On April 3, 2003, the U.S. Postal Service announced a new technology titled NCOALink (National Change-of-Address Linkage System Product). Similar to the current National Change-of-Address and FASTforward licensed services, the new NCOALink Product allows mailers access to up-to-date address information for their customers who have moved. This product improves the deliverability of mail and reduces the cost and time required to forward mail. On October 1, 2005, the new NCOALink Product will completely replace the data formats currently used in the existing National Change-of-Address (NCOA) and FASTforward Mailing List Correction products.
NCOALink is a secure dataset of approximately 160 million permanent USPS changes-of-address. Instead of the clear-text data format found in the NCOA data, NCOALink data is in a format that is unintelligible to the reader. There is no text address data embedded in the NCOALink data. Only by presenting a name and address as represented on the change-of-address card provided by the moving customer, and processing it using the specific logic defined by the USPS, can the mailer obtain any of the useful information. The information returned from a NCOALink inquiry is a mathematical 11-digit representation of the new address. Thus, NCOALink cannot by itself be used to produce a listing of addresses. The mailer must already be in possession of the name and old address as is currently required for NCOA and FASTforward.
The secure nature of NCOALink will allow wider distribution and use of the product to improve address quality and reduce undeliverable-as-addressed mail. NCOALink opens up new opportunities for mailers to use the mail as the most effective communication medium at the lowest-possible cost for both the mailer and the USPS.
Mailers that qualify for automation and presort discounts must comply with the USPS Move Update requirements documented in DMM A030 Address Quality and use one of the USPS Approved Methods described in DMM A030.1.4. List owners, list processors, print-to-mail companies, Presort bureaus and other organizations providing name and address data hygiene and/or mailing services have two choices available to them when pre-processing lists through a Move Update process, prior to an automation or presorted mailing to meet the strict Move Update requirements.
This type of solution typically requires that the name and address data, with a unique record identifier, be exported into a specific format for a Licensed Vendor to process. There are also several costs, time and security considerations to evaluate.
This type of solution is more secure, results in less processing time, gives you greater control and can be more cost effective than outsourcing. Here are some considerations when selecting the best solution for you and your organization.
The outsource solution typically requires exporting of the name and address data into a predetermined format that will then be compressed and uploaded to the licensed NCOA/FASTforward/NCOALink vendor. The export format · typically includes a unique record identifier and the name/address information. If the original database also includes extraneous information, for example, telephone numbers, SIC codes, birthdates, etc., you will have to create procedures to update the original database with the Change Of Address (COA) information after receiving the data back from the vendor. This update process may require programming, a third-party product or manual data entry.
The in-house solution typically requires the purchase of software for managing the names and addresses, such as CASS- and GOLD PAVE-certified postal software. Look for products with integrated Move Update features that allow you to easily process names and addresses through the Move Update process with little to no user interaction. There are some in-house solutions that can process lists securely through the Internet and others that include the licensed FASTforward hardware system or NCOALink secure data for a complete in-house solution. If your organization wants the complete in-house solution, remember that there will be additional licensing fees to pay and a self-certification process that you will have to undergo directly with the USPS.
Whether you use the outsource or in-house solution, you should pay close attention to the fees associated with the Move Update service. Be aware that the costs for this service will differ greatly from vendor to vendor and may include expensive setup fees and per record transaction fees. Some fee structures are also based on how quickly you want the clean data returned to you. Some companies integrate Move Update processing into their CASS- and GOLD PAVE-certified postal software products, which allows you to process lists, securely and efficiently through the Internet for near real-time processing. Complete in-house solutions that come with CASS- and GOLD PAVE-certified software and an integrated Move Update feature are also available. It is important you thoroughly research licensed NCOALink/NCOA/FASTforward vendors before buying their products and/or services. Visit the Web site, ribbs.usps.gov for a complete Licensed Vendor list.
Steve Belmonte is president of AccuZIP Inc. Contact him at 800-233-0555 or www.accuzip.com. Some excerpts in this article were derived from documents found at ribbs.usps.gov.