- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

Why would you spend $299 to buy a machine that does something you could do by hand on your personal computer's keyboard? Because you would be foolish not to, if the $299 goes for the purchase of the CardScan Executive, a scanner and software package that turns drudgery into something akin to sheer delight.

Think about it: there's very likely a stack of business cards somewhere in your office tucked inside a desk drawer or hiding on a bookshelf, maybe banded together with an elastic. You probably collected them at a bunch of conferences. At a recent event, I pulled in about 50 or so; this week and next, I've got two similar meetings to attend.

Usually what happens is that the cards sit around and gather dust, waiting for someone to enter them into a database of one stripe or another. It could be a personal information manager such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Organizer. Having that information handy can make life a lot easier. Punch in a few letters of a person's name in Outlook, for example, and the record can appear almost immediately Sending e-mails, writing letters, organizing sales calls whatever it is you need to do with your contacts is easier, obviously, when the data is on line.

However, taking a stack of 50 business cards and typing them in isn't everyone's cup of tea. That's where CardScan Executive comes in, and where your $299 might be very well spent. The package is made by Corex Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., and more information can be found on the Internet at www.cardscan.com. The product is sold in most major office supply superstores and computer outlets, as well as via mail order.

CardScan will let you feed those business cards in, one at a time, and quickly scan the image into its own database. When you have scanned in as many images as you desire, a click on the process button which appears on screen will have the program read each business card and create an electronic Rolodex card for each. Names appear in the name spot, addresses in an address block, telephone numbers (business, home, fax, mobile, pager) have their own entries.

You can then look over each listing and make corrections if needed. The image of the card scanned appears in the lower part of the program's screen, so you can look at the original to help decipher anything that's been garbled in the process.

The good news is that with most cards, certainly the black-on-white variety, there's almost nothing that this scanner cannot easily read. Where an earlier version of the product, which I tested about two years ago, was roughly 80- to 85-percent accurate, I would rate this product's accuracy as approaching 95 percent.

There are cards this device does not like to read, these mostly being designs that stray so far from the norm as to be abstruse; or those that feature, say, dark red ink on a black background. However, the overwhelming majority of cards that I fed into the device came out needing only a minor edit or two and usually no editing at all.

Another plus is that the new edition of CardScan software, version 5.0, supplied with the scanner, has other accuracy improvements: the new software accurately scans international business cards from Germany, Britain, France, Canada, Sweden, Belgium and Australia. I tested it on several of these and the results were just fine.

The new CardScan scanner seems a bit more accurate than its predecessors, and sports a Universal Serial Bus, or USB, connection to boot. This could be a great plus when doing field work or at a trade show; hook up the scanner to a notebook PC and you can build a contact list on the fly. I was far more impressed with the ease of connection and overall performance of the USB version as opposed to its parallel port-connecting predecessor.

The product runs on IBM PCs or compatibles using a 486, Pentium or higher processor; 30 megabytes of RAM is recommended, as is 40 megabytes of hard disk space. The product supports Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT version 4.0 or higher; it should, then, function with Windows 2000. The unit can be attached to a Windows-compatible network, allowing several people to share the device.

Taking care of business cards may seem like a mundane task. But with the CardScan system, which I have used for a while and expect to keep on using, it's not the drudgery it once was. If riding herd on your contact list is a priority (and all the experts on time management say it should be one), then this system is as indispensable as having a fresh supply of your own cards for your next meeting.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page (www.markkellner.com).



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