Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Geolocation and Postal Addresses

tags: address systems, Univeral Postal Union (UPU),  GPS, GIS, geolocation
"Geolocation is the identification of the real-world geographic location of an object… Geolocation may refer to the practice of assessing the location, or to the actual assessed location."  Many sources cite this definition from Wikipedia or a close variation.  Some add in elevation or may specify latitude and longitude.  Some reference GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates, which are expressed in latitude and longitude.  The related term GIS stands for Geographic Information System.  GIS includes the software, hardware and data that allow for analysis and mapping of the GPS coordinates. 

While the more publicly available GPS information is frequently only given as a city or section of a city or a postal code, the more precise location provided by longitude and latitude can be determined.  The information with greater specificity may be more costly to ascertain and can raise privacy and other legal concerns.  However, the more specific locations can provide greater advantages, when planning most central or best locations for facilities, for determining service needs in a geographic area, for mapping delivery routes and many other uses. 

The Wikipedia and other definitions say nothing about postal addresses.  Many of them are focused on computer applications, such as ISP locations.  Obviously, postal addresses and geolocational systems are related, as we know from the mapping function available in cars, on smart phones and other applications.  While postal addresses provide a physical location, at least as close as the post office for post box addresses, they are not geolocational in the exacting way that is often meant by the current use of the term.  For that more exacting use of the information requires the ability to map addresses in more sophisticated ways. 

Like most people, I know my home and office postal addresses but I do not know their GPS coordinates.  Right now, a company with my postal address needs to take additional and often usually costly, steps to append the GPS coordinates.   Relating the two items more easily and inexpensively would open all those advantages – ability to plan locations, determining service needs, mapping delivery routes, etc. – to more organizations. 

Providing more exact geolocation is receiving increasing attention among postal operators and government agencies maintaining and designing postal address systems.  The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is encouraging geolocational mapping of the addresses, some countries' new address systems are geolocational, and some older systems are mapping geolocations to current postal addresses.  In addition to the other rewards from having all postal addresses matched to exact geolocations, it could also provide much needed new revenue opportunities for postal operators.