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Spotlight on Brazil and Electronic Identity Verification

Next month the eyes of the world will once again be on Brazil, this time for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Despite all its recent turmoil  – the trifecta of political, economic and health issues – I’m optimistic that Brazil will put on a fun and safe show for us all. More importantly, I’m optimistic about the country’s overall prospects.

The turmoil has kept many companies away from Brazil. But over the long run, businesses with ambitions in Latin American will have no choice but invest there. It is, after all, the world’s sixth largest country by population and seventh largest economy by GDP. Ignore it during this short-term instability, and you might lose your chance to participate in the long run.

The big eCommerce marketplaces recognize this. The financial press prints story after story of Alibaba, Rakuten, Amazon, Mercado Libre and others investing heavily in Brazil. Why do this in the face of the country’s current instability? Because competition among them is brutal. If any of them cedes market share today, competitors will be all too happy to take over relationships with their sellers and buyers.

GDC got the chance to see this competition firsthand earlier this year. We launched a Brazil electronic identity verification service to help eCommerce marketplaces onboard sellers quickly.

Verifying the identities of merchants before they can begin selling goods on marketplaces has become common practice in the industry. Without it, bad actors are quick to infiltrate a marketplace with counterfeit goods and other forms of fraud. Using identity verification – asking the seller to provide information proving he is who he says he is – stops fraudsters from registering under false pretenses. They never get access to buyers, so fraud goes down and customer satisfaction goes up.

One of the big eCommerce marketplaces recently started using the Brazil electronic identity verification service. Previously, they had a clunky seller onboarding process. It leaned heavily on a manual workflow, used multiple data reference sources, and required new merchants to provide a lot of personal information. For example, applicants had to scan and submit photo ID’s to a document verification service as part of the process. The whole thing was time-consuming, inconvenient for sellers, and expensive for the client to maintain. Worst yet, they were losing sellers. The friction of onboarding had legitimate merchants abandoning their registrations before they could be approved.

GDC was glad to help. Our Brazil electronic identity verification service consolidated their entire process into a single registration form. When a seller submitted his name, address and national tax ID, a single API call to our platform queried multiple sources of credit, government, commercial and consumer identity reference data from our in-country Brazilian partners. The various sources cover over 95 percent of Brazil’s addressable adult population, and we were able to help our client match and approve nearly 75 percent of all applications within seconds.

We streamlined their process, limited the need for manual intervention in the workflow, and reduced their dependence on document verification and multiple data services. Most importantly, we got rid of the friction that had so many sellers abandon the registration process.

This is what GDC does both in Brazil and in the many other countries integrated into our global electronic identity verification platform. We give you one point of access to instantly verify the identities of customers, partners or counterparties no matter their country of origin. We help you bring in the good customers quickly while weeding out the bad ones.

If your business is expanding into Brazil, and you need help with verifying the identities of your customers, let’s talk. In the meantime, enjoy the Olympic show Brazil has prepared for the world.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Paul

Paul Dryden
Global Data Consortium
paul@globaldataconsortium.com

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Our Report Card

Today is a memorable day for GDC. 18 months ago our first customer went live with our Worldview product, relying on GDC and Worldview to provide Address Verification. This client took a chance –to meet their needs for the best verification rates possible, they had to embrace a new model.

When we first speak with clients we explain our model – we find, qualify and integrate local companies that have the best address processing technology in their country. We harmonize our partner’s technologies and serve up all of that global value with a single OnDemand API. We understand that this model differs from other companies who build a single product, from a single data source, delivered the same way year-after-year.

Our clients embrace Worldview for innovative use cases. Companies validating address information as a key component of Identity Verification. eCommerce companies supporting cross-border commerce. Global organizations verifying and locating millions of points of interest. Delivery companies testing addresses to de-risk their logistics processes.

Now that we have been live for 18 months we can test the assumptions we made at the beginning. We had certain beliefs at the onset, how did we do? Let’s look at 4 of our initial suppositions.

Local Partners = Local Insight

We believed at the beginning that local partners would understand their country best and three themes have emerged. Within their country our partners handle regional variation, bad data patterns, and multilingual challenges better than anyone else.

