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A New Tool for Taming Business-Card Clutter

A Tool for Taming Business-Card ClutterFor all the paperless business conveniences, at least one old-fashioned paper-and-ink standby refuses to die: the business card.

Do any kind of regular networking, and no matter what smartphone card-scanning app you try or wireless contact-beaming technology you use, you’re bound to end up with stacks of old-school paper business cards. And unless you’ve got a system for turning the data on those cards into tasks you can act on, the most you’re going to get out of your dutiful collecting is a fat wallet and another layer of desk debris.

Connecticut-based DYMO Corp. -- which specializes in making business printers and other peripherals -- was one of the early makers of business-card scanners that, paired with contact-management software, aimed at cutting down the business-card clutter.

To stay competitive with camera-equipped iPhones, Droids and BlackBerrys that run card-scanning apps like CamCard or Business Card Reader, the company has been upgrading its scanning and printing technologies. To get a feel for what a dedicated card scanner can do for a small shop, we have been testing the company’s midrange device, the DYMO CardScan Executive ($260). Dymo competes with other card scanners from outfits like Alestron and Penpower and has developed new software for their products that connects them to larger business applications like Microsoft Outlook and Google Apps.

Related: How to Expand a Contact Database to Find More Customers

Here’s what we found when it comes to taming those drifts of business cards on your desk.

What it is: DYMO CardScan is a small, business-card-sized scanner that can scan and read contact information from both sides of a card in less than two seconds per card. DYMO then uploads the contact information either to its own contact-management software or directly to Microsoft Outlook if you’re using Windows.

DYMO’s contact-management tools work as an address book, can sort and categorize raw information and can review that data against the actual card image. Contacts can also be synced with email clients like Mac Address Book and online tools like Gmail. And users can quickly search social media sites for their contact’s profiles, or map directions to a business directly from the contact-management software.

CardScan devices also work with DYMO LabelWriter, which can be used to create mailing labels directly from your contact list.

The basic black-and-white DYMO CardScan Personal scanneefr is $160. The full-color DYMO CardScan Executive is $260. DYMO CardScan Team, which includes two software licenses for sharing contacts, is $400.

Why you might like it: DYMO CardScan is essentially a single-purpose business card scanner. But it performs this task with remarkable effectiveness.

Two of us tested it, and found that DYMO’s text-recognition software is a significant upgrade over smartphone business-card readers. Data captured needed only minimal editing to clean up misreads. But the real payoff came when we fed dozens of business cards through the scanner in a batch. It easily handled a stack of about 50 cards. And getting those into our database was easily three times as fast as snapping a photo of a card one at a time with a smartphone.

Related: The Best Online Tools for Managing Your Business Contacts

For quickly taking in lots of contact information and getting it into a manageable format, it’s hard to beat the CardScan.

The tool also has some neat extra capabilities. It does a nice job of mixing in clever apps throughout the business-software universe. The DYMO Outlook plug-in, for example, was surprisingly good at capturing data automatically. And the DYMO printer app worked well inside Microsoft Word. You could easily manage a contact and print a label, right from a document, which can be a fast way to get a quick letter out the door or handle simple shipping logistics.

Why you might not like it: Ultimately, at more than $150 for even the most basic card scanner, it may be tough to justify spending that kind of money for what really is a single-use device. Remember, scanning apps for smartphones can be had for less than $10 -- and those are portable.

Also, DYMO’s software simply cannot stand up to even a basic collaboration tools when it comes sharing the contacts it scans among business teams. Even a basic contact manager like in Google Apps does far better job of letting teams share contacts. However, the upgraded CardScan team edition does allow users to share contacts from a single scanner across an in-house business network, though its sharing functionality is nowhere close to a full on customer relationship management tool like Salesforce.com.

Bottom line: DYMO’s CardScan does it what it’s supposed to do and does it well. But for many firms -- particularly those that do limited face-to-face networking -- today’s myriad options for managing and sharing contacts may have little need for a tool such as CardScan. However, if your shop collects piles of business cards, we don’t know of a better way to get them off your desk and into your business.

We found CardScan to be surprisingly handy.

Related: Five Ways to Take Charge of Your Own Networking
 

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.
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