Q. I keep seeing the ads for the business card scanners, and they make it look convenient. But do they really work? — Jason
A. Having just returned from our annual franchise trade association conference, this question couldn’t have been timelier.
As with any large conference, we often return with a stack of business cards with miscellaneous notes scribbled on them that need to be processed.
The value of a business card scanner is based on the value of the information that you want to scan. If you are in sales, business development or any other position that relies heavily on keeping in touch and you don’t have a good structured process already in place, they can be worth their weight in gold. They are certainly more efficient than manually inputting business card info into your address book, but they are not perfect.
I did a test on one of the more common units that you’ll see in electronics and office supply stores: the CardScan Personal (www.cardscan.com — $150-$160 street price). The installation and calibration only took about five minutes and was very easy.
From a hardware perspective, all business card scanners are quite similar. So the real key is the software that does the organizing and optical character recognition.
I scanned 80 business cards that ranged from traditional simple formats to elaborate layouts and color schemes. What I found was quite understandable: The more traditional the card, the higher the accuracy.
The government-issue business cards that I received from FBI agents I met at a speaking engagement scanned in flawlessly. The name, title, company address, phone, fax and e-mail information were all captured perfectly. Unfortunately, most companies get more creative with their business cards these days, so don’t expect that kind of accuracy for most of your scans.
Of the 80 scans I did, 57 of them required some editing of the results. But most of it was minor. For instance, the company field was blank on any card that had the company name only in a fancy logo. And sometimes it guessed wrong and put the person’s title in the company field.
The good thing is that the actual scanned business card image is displayed (in black and white) just below the database field. So it’s easy to know what changes need to be made. More importantly, it doesn’t take much to fix the minor issues. Often you simply cut and paste from one field to another or type in a company name.
Once I had the 80 cards scanned and cleaned up, I was able to export the entire database into a file that could be imported into my Outlook contacts. The instructions on how to import the file into Outlook was included on the screen once I completed the export from within the CardScan software.
If you really want to get sophisticated, you can synchronize the CardScan database with your Outlook or Palm Desktop contacts so that all contacts exist in both databases. You can also set up an Internet-based “At Your Service” account, which copies your contacts up to a Web-based interface for backup and flexible access anywhere.
All-in-all, if you deal with a lot of business cards and want to keep an electronic copy of every card you ever get and convert them into a database, this product does the trick.
CardScan also offers more robust scanners capable of interfacing with many of today’s most popular CRM (customer relationship management) programs such as ACT! and Goldmine.