Local Partners = Access to Unique Local Data

We thought that our partners would have insight on accessing, integrating and utilizing additional local data into their solution. GDC partners understand how to blend unique data into their solution, and they have the time and focus to do this work. Over half of our partners are using some form of data that is not being used by a global player.

Local Partners = Battle Tested Technology

Great address technology only gets great because it gets utilized; no one starts with an A+ product. We surmised our partners’ technology would be battle tested. For example, one partner’s offering is used by their country’s national post, and is accessed over a million times per week; the national post validates the goodness of their technology. This is representative of all of our partners – their technology is great because it gets used in-country, by clients that demand the best results.

Local Partners = Awesome Responsiveness

We knew our partners would be responsive in many ways. Our partners react quickly to new use cases and new address forms. Last month one of our customers had an issue with how a certain address suffix type was being handled, a pattern that would never be used in-country. Our partner enhanced their behavior and a correction was available the following day. Our partners are creating the next required services. A great example is our India partner that launched an advanced service. Our partners must continuously innovate; they don’t have the luxury of only revisiting their technology once a year, or when enough complaints for their country have piled up.

Where Are We Now?

After 18 months we have proven our beliefs at the beginning of this journey. We have worked with partners and clients that are willing to challenge conventions for how global address processing gets done. We continue to add countries to Worldview, and continue to tune Worldview to handle innovative eCommerce, Identity Verification, global point of interest, and delivery logistics use cases.

So that’s where we are 18 months since going live. Let’s see what the next 18 months brings. As always, we enjoy speaking with clients about how we can help you solve your business problems. Give us a shout and let’s see how we can expand your Worldview.

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New Advanced Address Verification Services in India

At GDC we are continuously searching the globe for new partners, new countries and new services for our customers; we enjoy telling the stories about our discovery and availability of these services!  We also work with our Partner Community to add additional capabilities to existing Worldview countries, and we are excited to announce the availability of Advanced Address Verification for India.

Our global expertise tells us that India is the most challenging country to provide great Address Verification due to the size of the country, the complexity of address information, and the regional variations of address information.  We hear from our customers and read recent studies that project tremendous opportunity in India for companies that are using the best available Address Verification solutions for eCommerce, Finance, and Logistics business problems.

Working with our premier Indian Partner, our Advanced Address Verification for India provides you with the most reliable solution for interpreting Indian Addresses.  Do you know that across India there are over 400 different building descriptors?  We do.  Our highly configurable solution reliably parses, interprets and verifies all of the components of an Indian address – road differentiation, sublocalities, localities, pin codes, buildings, building numbers, wings, floors, and more.  We can turn on additional custom capabilities to meet the needs of your business problem – delivery flags that set shipment expectation, corporate address indicators, and rural/urban coding.

We are always excited to open up additional services for our Worldview customers. If you want to understand more about Advanced Address Verification for India and discuss the challenges of addressing in India, give us a call. We’d love to help expand your Worldview.

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GDC Onboards France’s Best In-Country Data Provider

This week at GDC we’re thrilled to add a new partner from France, bringing the best in-country data solutions for French address verification. This is an important addition for us; at 62 billion dollars in eCommerce sales, France is the sixth largest eCommerce market worldwide. On top of that France is a wired culture, and nearly 89% of the country’s internet users are shopping online, with individual purchase rates going up. From both a local and global perspective, France is an important player in the market and eCommerce companies need to have a reliable solution when it comes to French data.

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But the value of having our best in-country data provider goes beyond just meeting the market. When it comes to culture, French consumers place a high value on service quality. A DPD survey of online commerce habits showed that one in five deliveries in France was problematic, and 49% of the time this was because the delivery was late. They go on to show that French consumers overwhelmingly (84%) prefer things delivered directly to their home, rather than to post offices or other pick up sites.

 

eCommerce companies recognize the implications in this. They want to be able to attract new customers in France by offering convenient, on-time door deliveries. They also want to retain customers by making sure that they can follow through on that promise. After all, nearly 70% of customers said they wouldn’t buy again from a website that didn’t deliver on time.

 

This is a challenge in France. Delivering to secluded cottages in Champagné can be just as difficult as delivering to a one-room apartment off of la République in Paris because of how address information is used and changed. Generic data, which might be managed anywhere in the world, is never going to be able to effectively keep up with the dynamics of French society. That’s where our local data solution can provide the most ‘lift’.

