Postal codes may deliver an entirely new digital industry for Ireland

22 Oct 2013

Pat Rabbitte, TD, Ireland’s minister for communications, recently announced he won approval from cabinet to pave the way for a new national postcode system that will be live by 2015.

In making the digitisation move, Rabbitte said Ireland will be able to harness the technology and systems available today to move to a next-generation system.

A consortium headed by Capita Ireland is now set to develop, implement and operate the new postcode system, which will see every letterbox in the Republic of Ireland receive its own seven-digit postbox.  

Such codes will come in the format A65 B2CD, with the first three characters relating to a general area or postal district in which the address is located.

In the nation’s capital, Dublin, existing postal districts will appear as the first three characters of the new postcode.

The Irish Government claims Ireland will be the first country in the world to have a public database of unique identifiers for properties. This, it said, will help citizens, public bodies and businesses to locate every individual household, apartment and business in the State.

Data for postcodes

Yet despite the announcement from Rabbitte, there is still confusion as to whether the data used to create the postcodes will be ‘open’ or will be licensed.

Rabbitte hinted he would be announcing further details of the new system “subject to contract” shortly.

The general consensus is that a Postcode Management Licence Holder (PMLH) will manage the postcode database and license its use through third-party suppliers – this would follow a similar model to the UK.

Richard Garry is sales and marketing director at Gamma, the Dublin-based geographic information system (GIS) firm that provides geocoding and address services.

He is of the view that dealing with the 30pc of non-unique addresses will be “exciting times” for the Irish GIS community.

This is because it will mean all rural areas will be open for comprehensive spatial analysis, according to Garry.

With that, new niche industries can spring up on the back of the digital postcoding. Garry said the main benefits will be in making existing service providers more efficient, for example, ambulance and fire brigade services, and even engineering services.

“Service or installation engineers’ days can be made more efficient by knowing where exactly each house is before they set off,” Garry said.

“Supermarket home delivery can increase their delivery catchments into rural areas, as they will now be able to identify individual houses.”

Parcel delivery will be more efficient, as drivers will not be required to have local knowledge, leading to savings for the consumer.

Digital makeover

The area of property and the health services could also be set for a digital overhaul.

“Understanding where demand for services is required at building level will lead to more efficient service provision,” Garry said. This could be applicable in the area of community welfare nurses, home help services and even charities.

Tom Hayes, who is head of micro-enterprise and small business at Enterprise Ireland, is also of the general view that this postal system overhaul via codes could generate business spin-offs, especially for existing players who are operating in the area of information management and in spatial management.

The postal coding system “might also fit into the smart-city approach”, he said.

This, for instance, could be applicable to urban planning, and making systems like transport services flow faster, using data to map out peak travel times for commuters, school belts around the city, or hospital routes. It could also be applicable to the regions – opening up information on census data so that planners and property developers can know when to put in new playgrounds, nursing homes and healthcare services – based on demographic inflows and outflows.

“There could also be opportunities for location-based services in Ireland,” he said, adding that it would be about slicing up consumer data or services.

Healthcare could become a core focal point of this data.

Take the example of an ambulance that needs to get to an emergency situation in a far-off part of west Kerry. Up to now, such ambulances might have been unable to find a home, without having to call into a local village pub, or even worse, calling to the wrong home. And then, it may be too late.

Hayes said healthcare, ageing and areas such as birth and death rates, plus demographics, could all serve up opportunities for both existing businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises.

“It will be about using analytics and being able to analyse data for a whole range of purposes and to throw up new possibilities.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 20 October

Postcode image via Shutterstock

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic