Most of the time when you think about a data pipeline or ETL job what comes to mind is a purely mechanistic progression of functions that move data from point A to point B. Sometimes, however, one of those transformations is actually a full-fledged machine learning project in its own right. In this episode Tal Galfsky explains how he and the team at Cherre tackled the problem of messy data for Addresses by building a natural language processing and entity resolution system that is served as an API to the rest of their pipelines. He discusses the myriad ways that addresses are incomplete, poorly formed, and just plain wrong, why it was a big enough pain point to invest in building an industrial strength solution for it, and how it actually works under the hood. After listening to this you’ll look at your data pipelines in a new light and start to wonder how you can bring more advanced strategies into the cleaning and transformation process.
Hello and welcome to the Data Engineering Podcast, the show about modern data management
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Your host is Tobias Macey and today I’m interviewing Tal Galfsky about how Cherre is bringing order to the messy problem of physical addresses and entity resolution in their data pipelines.
How did you get involved in the area of data management?
Started as physicist and evolved into Data Science
Can you start by giving a brief recap of what Cherre is and the types of data that you deal with?
Cherre is a company that connects data
We’re not a data vendor, in that we don’t sell data, primarily
We help companies connect and make sense of their data
The real estate market is historically closed, gut let, behind on tech
What are the biggest challenges that you deal with in your role when working with real estate data?
Lack of a standard domain model in real estate.
Ontology. What is a property? Each data source, thinks about properties in a very different way. Therefore, yielding similar, but completely different data.
QUALITY (Even if the dataset are talking about the same thing, there are different levels of accuracy, freshness).
HIREARCHY. When is one source better than another
What are the teams and systems that rely on address information?
Any company that needs to clean or organize (make sense) their data, need to identify, people, companies, and properties.
Our clients use Address resolution in multiple ways. Via the UI or via an API. Our service is both external and internal so what I build has to be good enough for the demanding needs of our data science team, robust enough for our engineers, and simple enough that non-expert clients can use it.
Can you give an example for the problems involved in entity resolution
Known entity example.
Empire state buidling.
To resolve addresses in a way that makes sense for the client you need to capture the real world entities. Lots, buildings, units.
Identify the type of the object (lot, building, unit)
Tag the object with all the relevant addresses
Relations to other objects (lot, building, unit)
What are some examples of the kinds of edge cases or messiness that you encounter in addresses?
First class is string problems.
Second class component problems.
third class is geocoding.
I understand that you have developed a service for normalizing addresses and performing entity resolution to provide canonical references for downstream analyses. Can you give an overview of what is involved?
What is the need for the service. The main requirement here is connecting an address to lot, building, unit with latitude and longitude coordinates
How were you satisfying this requirement previously?
Before we built our model and dedicated service we had a basic prototype for pipeline only to handle NYC addresses.
What were the motivations for designing and implementing this as a service?
Need to expand nationwide and to deal with client queries in real time.
What are some of the other data sources that you rely on to be able to perform this normalization and resolution?
Lot data, building data, unit data, Footprints and address points datasets.
What challenges do you face in managing these other sources of information?
Accuracy, hirearchy, standardization, unified solution, persistant ids and primary keys
Digging into the specifics of your solution, can you talk through the full lifecycle of a request to resolve an address and the various manipulations that are performed on it?
String cleaning, Parse and tokenize, standardize, Match
What are some of the other pieces of information in your system that you would like to see addressed in a similar fashion?
Our named entity solution with connection to knowledge graph and owner unmasking.
What are some of the most interesting, unexpected, or challenging lessons that you learned while building this address resolution system?
Scaling nyc geocode example. The NYC model was exploding a subset of the options for messing up an address. Flexibility. Dependencies. Client exposure.
Now that you have this system running in production, if you were to start over today what would you do differently?
a lot but at this point the module boundaries and client interface are defined in such way that we are able to make changes or completely replace any given part of it without breaking anything client facing
What are some of the other projects that you are excited to work on going forward?
Named entity resolution and Knowledge Graph
From your perspective, what is the biggest gap in the tooling or technology for data management today?
BigQuery is huge asset and in particular UDFs but they don’t support API calls or python script
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