 

The Dynamic French Landscape

 

Last spring, I visited a friend in Paris while checking up on some of our local European providers and I needed a couple of books. They happened to be on Amazon.fr, and I asked for the building’s address so I could get them delivered to me while I was there. My friend told me that it was better to send them somewhere else, since most of the packages for that apartment had never showed up at all.

 

Being in this business, I got interested and dug a bit deeper. The apartment did not have a number, which is common, and that the name used for deliveries was of a prior leaser, not my friend’s name, which is also common. The process of updating address and identity information with La Poste, the French postal service, can be prohibitive and so data can often be left outdated. In this case, the “address” of the apartment was under the name of a woman who had been leasing it 4 years ago. It’s like if I wanted to send something there, I would have to know the history of the apartment ownership to do it.

 

The reality of these deliveries is that the package might show up at the right building, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. It might end up at the right apartment, it might end up at another apartment, or it might not get delivered at all. In the end, I sent the delivery to an office in town that said they had no problems with deliveries. But if I had wanted to send it to that apartment, I would have had to write several names down on the package to get it to the right place. Depending on how that package changed hands it might still have gotten misplaced.

 

Local Data Knowledge as a Solution

 

This is obviously not the optimal way to do things, and that’s where GDC’s unique approach to address verification comes in. When we set out to solve this problem, it was apparent to us that generic datasets can be useful but are inherently problematic. They aren’t managed by people that understand the context of the data and they can often go without updates. At GDC, our team fans out across the globe to find the best LOCAL providers of knowledge, and then puts those companies through rigorous testing to make sure that their data is up to scratch. The result is what we call the ‘intelligent stack’. We take an address and redirect it to the best in-country data source in our consortium.

 

The results of using these local data sources are impressive, and our new partner in France is a powerful example of this. They combine data from marketing databases and private commercial sources that has coverage all across France and can have better resolution than other datasets. Our partner is also updating this data constantly, receiving information from sources constantly and applying address and verification rule changes at least once a month.

 

This kind of data and refresh rate prevents problems like the one I had in Paris, and can improve delivery reliability overall. Companies know this is critical to the French market, and they know just how fickle consumers can be if deliveries aren’t right the first time. It’s a survival need, and for a dynamic like France, generic data just doesn’t cut it. Businesses need local data for France, and with our newest French partner, we are pleased to deliver for our Worldview customers. If you are looking for a more reliable solution to delivering in France, or anywhere else in the world, please give me a call. We’d love to help expand your worldview.

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Shipping to Brazil? Every Package Must Now Include the CPF

Quick overview: If you ship packages into Brazil, you need to be aware of some important changes that require all labels be clearly marked with a tax ID number called the CPF. If you don’t have your customer’s CPF, the shipments will be returned or destroyed and you’ll be fined by Brazilian Customs. Many eCommerce merchants are not yet collecting CPF from their customers, and the new requirement could disrupt their Brazilian trade. GDC can provide it for you and help you avoid a disruption. Here are the details…

Brazil’s high import taxes caught the attention of financial media last year when Apple’s iPhone – which cost roughly US$600 when purchased in the States – was selling for nearly twice that in Rio de Janeiro.(1) Apple took some heat for marking up a high-demand product almost 50 percent above the monthly wage of Brazil’s average worker. But in reality most of that price bump wasn’t going into Apple’s pocket. It was required to pay the Brazilian tax authority.

Like many governments, Brazil uses duties to encourage the growth of its domestic industries. By levying customs taxes on imports, it creates a price advantage for local businesses to help them compete. Still, Brazilian consumers continue buying brands they can only get through imports, at times paying taxes as high as 100 percent.

Brazil Customs requires any incoming parcels be clearly marked with the recipient’s name, address and tax ID number. For individuals, that’s called the CPF (short for Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas) and for businesses it’s the CNPJ (Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica). Customs uses the numbers to assess the tax, and requires the recipient to make the duty payment before he/she can collect the parcel. Private courier services have become quite efficient at collecting a customer’s CPF and tax obligation before shipping the parcel to Brazil, ensuring it moves through customs quickly.

