Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Little Mistakes, Big Consequences

tags:  correct address, database, database address fields, international destinations

A little mistake in database entries can create major problems down the line.  I reviewed a file for a company that had a number of entries with no country entered.  These normally would be U.S. addresses in their system – but they clearly were not in the U.S.  As I reviewed these, they discovered entries that clearly had the wrong country name, mainly due to confusion between similarly named countries.  Their internal project grew to include a review of all foreign entries in their database. 

They were interested enough to track the problems back to the source.  They want to prevent these problems in the future because their internal audit showed that the expense was greater much greater than previously estimated.  They were kind enough to share the results with me. 

It's not a U.S. state:
  • The source said the country was Georgia (ISO 3166-1 code GE in Asia).  It was entered as the state of Georgia in the U.S. (abbreviation GA).
  • No country was listed and the state was WA, which is the postal abbreviation for Washington state in the U.S. and Western Australia in Australia.  This one was in Australia.
There is plenty of opportunity for these kinds of errors.  Italy and the U.S. both use MI (Milan or Michigan), VA (Varese or Virginia), VI (Vincenza and U.S. Virgin Islands, and VT (Viterbo or Vermont).  India, Italy, and the U.S. all use TN.  Brazil and Italy share TO, Switzerland and Italy share VS, and many more. 

Which country:
  • The country was Virgin Islands.  However, that could be either the U.S. Virgin Islands (addressed through the U.S.) or the British Virgin Islands (a separate international destination).
  • The Congo was listed, with no indication of whether it was the Republic of the Congo or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • There was confusion between St. Maarten and St. Martin and between Dominica and the Dominican Republic.
Again, there is plenty of opportunity for these kinds of errors.  Sudan and South Sudan; Samoa and American Samoa; Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Guyana are among them. 

There were other entries with no country, simply because one was not entered at the source.  

What's in your database?  The cost of bad addresses can be high:  staff time correcting entries, undeliverable mail, lost sales…