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The following case study is no longer available on the Microsoft web site but is replicated here as it was published in 2004.

Postcode Anywhere Delivers Web Service for Accurate, Address-Based Information, While Reducing Development Costs by 60-70 per cent

Published: April 1, 2004

Postcode Anywhere

Customer Profile

Postcode Anywhere enables organisations to quickly and accurately capture an address from a postcode or zipcode.

Business Situation

Postcode Anywhere has worked with the earliest beta releases of the Microsoft® .NET Framework since 2000. When it identified a niche to deliver address-based information as a fully-hosted Web service, it decided to develop the offering using the .NET Framework.

Solution Description

Using the Microsoft .NET Framework, Postcode Anywhere has developed an offering that is available either as a fully-hosted Web service, or as a local solution which is updated via the Web.

Benefits

 

  • Time and cost savings for end-users
  • Development costs reduced by 60-70 per cent
  • Enterprise-level security
  • Fast, simple set up for customers
  • Reliability

 

Postcode Anywhere has developed a Web service to deliver address-based information to public and corporate customers. The service enables organisations to capture and verify customer details quickly and easily, with no need to manage large-scale address databases in house. All information is updated regularly via secure connections, making in-house database updates a thing of the past. The service is also available on a pay-as-you-go basis, making address information available to organisations of all sizes. The service, which was developed using the Microsoft .NET Framework, is already helping more than 700 clients to serve their customers better. One organisation to benefit from the service is the Office of Telecommunications Ombudsman (Otelo), a not-for-profit organisation that handles consumer and small-business complaints against telecommunications providers. By developing the service on the .NET Framework, Postcode Anywhere has reduced the time and cost of its development initiatives by 60-70 per cent. It also offers an open environment that makes it easy for new users, such as Otelo, to subscribe to the service, irrespective of the technology platforms they operate on.

Situation

Many organisations require access to address and postcode-related information to capture information about their customers. By identifying an address from a postcode on the phone, for example, companies can improve the customer experience and process queries more efficiently. Access to this kind of information also reduces bad data resulting from human error.

Traditionally, address and postcode information has been provided to enterprises using compressed data stored on their own local IT infrastructures. The UK address database has 27 million addresses and requires as many as 100,000 updates per month. The volume and dynamism of this data results in a number of challenges to traditional address information providers. For example, as well as finding ways to compress data for delivery to customers, traditional software providers have not found it cost effective to send out regular CD updates.  This has resulted in businesses using obsolete address data thereby compounding the problem that they are looking to solve.

Understanding the need for address-related information and challenges to traditional delivery models, Postcode Anywhere developed an address database and Web service to make this information available online. The new service enables users to pay for address queries on a per-use basis, making it highly accessible to both large corporates and smaller organisations. In addition, the service updates information remotely, eliminating data integrity issues and removing manual update processes for customers.

One example of a company that has benefited from the Postcode Anywhere service is the Office of Telecommunications Ombudsman (Otelo), a not-for-profit organisation that handles consumer and small-business complaints against telecommunications providers.

Established in October 2002, Otelo had the opportunity to build its IT infrastructure from the ground up. It chose to work with technology solutions provider Vigence to select software, office equipment and the company's phone system. The resulting solution enables Otelo to operate with minimal IT infrastructure on site, eliminating the need for maintenance and updates internally.

To deliver the best possible service, Otelo needed to capture information a bout customers in the most efficient way possible. Achieving this with no software tools can result in mistakes and slow customer service. In addition, Otelo planned to scale up from a few call centre operatives to 50 people in a tight timeframe. It needed address verification on a pay-per-use basis.

With support from Vigence, Otelo has implemented a solution using the Postcode Anywhere Web service to collect information about customers quickly and deliver the best possible service. The service has revolutionised the delivery of address-based information and is currently in use by more than 700 customers across sectors including public authorities, travel, finance and utilities.

Andrew Bradley, Communications Manager, Otelo, says: "With Postcode Anywhere, we can be sure that all our information is always up to date and deliver the best possible service to our customers."

Solution

The Postcode Anywhere Web service, which was developed using the Microsoft® .NET Framework and the Microsoft Visual Studio® .NET development system, enables customers to access accurate address information. It offers more than 27 million UK addresses and US data for a further 130 million homes.

Jamie Turner, IT Director, Postcode Anywhere, says: "The .NET Framework is an integral component of Microsoft Windows® that provides a programming model and runtime for Web services, Web applications and smart client applications, and streamlines the development process for writing Web services. This is because it provides mature object-oriented programming languages such as Microsoft Visual Basic® .NET that offer genuine object-oriented facilities like strong typing, inheritance and polymorphism. We have real confidence that an application or Web service developed using the .NET Framework will work. It also makes prolonged de-bugging in languages such as C++ a thing of the past."

Another benefit of the .NET Framework is that application components can easily be shared between different products. Postcode Anywhere offers services for public and corporate customers which are very different. The .NET Framework enables the services to share many components of the code base – reducing duplication of development effort.

The openness of the .NET Framework also makes it simple for users to hook into the system. New customers can find the Web service and controls for the service on the Postcode Anywhere Web site and ‘sign up', by following a straightforward process.  Web services built using the Framework can be called by any Web services client, including both Microsoft and non-Microsoft clients like Flash MX and Apache.