But when using the Correios for delivery (that’s Brazil’s government-run postal service) merchants and shoppers have found some loopholes to exploit. The Correios would accept a parcel without a CPF, ship it to a local post office near its final destination, and send notice to the buyer to come in to pay the tax and accept the shipment. Correios was supposed to collect duties on behalf of Brazil Customs. But their enforcement was spotty at best, and plenty of people took advantage of that.

No more. Seeing that it was losing a lot of tax revenue, the Brazilian government has mandated that Correios do a better job of collecting duties. Starting this summer, all shipments into Brazil must be clearly labeled with the recipient’s name, address, and CPF to make it past Customs. If it doesn’t have the CPF, the package will either be shipped-back or destroyed, and the sender will be responsible for paying a fine.

The problem is that many eCommerce merchants (and the technology platforms that support them) have not made the necessary changes to their shopping forms to collect the CPF. Things could get complicated for them in the coming months. Fortunately, GDC has a way to help immediately.

We specialize in finding the best in-country sources for identity and address data and integrating them into our Worldview platform. For Brazil, our service has comprehensive coverage (99 percent) of CPF and CNPJ information. We can take a combination of name, address, phone or email and provide back (in real-time) the CPF number for your shipping labels.

Brazil is a key market for many eCommerce companies. If this new requirement puts your trading business there at risk, GDC can help immediately. Feel free to reach out to me directly. Or click here to learn more about the services we offer in Brazil.

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GDC’s Integrates New India Address Partner into Worldview

This month GDC welcomed to the consortium a best in-country address validation solution for India, an exciting addition to the Worldview global platform. India is the world’s second largest country in terms of population, its consumer class is growing by leaps and bounds, and rising income is creating an appetite for eCommerce goods. Internet orders are literally doubling every few months. According to Morgan Stanley estimates, Indian online sales will grow from US$3 billion in 2013 to US$100 billion in 2020.

But its address infrastructure is notoriously under-developed, and this creates massive headaches for eCommerce companies that want to ship products to Indian customers. They’re afraid of the risk that comes with the unreliable address services they get from the generic global verification systems (a topic we covered in detail in my Open Letter last month). They want to sell their goods to this massive consumer class in India, but they’re hesitating because of the costs that come when you can’t verify addresses with confidence. Like mis-deliveries, ship-backs, lost shipments, credit card chargebacks, and frustrated customers, to name a few.

That’s why we’re excited to offer this new data partner in India. As a Mumbai-based business, it’s a truly LOCAL solution providing LOCAL intelligence. The company has enriched India Post address data by layering in alternative sources and adding business logic that helps resolve the most common address mistakes. Our own tests of their data demonstrates significant lift over what’s offered in the major generic global systems. And they are constantly refreshing the information to keep ahead of the quick pace of construction as India’s economy keeps building new homes and apartments and demolishing old ones.

In particular, this partner is able to provide more granular delivery details in more cities, suburbs, and villages. While the generic global systems rarely provide verification below the city or post code level, this partner is able to verify many more addresses to the street, premise or even delivery point level.

This is what LOCAL address solutions do, and it makes a big difference to eCommerce businesses (both the big platforms and the individual merchants) seeking growth in the Indian market. Let me explain…

The India Address and Delivery Challenge

Last month Wall Street Journal reporter Sean McLain shadowed two motorcycle deliverymen as they hauled eCommerce goods through the streets of some of India’s largest cities. One worked for Flipkart, an enormous Bangalore-based online marketplace, and the other for Amazon.

Each would pile as much as 150 pounds into their backpacks and fan out through the cities, suburbs and villages to deliver such sundry goods as laser printers, coffee makers and six-packs of Coca-Cola. They’re expected to make at least 45 deliveries each day, but the address infrastructure in India makes this no easy task.

Delhi, for example, is a city of nearly 17 million people. Addresses are a combination of neighborhood names, block numbers and house numbers. Many house numbers aren’t even arranged sequentially along a street. Three houses in a row might skip from 225 to 657 and back to 301. The complexity of it means deliverymen spend a lot of time asking for directions. When following the Amazon driver, the

reporter noted that each delivery “involved at least four stops to ask cycle-rickshaw drivers, security guards or roadside barbers for directions. Each time the response was the same: an outstretched finger and a one-word answer: ‘Straight.'”

