REVIEWER: Mike Wheeler, chief software architect for Total Card Inc.

BACKGROUND: Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Total Card Inc. is an independent service organization for Visa and MasterCard. In addition to servicing MasterCard and Visa accounts, we issue our own cards geared toward people with less than perfect credit. We market our cards through a variety of advertising channels, driving potential customers to our company Web sites.

PLATFORMS: Data Quality Web Service (DQWS) from Melissa Data is a platform-neutral solution. Total Card uses open source technology extensively including the Apache Web server running on Linux, and the PostgreSQL and MySQL open source databases.

PROBLEM SOLVED: When customers arrive at one of our Web sites, they complete a short application form and the approval process begins. A key part of the approval process is verifying that the information entered on the application is correct. We do real-time verification of their Social Security numbers. We validate whether the person has applied for a card, and we flag potential frauds. Total Card must also confirm that each applicant has supplied a correct postal address. We have to be very diligent about receiving the correct address. To comply with Patriot Act regulations to fight terrorism and money laundering, Total Card, like all financial institutions, must obtain the street address for each applicant as well as other identifying information. Moreover, people frequently enter incorrect address information in the applications, either inadvertently or for other reasons. The result, however, is the same: we were getting crushed by returned mail.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: DQWS provides real-time address and telephone number validation over the Internet. Information is wrapped into a Web services (SOAP) document and sent to Melissa Data's servers for verification. If the information is validated, the application process continues. Errors are flagged for investigation.

STRENGTHS: The most important benefit is that DQWS works - and works well. Address verification is the last step in the application process and must be completed quickly and efficiently. You don't want people delayed at the end of the process. From a sales perspective, once the address is verified, you have closed the deal. From a customer service perspective, we could get hundreds of calls from people saying that they tried to apply for a card and never got a response. Currently, Total Card verifies more than 1,000 addresses daily using DQWS. There has been no degradation in performance. DQWS is supported by multiple servers using load-balancing technology to guarantee a real-time response. DQWS has served its purpose. The impact has been substantial.

WEAKNESSES: The only weakness I can think of is that if you submit a city, state and ZIP code combination but the state doesn't match the ZIP, DQWS returns the corrected state for that ZIP code, but does not notify you that the state originally submitted was incorrect. It would be nice to get a warning when this happens.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We turned to Melissa Data Corp., and reviewed a number of potential solutions. We opted for Data Quality Web Service. With DQWS, Total Card does not need to maintain large address databases on its own servers. Melissa Data is licensed to maintain the U.S. Postal Service database of more than 142 million deliverable addresses. We don't need to worry about monthly or quarterly updates of the data. Additionally, we don't need to set aside gigabytes of space on our servers.

DELIVERABLES: During September 2004, the first month of use of the address cleansing solution, credit card packages returned due to bad addresses had decreased 70 percent compared to August figures.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Melissa Data has emerged as a trusted partner. This is one of the best companies I have ever worked with. They worked with us until they solved our problem. From the sales team to the technology staff, it was a good experience.

DOCUMENTATION: This solution was easy to implement. All you need to do is add a little bit of code to generate a valid XML package. In fact, Melissa Data supplies examples of the needed code on its Web site. We simply modified the code to fit our specific setup. Melissa Data's technical staff was available to help make the necessary changes, and I was able to implement the production solution in a single weekend.

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