ask the question: “How many addressing databases do you currently have within the city/county?” A lot of folks don’t know exactly, but estimate somewhere between 10-20 different addressing databases. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a county tax administrator in North Carolina, quickly answered 25 (he had actually counted them). I’m sure this number varies widely, but most often we see addresses stored in multiple systems, in multiple departments, and managed by multiple people. As Scott called it “…a management nightmare.”