How address APIs improved productivity and service delivery at EWON

When New South Wales electricity, gas and some water customers have an unresolved complaint with their provider, the Energy and Water Ombudsman of NSW (EWON) is the independent body that manages the dispute. With 26,416 complaints in 2017/2018 alone, it’s essential EWON has accurate data for handling complaints, delivering community programs and improving service delivery.

EWON grappled with data integrity issues resulting from incorrect customer addresses being typed into its online complaints form and lost productivity from having to manually correct them.

Challenge: Correcting data input errors and accurately reporting to stakeholders

Errors could be as simple as customers misplacing a letter or as complex as them using an alias for their location. For example, ‘Kings Cross’ is a well-known area in NSW; likewise, ‘Harbord’ on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, but they’re not gazetted locality names. EWON had a process in place to correct address input errors, but it required manual workarounds.

EWON categorises and analyses complaints by Local Government Area (LGA) and region to identify systemic issues in the delivery of electricity, gas and water services to consumers. It produces reports for stakeholders, such as the Australian Energy Regulator and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, to help understand where issues of financial affordability or disconnection are occurring.

A small number of staff understood how complaints data was mapped to the various reporting boundaries posing a risk to EWON’s analysis. 

A perfect storm

The situation worsened in 2016 when local council amalgamations and redistributions changed the areas complaints should be mapped to. And with a Census data update nearing, the process became unsustainable.

“When we looked at the data in our systems to prepare for the update, we saw a lot of challenges,” explained Janine Young, Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW.

“This was the tipping point for deciding we needed to improve our data collection and management systems”.

Solution: Two address APIs working together

EWON decided a solution using the Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF) had to be at the core of the new system – and upfront, automated address verification would resolve input errors.

Our Predictive Address API seamlessly plugged into EWON’s new online complaints form, which launched in November 2018. With predictive text and auto-complete functions, the new form suggests possible address matches from verified data as customers type. The API also prevents customer data entry errors from entering the system.

In tandem, our Addresses API adds more detail about each address to support EWON’s reporting obligations and delivery of customer support programs. When a complaint form is completed, the address identifier from the Predictive Address API is fed into the Addresses API to allocate an LGA and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistical area to the address.

Outcome:  Accurate address data. Increased productivity. Better reporting and service delivery.

With the Predictive Address API, the number of address errors entered in EWON’s online form have reduced significantly. Addresses are more accurate and mapped to a location. And the Addresses API has opened the door to easier analysis, more robust reporting and better targetted service delivery.

The API services provide EWON with ongoing access to the freshest data possible. They also reduce the need for EWON to update reporting regions in-house and enable it to respond to changing stakeholder reporting needs.

“The benefit of the API is we don’t have to touch the source data – all changes including geographic boundaries are done for us,” says Ms Young.

“We have greater options for analysis by geographic distance, location and more. And we have the ability to build on our core data and provide insights that can enhance the information we provide to stakeholders.”

EWON uses the more accurate data and accessible insights in its outreach activities – to focus support in communities that may be vulnerable.

“We can see areas where there are clusters of complaints and target events to support these people, including inviting retailers to speak to their consumers in person at our outreach events,” Ms Young said.

“The new process means we are future-proof. When there are boundary changes – like council amalgamations – we can easily update the region each address falls in. And we can re-map historical data to the new boundaries to maintain a time series of complaints information.”

EWON will use its new data collection and reporting capability to inform its 2018/2019 Annual Report and the mapping of complaints across every LGA in New South Wales, creating richer insights.

EWON's customer engagement activity across NSW in 2017-18
EWON’s customer engagement activity across NSW in 2017-18