Neither Amazon nor Flipkart trust India Post or other traditional delivery services to get their parcels to customers. They’re investing huge sums of cash to build their own delivery infrastructure. This is how desperate they are to build local intelligence to make sure packages arrive on customer’s doorsteps quickly. Even then, it’s all terribly inefficient.

There’s a better way.

The Difference in LOCAL Intelligence for Address Verification

Even though they want to expand their businesses into India, eCommerce merchants are wary of the address and delivery challenge. Generic global address services aren’t helping. In most of India they can only verify addresses to city or district level. Think about what that means. They expect you to ship products – potentially expensive products – to an address about which they can tell you nothing more than “we know the city exists.” It means you have to ship first and then hope the deliverymen figure out the neighborhood, street and house number portions of the address. That creates too much uncertainty for merchants.

With our new data partner in India, GDC is able to flip that equation around. Rather than sending the package and hoping the deliveryman’s local knowledge is sufficient to find the address, we use our partner’s local intelligence to provide address detail to the street, premise and delivery point levels. We can also tell you if an address is not deliverable. It’s like having the local deliveryman in Delhi tell you the address exists before you ever ship the package.

For eCommerce merchants holding back from the Indian market, this should give you reason to reconsider. There’s a massive growth opportunity there, and in using our local intelligence for address verification, you can be confident your parcel will arrive even when you’re using local delivery services.

For the big eCommerce platforms – even those that have invested so heavily in these armies of motorcycle deliverymen – there’s an opportunity for you, too. With this local intelligence for address verification, you can stage your orders for more efficient delivery. If the goal is 45 packages a day per deliveryman, imagine how much throughput you could get if he started with better address information…if he didn’t have to stop four times to ask directions for each package!

So, we welcome our new India partner into the Global Data Consortium. We’re excited to open up access to India for Worldview customers. And if you’re looking for help in India, or any other country in our global platform, give us a call. We’d love to help expand your Worldview.

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Post-Script – The Innovator’s Dilemma and Local Disruption

I recently published an open letter to the address verification industry, a group to which I’ve belonged professionally for over 20 years. In it, I critiqued our lack of innovation over the years and suggested another way: making global address verification better by using local intelligence.

As hoped, the letter spurred a lot of interesting dialogue. In hopes to keep the conversation going, I’m posting a series of blog entries that dig deeper into the themes of technology, address data and how we can meet the needs of our most demanding customers.

Part I: History Lessons

Part II: A Fateful Trip to Brazil and My “Eureka!” Moment

Part III: Making Local Intelligence a Reality in Global Address Verification

Part IV: Post-Script – The Innovator’s Dilemma and Local Disruption

In 1997, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen published his landmark book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. His guiding questions: why is it that innovation always seems to come with disruption? True innovation rarely comes from market leaders with established products. It always comes from an upstart with little to lose and a scrappy mentality.

The minicomputer didn’t come from IBM, Christensen instructs us, though IBM had the deep pockets, experienced sales force, and engineering know-how to make it happen. No, IBM kept clinging to the profits from its dominant mainframe technology before Digital Equipment Corporation (and a host of other upstarts) swooped in and launched the better, faster, cheaper alternative.

History will show the global address verification market is going through a similar disruption.

On the surface, it’s baffling that the older global address companies aren’t pushing local intelligence into the verification process. The new model makes so much more sense. But looking at it through Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma lens, we can begin to understand why. They’re captive to their own success; to the demands of their big customers. Rather than look to the future of our industry – the rise of cross-border commerce, increasing parcel shipment, and consumers demanding ever faster delivery – they remain focused on protecting what they have.

It’s a hard cycle to break.

They aren’t doing it, and I don’t expect that to change. What I do expect is that Global Data Consortium continues leaning into this new and developing market. We will build a critical mass of data partners providing best in-country solutions; we will help our partners continue improving their data through faster feedback loops; and we will make our services less expensive with time (though, perhaps surprisingly, it’s already price competitive with the major global generics).

This is the way of disruption. Quality keeps getting better, prices keep coming down, and eventually even the most price-sensitive customers want the better service.

Five years from now I predict that most of the market has shifted to this model. We will no longer accept “good enough is good enough.” We’ll demand innovations that move local intelligence (that’s so rich at the delivery level) upstream to the address verification process. Rather than depend on local intelligence to fix it, our local data will prevent the problems that lead to mis-delivery and delays.

