Dec. 29 2006 12:07 AM

More than 45 million individuals, families and businesses in the US change addresses each year. Organizations must update these address changes to maintain important customer relationships and avoid labor and production costs associated with returned mailpieces. Additionally, to qualify for presort incentive rates for First Class mail, organizations must comply with U.S. Postal Service-mandated regulations for Move Update processing.

Historically, the USPS has tracked address changes through its National Change of Address (NCOA) program. However, the USPS recently introduced NCOALink, which will eventually replace the existing FASTforward Mailing List Correction (MLC) and NCOA programs. A main reason for replacing these programs, according to the USPS, was that they require a high level of security (FASTforward and NCOA) or were only licensed a "very restricted" group (NCOA).

By introducing NCOALink, the USPS hopes to increase the utilization of change-of-address (COA) information. With broader access to this information, the USPS hopes that it will be more widely utilized. Who benefits? The USPS benefits from reduced processing and handling costs associated with undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) mail. The mailing community benefits from significant operational savings as well as maintaining the ability to communicate with existing clients. Clearly, NCOALink is a win-win for all parties!

The Technology

NCOALink is a secure dataset of approximately 160 million permanent USPS changes-of-address. The data does not contain actual address data. Rather, the USPS returns a proprietary mathematical representation of an address. Like both NCOA and FASTforward, NCOALink cannot produce address listings by itself. Mailers must therefore present a name and address file and process it in batch mode based on the USPS logic in order to obtain any useful information.

The NCOALink technology requires utilization of a CASS-certified address validation product prior to accessing the COA information. Other USPS programs that can add value to your move update processing include: Delivery Point Validation (DPV) validation to the delivery point; Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS) conversion of addresses to standard deliverable formats; Early Warning System (EWS) addresses that will be added to the USPS ZIP + 4 Code master file in the coming months; Daily Deletes daily changes to the NCOALinkdatabase (only available through a certified NCOALink interface).

The Licenses

NCOALink users can access the NCOALink data through three USPS license types: Full Service Providers, Limited Service Providers and End User Mailers. The characteristics of each license type are distinguished below.

Certified Interface Distributors can support any or all of these license types. For the most up-to-date certification information, go to select NCOALink.

The Economics

If you did not update the address information of your existing customers, in one year's time, you would be unable to reach nearly one in every five customers. And in addition to being unable to target them with important communications, you would be wasting precious resources on mailpiece production and postage.

Mailers can build and certify their own NCOALink interface, license it from a certified distributor or utilize it through a service provider. Implementing the technology in house gives you the ability to update your address information on a more frequent basis while minimizing your costs. The drawbacks associated with this approach include complying with operational and audit requirements mandated by the USPS as well as increased labor costs associated with processing updates. With a service provider, you may pay more to access the technology, but you will have less overhead and job management costs.

Accessing the Data

Whether you process your information against the NCOALink database in house or through a service provider, you must access the address data in your database. One of the benefits of the NCOALink technology is its computer platform-independence. Consequently, NCOALink products are available on a wide variety of platforms and operating systems, from Windows and Unix to iSeries and Mainframes. Organizations that store data on the Mainframe can now execute this process on their native Mainframe platform. Unlike the NCOA and FASTforward programs, companies running on the Mainframe do not have to extract customer data for processing in other environments or FTP this information to NCOA vendors. As a result, processing time and security risks are reduced since the data is not transferred outside the client's secure environment.

Another area to consider is whether a given product's ease-of-use is appropriate with the corresponding platform. For example, Windows and Unix users should utilize a graphical user interface with online help, while iSeries and Mainframe users should have job management screens and/or production-based job control language.

USPS Oversight

Potential NCOALink users should be aware of the four-step process associated with licensing the technology:

1. USPS application and self-certification statement approval

2. Software acquisition

3. NCOALink testing and certification

4. Execution of USPS license agreement

Potential licensees should keep in mind that there is time associated with the application and approval processes both within your organization and at the USPS. If you are licensing the technology from a distributor, they should be able to assist and guide you through this process.

Ray Chin ( is director of North American Postal Products for Group I software. David Peikin ( is corporate communications manager for Group 1 Software. For additional information on NCOALink, visit