The database that underpins the Postcode Anywhere service is built on Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000. The front end of the service goes through Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 5.0 on Windows® 2000 Server operating system.  This has given them the capability to scale the service to meet the very high demands required.

Turner says: "Microsoft SQL Server has performed incredibly well at the back end and manipulating data is very fast for us. While most competitors have made big investments in technology to compress data, we host uncompressed data for maximum performance in the public service.

"We have also introduced a service for corporate customers who host the data locally. This uses a different, more compact data structure that occupies just two Gigabytes. More importantly though, it is updateable and regular updates are downloaded from our Web servers over a secure connection. As a result of this bandwidth efficient replication, corporate customers can install the data on their own machines and they never need to touch it again."

Benefits: >Time and Cost Savings for End Users

By using the Microsoft .NET-connected Postcode Anywhere Web service, in tandem with other customer-oriented software applications, Otelo has reduced the average time required to serve customers from one hour to just 30-40 minutes.

Andrew Bradley, Communications Manager, Otelo, says: "We save several minutes per call as a direct result of the Postcode Anywhere Web service. This means we easily save two or three hours every day. As a result, we can deliver a better service to callers and handle queries more quickly."

In addition, Postcode Anywhere customers can train new employees to deal with customer enquiries efficiently and increase their productivity. Bradley says: "The system is extremely user-friendly and easy to configure. Our call centre manager says training is never an issue with Postcode Anywhere."

The service also provides an open interface to enable additional customer service features for Postcode Anywhere clients.

Bradley says: "In the future, Otelo will make our services available to customers via a Web site. The Postcode Anywhere service can be exposed online to help customers register their details. Because accessibility and transparency are such big issues in the service we provide, we need to make it easy for people to register complaints across a range of channels including SMS messaging, phone and the Internet. The Postcode Anywhere offering helps us to achieve this going forward."

Development Costs Reduced by 60-70 per cent">

For Postcode Anywhere, the .NET Framework has enabled significant time and cost savings throughout the development process.

Guy Mucklow, MD, Postcode Anywhere, says: "Since we started working with the .NET Framework, we have achieved a 60-70 per cent saving in development time and costs. Much of this is due to the extensive class libraries provided with the .NET Framework. These eliminate most of the fiddly development tasks required in the past for a pure ASP-based implementation.

"For example, we are currently working on a new version of our desktop client application, which was originally written in Visual Basic 6.0. First time around, it took one developer two to three months to get the base line code in place. With the .NET Framework, we reduced this to just two to three weeks."

These improvements in the development process enable Postcode Anywhere to bring new functionality to market very quickly. In addition, the cost savings associated with faster development times help to keep operational costs to a minimum.

Security Fit for the Enterprise

The Postcode Anywhere service is protected by Microsoft IIS. This technology integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft .NET Framework and Microsoft SQL Server. Mucklow says: "Security features are built into the system to monitor usage and protect our customers. If, for example, an organisation experiences a sudden increase in usage of their account, we can immediately isolate it, send a message to the client, and notify our own staff to investigate.

"We have had excellent feedback from clients when these security features kick in. Even where accelerated use of the system is legitimate, customers are happy to know that their operations are being monitored and protected."

Simple Set Up For Customers

The Postcode Anywhere Web service enables new users to be configured quickly on the system using a wizard interface. This also applies to smaller organisations, which have traditionally found it difficult to source address-information solutions.

Mucklow says: "Organisations of all sizes can call us for desktop licences and we can have them up and running in two or three minutes. We can also send invoices electronically in near real time, making the entire process of using the service quick and painless."

Reliability

Because the system is highly reliable, Postcode Anywhere can focus IT resources on ongoing development projects rather than on maintenance. In addition, the reliability of the Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database helps to provide a seamless customer experience.

Jamie Turner, IT Director, Postcode Anywhere, says: "The system requires very little day-to-day maintenance. For example, our SQL Server performs tens of thousands of transactions per minute on an ongoing basis. Even so, the servers have been running trouble free since June 2003. This kind of reliability means we can be very confident in the service we deliver and our customers have peace of mind."

An integral component of the Microsoft Windows® operating system, the Microsoft® .NET Framework is for building and running the next generation of applications and XML-based Web services. It provides a highly productive, standards-based, enterprise-ready, multilanguage environment that simplifies application development, enables developers to take advantage of their existing skill set, facilitates integration with existing software, and eases the challenges of deploying and operating Internet-scale applications. The Framework consists of two main parts: the common language runtime and a unified, hierarchical class library that includes a revolutionary advance to Active Server Pages (Microsoft ASP.NET), an environment for building smart client applications (Windows Forms), and a loosely coupled data access subsystem (Microsoft ADO.NET). For more information about the Framework, go to:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/netframework/

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft UK Contact Centre on 08706 010100. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to:
http://www.microsoft.com/uk

To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
http://www.microsoft.com

For more information about Otelo products and services, call 0845 050 1614 or visit the Web site at:
http://www.otelo.org.uk

© 2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Microsoft, Visual Basic, Visual Studio, and Windows, are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.