That’s when we can say the local disruption has truly taken hold. That’s the future that I want GDC to be part of.

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Making Local Intelligence a Reality in Global Address Verification

I recently published an open letter to the address verification industry, a group to which I’ve belonged professionally for over 20 years. In it, I critiqued our lack of innovation over the years and suggested another way: making global address verification better by using local intelligence.

As hoped, the letter spurred a lot of interesting dialogue. In hopes to keep the conversation going, I’m posting a series of blog entries that dig deeper into the themes of technology, address data and how we can meet the needs of our most demanding customers.

Part I: History Lessons

Part II: A Fateful Trip to Brazil and My “Eureka!” Moment

Part III: Making Local Intelligence a Reality in Global Address Verification

In 2010, on a long plane ride back from Brazil, my mind was racing with ideas. Two years prior, an eCommerce executive had challenged me (read that story here) to solve the last mile problem of global address verification. In his world, every package had to be delivered and as quickly as possible. He couldn’t afford to ship to bad addresses, but existing global address verification systems weren’t reliable enough. They depended too much on local delivery intelligence to fix address mistakes. His criticism stung because I was COO of one of those businesses, but I knew he was right.

I had gone to Brazil to ask its postal operator, Correios, to give my company an update to its address database. That had not worked, but in a stroke of serendipity, I met the owner of a business that maintained more complete address data than Correios and that refreshed its addresses constantly. (See that story here.)

This was exactly what the eCommerce executive had been asking for! And if it existed in Brazil, there must be similar services in other countries. I began talking with my colleague (and eventual co-founder) about creating a better global address verification system; one that used the local intelligence of best in-country sources of data; one that kept up with the constant changes of addresses by constantly refreshing its data. If we could build access to a network of these data sources, we could create an entirely new (and more reliable) model for global address verification.

If we could build something that met the lofty requirements of eCommerce, where every package counts and there’s no margin of error for bad addresses, we could also help the companies on which the eCommerce industry leans for help (logistics, fulfillment and delivery). We could help data cleansing services that need more reliable results than the older global address systems provided. Perhaps we could even help software companies that do mapping and navigation based on addresses.

I began sketching the blueprint for a company based on these ideas. It would be complicated, no doubt. We would have to…

  1. Identify the Right Partners and Build Relationships

Just as the best address provider in Brazil had been hard to find (really, there was no small element of luck that I met him on that trip!), so would its counterparts in other countries. I would have to rely heavily on my network of friends in the address data industry to identify the right partners.

And I would need to keep my passport up-to-date…this would not be a job I could do while sitting behind a desk. I was going to need to spend a lot of time traveling to meet data providers, vetting them face-to-face to establish trust and to feel confident they play by all the right rules in collecting and sharing their data.

  1. Test to Verify

Most data providers say they’re the best, so frequent testing was going to be critical to finding the actual best in-country partners. We would need to create clear testing parameters to demonstrate these companies provided more reliable address results than postal operators.

  1. Build Sophisticated Technology

Finally (and it almost seems funny that this comes third), we would have to invest in a robust cloud-based technology platform for integrating with our data partners and providing our customers with a single place to access the world’s best address data. This would be the only way to take full advantage of their refresh cycles (the feedback loops that keeps their address data current).

This was the basic blueprint, and later that year my partner Charles and I formed the Global Data Consortium. In the five years since, we’ve been executing on the plan, step-by-step. I flew around the world finding the best data providers for key countries. I developed friendships that turned into trusted partnerships. We tested everyone’s data to verify its quality and reliability. And we developed the GDC Worldview product – an API management engine and data validation platform – to provide our customers a single point of access to the world’s most reliable address data.

We’ve come a long way since Brazil! Worldview now has over 30 countries covered by best in-country partners, and we’re adding up to four new ones each month.

It’s a solid start, and we keep investing in Worldview to make it better for our existing customers and anyone for whom the old global address systems just aren’t good enough.

Here’s my challenge to consumers of global address verification services: If you’ve found that the generic systems aren’t providing the results you want; if bad address information is leading to mis-delivery or slow delivery; if your service isn’t formatting addresses in the way your global customers expect to see them…there’s no reason to be captive to “good enough.” You can do better.

