Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Digital Tools May Soon Make Business Cards Obsolete

digital-business-cardsIn a second, with Google, I can find a phone number that was assigned to you ten years ago, but it takes me an hour to find your phone number on that business card you gave me last week. That’s just wrong. We need instant access to the most important of all resources: current contact info.

Too many of us have piles of business cards scattered around the office and home, as well as additional contacts on your smartphone, iPad, Outlook, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The result is we can’t find key names and phone numbers quickly when we really need them, and the data is outdated for the ones we do find.

The solution is simple to define. What we all need is a digital tool that can extract data from business cards, as well as sync it with your cell phone, your email, and the social networks you use. It needs to have great search and display capabilities as well as spreadsheet-like sorting so you can look at the information in various ways. Finally, we want it cheap (of course).

My old rolodex for 1000 business cards doesn’t do the job anymore, so I’ve been scouting around for something better, looking at the pluses and minuses. There is a wealth of new alternatives, but no universal solutions:

  • Bump. Here’s a new free smart phone app that came out a couple of years ago, but doesn’t seem to be catching on. It allows users to simply tap their phones together, and with the right setup, they will exchange contact info. I predict Near Field Communications (NFC) will soon be pervasive on smartphones, so you won’t even need the bump.
  • CamCard. With today’s smartphones, card scanning means taking a picture of a card, automatic trimming, optical character recognition, and cutting and pasting into Contacts (phone or Google). Another variation is an iTunes app called ScanBizCardsLite, which scans card images and extracts them into Contacts.
  • Shopify. This smartphone app places all your contact information into a single QR code image. Anyone with one of the many QR code scanning apps on their phone can take a photo of your code to be taken directly to your contact information. You don’t even need your own copy in Contacts, since it’s always obsolete when you use it later.
  • CardScan Personal. Here is the old standby low-end hardware-based solution – a simple business card scanner for $225, with software to synchronize the data with Outlook, Windows mobile devices and smartphones. That doesn’t address social networks and other lists you may have.
  • Shareware. I found dozens of software packages available on the Internet for free download, or a nominal price. Several of these have good reviews, including PIMEX, Diasho, Enhilex, and Advanced Contact Manager. My experience is that shareware software is usually worth what you pay for it.
  • Commercial software. There are hundreds of other alternatives and add-ons out there, like Quickbooks Customer Manager, Personal Information Manager, Beyond Contacts, and Goldmine. They range in price from $150 to over $4000, but check each for the features important to you.

Social networks have added additional layer of complexity to this challenge. LinkedIn supports the export of connection contact information to Outlook and Gmail, with no special software required. Facebook, however, does not provide this interface, and has specifically prohibited applications from being offered to solve the problem. They consider such data proprietary.

Even email is a problem. You need to capture contact details beyond the email address from email contents, including signature blocks. I did find a package named Copy2Contact, which can save you lots of cutting and pasting. Now if everyone included contact information in every email, I wouldn’t need to bump smartphones with you periodically to stay current.

Marty Zwilling

Disclosure: This blog entry sponsored by Visa Business and I received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa's. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

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