Ireland and a National Postcode – The Modern Navigation Requirement

Firstly, the modern requirement for a National postcode has changed. The postal market in Europe is liberalised so delivering mail and, in particular, parcels (which are the only real valuable element of the “mail” market left), is no longer the preserve of a single incumbent. For that reason, it is no longer justifiable for a postcode currently being developed in Europe to set in stone for public use the operational approach of only one service provider. So in that way alone, the traditional approach to postcodes is no longer valid. A generalised postcode can be interpreted internally by any organisation and made fit their internal operations, even as they change and evolve. It also means that the public code never has to change as operations change at great cost to all users.

In the case of Ireland and Eircode, the National postcode board recognised this in 2006 and recommended that the Irish National postcode “would be independent of any one operator” and this recommendation was one of several which formed the basis for the postcode tender which delivered Eircode. However, it would appear that it was ignored in the design considerations of Eircode as the only structured element of the code is actually based on An Post’s sorting operations, in spite of the recommendation!

So, if we were to redesign Eircode again, then the 3 character routing key at the start of the code would have to go. Then we would have to look at the suggestion that a modern postcode does not need any routing information at all. This is probably true, but change the word “routing” to “navigation” and you can then reflect the true modern requirement. The process of delivering any service including mail/parcels can be analysed to being one of navigation technology & science, and so also can the needs of the general public that will use the code. It must, therefore, include “navigation” information.

Have a look at these W3W & Eircode codes for two adjacent houses in Dublin:

W3W : wire.arts.part          Eircode: D12 S3M2
W3W: petty.stump.bump  Eircode : D12 B3N4

So is there anything in these two sets of codes that tells us that they belong to two adjoined semi detached houses? The answer is no in both cases. Is there anything in the codes which tell us they are in the same local area? No. Is there anything that tells us they are in the same general area? Well at least in the case of the Eircodes, the D12 element tells us that they are in the same general area but recently we have found out that this “routing key” element may cover a whole city area! So both codes have no real or useful navigation information that users could benefit from.

Now let’s look at the Loc8 Codes for exactly the same two properties:

NP5-54-TL7
NP5-45-TL7

Just looking at them will tell you very quickly that they must be very close together because they look very much the same and when you understand Loc8 Codes you will know that the numerals in the centre represent the property ID and you then know that they are very close to each other. It is also obvious that they are in the same general area and same local area. This is the kind of “navigation” information a modern postcode should at least offer and it is clear that neither the Eircode nor the what3words offering manage to do this.

Why is this important? Well those who jump into geo technology very often assume that GPS is the solution to everything but those that have experience in such technologies realise that GPS may well not be able to distinguish two close properties from each other and that, as a technology, there are many vulnerabilities which mean that GPS may not always be available. Professionals in every other walk of life use backup technologies to cover the possibility that GPS might not be available. But Eircode and what3words are designed so that unless you have a working GPS and access to a database then you have nothing at all! Unlike the UK postcode, which has many faults but has proved its worth over the years, neither Eircode nor what3words can be easily plotted on a paper map and used in the event of a GPS/Communications outage when such systems, if adopted as a National system, would be depended on to support public safety, rescue and recovery. Can you imagine the scales of paper maps necessary to plot 3 words or the random part of the Eircode on every house? At least with the UK postcode street codes or area codes can be overlayed onto the maps, both paper and electronic, very easily and in a useable way! Even though Loc8 Code was designed by a GPS/positioning expert, it still takes this requirement into account because the designer is also someone with 35 years experience in the requirements of navigation. Loc8 Code has visually conspicuous zone and locality areas which can be easily mapped and resolved if GPS/Communications are undermined for any reason! These areas can not only be mapped but so also can they be learned and iterated by ordinary citizen users so that, without the use of any technology or databases at all, the “joe soaps” of the word can still do basic daily and emergency navigation using the code in their heads. This is a vital aspect of a modern national postcode which must be considered and it is these considerations that turn a geo-gizmo into a publicly useful piece of national infrastructure.

Finally, points made about the value of an address are also valid when talking about postcodes. Because implementation of a postcode must include a cross department/agency/society/business effort and commitment. That would normally include a plan to include at least the zone/locality elements of postcodes on street and public safety/directional signage. With this, there would also be a plan to standardise and formalise the structure and management of addresses, their creation and their display in public areas. None of this is planned in relation to the Irish National postcode. For all these reasons Eircode is not and will never be a National postcode, it is and will be no more than a property identifier which will be relegated to use only when interacting with the State’s administrative arms for property based taxes and charges and it will never enjoy wide public use. What3words offers no real solution either.

As for the question as to whether a modern postcode needs to include routing information, the answer is no as this limits it to one operator (which would be anti-competitive and logistically pointless) and makes it vulnerable to change, but it does indeed need basic human navigation information and clues. Designing a postcode without considering well documented navigation technology, science and practice in this modern world is like designing a new smartphone which must use wires to connect to power and communications!

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