If that describes you, let’s talk. Let’s set up a test to see how our best in-country data partners use their local intelligence to fix problems before a package ever ships.

Let us improve your world view.

Next: My final thoughts in this blog series…The innovator’s dilemma and predicting the future of the global address verification industry.

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A Fateful Trip to Brazil and My “Eureka!” Moment

I recently published an open letter to the address verification industry, a group to which I’ve belonged professionally for over 20 years. In it, I critiqued our lack of innovation over the years and suggested another way: making global address verification better by using local intelligence.

As hoped, the letter spurred a lot of interesting dialogue. In hopes to keep the conversation going, I’m posting a series of blog entries that dig deeper into the themes of technology, address data and how we can meet the needs of our most demanding customers.

Part I: History Lessons

Part II: A Fateful Trip to Brazil and My “Eureka!” Moment

In 2010 my address verification company was having trouble with Brazil’s postal operator, Correios. For ten years they had refused to provide updates of their address data to foreign businesses.

For the past 50 years building a global address database meant a company (like mine at the time) had to gather information from the world’s various postal agencies. Since addresses are in a state of constant flux (new apartments going up, old buildings torn down, office spaces partitioned into suites, etc.), we took updates once or twice a year in an attempt to keep up with the changes. Think of it like a subscription to the old encyclopedia Britannica: you would pay them to send a replacement volume periodically so your research information didn’t get too dated. Bi-annual updates were the norm. Waiting ten years, however, meant our Brazilian data was desperately outdated.

For years I had tried to break this logjam with Correios to no avail. Finally, I decided it was time to take action. I flew to Brazil one week that summer, hoping that being in country would convince them to finally meet with me.

Alas, no. They weren’t budging, and they had no interest in talking with me. But all was not lost. Rather than sitting in my Sao Paulo hotel room, I made a sales call on a direct mail marketing company. The owner and I hit it off and spent most of a day together. I explained to him my frustration with Correios. He laughed, telling me he had no problems getting updates. Then he hesitated, got a quizzical look on his face and asked me, “But why would you want their address data. It’s garbage. You should use mine instead.”

He explained further: Like most postal agencies, Correios was not very good at keeping track of its addresses. This entrepreneur had discovered that fact years ago as he started building his company. He saw an opportunity to make a reputation for himself as having the best address data in the country. Having the most accurate addresses meant more of his mailers would be delivered by the postal carriers accurately and more quickly (no need to rely on the local delivery person to fix your mistakes). This would be a competitive advantage against other direct marketing businesses.

So he built his own database, taking Correios addresses (which, because he was a Brazilian, they would update at normal intervals) and enriching it with his own efforts. He created an information network throughout Brazil, ensuring he would get notice of new and changed addresses. If a new apartment complex was coming online in Brasilia, he collected that information and made the updates. In places where data was particularly hard to get, he literally hired people to walk the street and gather address information themselves. He even created an immediate feedback loop to correct bad addresses: When an envelope was returned as undeliverable, his people would quickly update the database.

Most impressive of all, he created enhanced postal rules to account for local nuances and expectation. If a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood called itself by a name not recognized by Correios, say for vanity reasons, his system caught that and during verification would suggest a change more likely to get the mail delivered quickly and in a format the recipient expected to see.

As a result of his innovations, he had created a competitive advantage for his business. It was thriving. Other businesses needing accurate Brazilian addresses were seeking his help. Courier services, utility companies, even retail stores (who needed better address verification in order to extend credit to people living in the working-class favelas). Correios addresses weren’t good enough, and my new friend had established himself as the superior alternative.

While he had focused exclusively on serving domestic Brazilian companies with his address solution, he was open to finding a way to help me solve my Correios problem.

This was my “Eureka!” moment. This business had found a way to incorporate local intelligence into the address verification process, and he had feedback loops in place that guaranteed rapid data refreshes. If going through Correios was like subscribing to the encyclopedia Britannica, going through him was like having a team of experts building a maintaining our own personal Wikipedia for addresses.

If this worked in Brazil, there must be similar services in other major countries. And if I could find a way to bring it all together on a single technology platform, we could solve that eCommerce cross-border problem. We could bring local intelligence into the address verification process.

Next: We create the blueprint for the Global Data Consortium and begin building Worldview.