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Personal Toolkit

By Steve Barth

The Meishi-Kokan Kai is a New Year’s rite at the City Club, 54 floors above the starry downtown skyline. Over cocktails and sushi, hundreds of LA businesspeople make new acquaintances and catch up with old friends. Central to this networking ritual is the exchange of business cards.

For Japanese businessmen—and gaijin who have learned to work with them—the business card is sacred. There are proper ways to give your card and receive cards from others. There are strict rules about how to treat cards. Failure to respect the card is disrespecting the individual the card represents and the organization the individual represents, reflecting badly on you and your organization.

When a salaryman stayed with one Japanese company for his entire career, it was still common to be rotated to a new position every few years. The business card exchange was a chance to keep the geography of your network up to date. In the boom and bust of today’s global new economy, Americans and Japanese alike are all brandishing new cards. By some estimates, as many as 30% of the entries in your contact file are out of date after only six months.

In the old days, you would bring your stack of cards back to the office and hand them to a secretary who would staple them to Rolodex cards or slip them into plastic pages and then—this is important—compose a personal follow-up letter that started building a relationship. You could gauge a man’s success by the size of his business card collection.

Now the business card follows another route. Think of the card as an artifact of social capital, a talisman that can set off a chain of events both technological and anthropological to build and maintain the relationships that hold your network together.First, drop a card for John Smith from Acme Ltd. into a business card scanner, where the text is recognized and filed into the proper data fields of a contact entry, retaining an image of the original card as a memory aid. Synchronization software copies the contact to your desktop PIM, perhaps Outlook, as well as to your PDA and cell phone. Connections are just a button away.

More importantly, the new contact is picked up by an indexing tool such as Enfish Personal (formerly Onespace). Now when you open John Smith from Acme Ltd., you have a whole portal into everything there is to know about Smith and Acme, with relevant news delivered from the Web and relevant files and messages listed from local drives. Sending links and referrals to begin building a relationship is just a click away.

And holding all of this together are a few drops of ink on paper or a few bits in a database.

Business card scanners

I recently looked at two hardware/software packages that digitize business card data. Both incorporate a small scanner with applications that not only recognize text but drop the right information into the right data fields with remarkable accuracy. Corex Technologies (cardscan.com) has long been the leader in this space. Its latest release of CardScan Executive introduces a color scanner in the smallest, quietest and fastest package so far. The redesigned 600c is a color scanner (color actually aids in character recognition) that scans 20 to 30 cards per minute.

CardScan Version 6 software has enhanced connectivity to phones and PDAs, links to MapQuest maps and driving directions, and will upload your contacts to CardScan.Net, a secure private server, and access them from any Web browser.

In January, Corex introduced an interesting service for CardScan.Net users called AccuCard. The service involves sending an e-mail to each person whose card you have scanned, requesting that they review and update their contact information. The service does that four times per year, no matter how many people have scanned the card. AccuCard then presents the updates to those people who already have the person’s contact information. All of the information is kept private and secure.

Meanwhile, NewSoft Technology is marketing a palm-size scanner that weighs under 4 ounces, with the added portability advantage of drawing power through the USB connection so you don’t need to carry an AC adapter. I found the Presto BizCard Reader serviceable, though not as efficient or effective as CardScan.

DM-1 digital voice recorder and music player

Digital recorders are a great way to capture tacit knowledge and convert ideas and insights to text that can be indexed and retrieved later. But a new model from Olympus America has other features that can actually stimulate new knowledge creation.

As a voice recorder, Olympus records in voice-optimized DSS (Digital Speech Standard) format, as much as 20 times smaller than WAV audio files, and files can easily be e-mailed to colleagues or transcription services. The built-in microphone can be set for sensitivity and voice activation and is excellent for recording conferences, interviews and conversations that are moving too fast to take notes. It can also be invaluable for capturing spontaneous ideas before they evaporate.

Recordings can be transcribed two ways. Manual transcription uses the included DSS player software and/or an optional USB foot pedal. Machine transcription uses speech-to-text software such as IBM’s ViaVoice, which will recognize dictation spoken with punctuation. With a noise reduction microphone plugged into the recorder, I’ve gotten very good accuracy.

But there’s more. The DM-1 also plays digital audio files in MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) formats with remarkable sound, thanks to a built in WOW sound system by SRS Labs for rich bass, three-dimensional stereo and five equalizer settings.

What does this have to do with personal knowledge management? Research from UC Irvine claims that listening to Baroque music can raise you IQ by nine points. Other types of music are said to unlock creativity, reduce stress and even heal disease. I know piano jazz gets me typing faster.

The DM-1 uses removable SmartMedia cards up to 128 MB. Uploading speech files or downloading music is via a USB cable (or third-party card readers). It comes with a 64-MB card for up to 22 hours of voice recording or about an hour of music. Steve Barth writes and speaks frequently about KM, e-mail barth.km@global-insight.com. For more on personal knowledge management, see his Web site global-insight.com

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