If the business cards you collect at meetings, conferences, trade shows and other events are piling up in your desk drawers-or you’ve managed to file them in a Rolodex, but can’t find the ones you want when you need to-it’s time to consider getting a business card scanner.
I’ve been trying out Cardscan’s Executive (MSRP $259.99), the midprice product in its line of three. While I’m still in the early stages of putting it to work, it’s clear that the CardScan is going to become one of my core productivity and organizing tools, up there with my desk phone headset, online data backup service, cell phone and Bluetooth mobile headset, and USB labelmaker. (It’s also going to entice, if not outright force, me to start using a contact manager or other PIM.)
For example, finally I’ll be able to easily keep track of prospects, sources, vendors, PR folks and others I meet at trade shows-and do my follow-ups, find somebody after the fact, etc.
The CardScans are USB-powered, and all are small enough to be added to a mobile travel kit-which means I’ll be bringing the Executive with me to any event where I’m packing a computer and expect (or hope) to have the odd minutes free to scan cards I’ve gotten, rather than wait until I get home.
A Small Scanner, Just for Business Cards
The CardScan Executive is small-maybe 1x4x6-taking up probably about the same volume as your notebook’s AC adapter and power cables-and weighs just over half a pound. The lower-priced CardScan Personal (MSRP $149.99) is slightly smaller but is monochrome, and somewhat slower. CardScan also offers CardScan Team (MSRP $399.99), which includes two licenses, a scanner and more software, and CardScan LeadQualifier (MSRP $549), based on CardScan Team, which can scan a business card and a custom form, making it useful for trade shows and other events.
Most CardScan sales are for individual-use products, according to Tom Stearns, director of marketing at CardScan, sold through retail channels. But the company has initiatives and products for quantity sales to midsize companies. Among these products are CardScan for Microsoft CRM, which is custom-designed to work with Microsoft CRM; and CardScan Team, “which is designed for a small or midsized company that doesn’t have any CRM or contact management application, they use our product to manage contacts,” Stearns says.
Few Pieces, Easy to Carry and Use
The CardScan appliances comprise the scanner, the USB data-and-power cable, which plugs into a port on a Windows laptop or desktop, and the software, which you install on whatever computer(s) on which you plan to use the CardScan or resulting data.
You may want to carry a copy of the roughly 80MB software install file on a USB key. (Advice: Write your software key on the space provided on the CardScan’s underside; with this, you can always download a copy of the software from the CardScan Web site.) The scanner side of the cable is one of the standard USB terminators, making it easy to replace the cable if you damage or lose it.
Using the CardScan is simplicity itself. Connect it, and start feeding cards in–which “wakes up” the software. There’s a motor inside the scanner; you just have to push a card far enough in for it to be noticed and grabbed. When the card slides out the back, you can start checking the scan or you can keep feeding cards through.
You can also grab information from e-mail “signature” blocks, Web pages, documents or other sources using drag-and-drop, importing or synchronizing, and feed it to the CardScan software.
Software Smarts Supercharge Scanning Value
The big value-add of CardScan is the software, which performs text recognition on the scanned card images, and does its best to sort this information into appropriate fields of the CardScan contact database, which lets you also add tags like “URGENT CALLBACK,” and has a text NOTES field.
“It’s designed to be a contact manager, it’s about managing information,” says Stearns. “The software is the critical part of it. The scanner is designed to get business cards into the software and into your computer, so it’s designed to do that efficiently.”
Considering the wide range of funky fonts and layouts, and random information and non-information that many business cards have–not to mention the notes you might scribble when you get a card–the accuracy is quite good.
Once you scan a card, or batch of cards, the software suggests you check and verify results. You can flag vetted card records as VERIFIED; you can also sort for duplicates. The company also offers CardScan At Your Service, a free online backup service for your contact information, particularly useful if you’re doing this while out of the office.
The actual scan takes about three seconds, followed by the automated conversion and field-sorting (which can be done as a batch).
Working with several dozen cards collected at a recent event, it took me about 60 seconds to 90 seconds per card for the scan, verify, correct, and tag/add notes–slightly less time than manually typing entering information. Of course, you can follow through only on the cards you care about, leaving the rest marked UNVERIFIED–with the scanned images on file, you won’t need the actual cards anymore.
You can then use the CardScan software to search or sort the records, export them to a contact management database, print labels and other contact-type stuff. According to Stearns, CardScan Personal software works with Outlook, Palm and Windows Mobile; CardScan Executive also can sync with Lotus Notes, ACT and GoldMine.
In addition to the Executive and Personal CardScan models, CardScan offers versions that work with specific CRM products, e.g. Microsoft CRM, SalesLogix, SalesForce and ACT Premium. (These products don’t have all the features in the regular CardScan product line.)
If business cards are your most important marketing resource, you need one of these appliances.
Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.