Technology Tip
Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Managing Digital Contacts

Managing Digital Contacts

Most of us have a variety of contacts stored on different devices and services. Unifying those contacts onto a single platform so they can be accessed while you're on the go can reduce frustration and help you leverage their value more effectively.

Address books and basic content management functionality have been included with even the very earliest mobile phones, but the latest generation of smartphones offer advanced capabilities and applications that help you streamline your contacts' information and enhance your ability to organize data and communicate effectively with the people you need to reach.

Getting Data In

A common frustration for many small business owners is coming back from a networking meeting or industry conference and unloading a small pile of printed business cards. While each card is useful on its own, converting the data on the printed cards to a digital format so it can be exported to other applications can be tricky and, at best, monotonous.

A variety of smartphone apps promise to help automate this process by converting your mobile device into a handheld scanner. You simply use the device's rear-facing camera to take a picture of each card, and the apps attempt to convert the card's text into digital data automatically.

The contact information is then imported into your mobile device's address book, or the data can be exported to a contact database or a customer relationship management system, if your company uses one.

Although the process is rarely perfect - some text can be challenging to recognize, and you have to check the contact data carefully for mistakes - overall it's still faster and easier than trying to key in that data yourself.

Popular choices for scanning business card data with mobile devices include Abbyy Business Card Reader, CamCard, Business Card Reader, ScanBizCards, and others. Most offer a choice between free or low-cost versions, with some offering premium features such as automatically locating contacts on popular social networks.

Data in the Cloud

In addition to keeping important contacts on your mobile device, you're also going to want to have copies of that information stored with an online service. Maintaining contacts "in the cloud" can be valuable for many reasons, starting with your ability to access data from any device that's connected to the Internet. If you're working on a laptop or tablet, it's usually faster to look up contact data on a website than having to open your phone's address book.

Storing data in the cloud also provides a critical backup should your mobile device be lost or stolen. Instead of having to reenter for rescan information into the new device, you can easily download it from the online service.

Sync services are available for all of the major smartphone platforms. iPhone customers will likely use Apple's iCloud services to store and access contact data online. Android users may be better served linking their contacts with Google accounts, and Windows Phone users can sync contact data with a account.

Data from any smartphone can also be linked with an online address book or CRM system, such as Salesforce, Highrise, Batchbook, Evernote, or other popular choices.

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