Friday, March 21, 2008

Contacts and Household Knowledge Management

Who you know is just as important as what you know. At The Firm, we spend a great deal of resources managing contacts and keeping them up to date.

I face similar problems with managing my contacts at home. As with most knowledge management issues, I need to find a way to match the content with a process and technology to capture the information and make it available in a useful way.

My problem with contacts surfaced again in trying to send out birth announcements for The Daughter.

I had contact information spread across several systems. I have some in The Firm's Outlook, The Firm's InterAction CRM system, my personal Outlook file, my Gmail account and my Yahoo! account. Clearly, I had a problem. On top of that, The Wife also has contact information in her firm's systems and in my personal Outlook.

In a previous post, I wrote about the success I had with Calendars and Knowledge Management.
Not to give away the ending of this post, but the contacts issue is still a knowledge management failure.

The problem is that the line between personal and business contacts is very gray. With the calendar it was easier to develop the taxonomy between personal time and business time based on the time of the appointment. With contacts I have not found a meaningful way to distinguish between contacts. Some contacts are clearly personal. My mother for instance. But what about my college roommates? After many nights of [drunken fraternity parties] serious studying, many of them have become respectable and should be part of my professional contacts. The same is true for my law school classmates.

There is also a big overlap of contacts with The Wife. There is not a clear distinction of who "owns" some of the contacts and therefore who has the better information.

There is one big technology problem and that is getting my contacts inside The Firm to synchronize with anything outside The Firm. There is a very tight firewall and very tight policy on installing applications and add-ons to The Firm computers. (For good reason). The Wife has similar limitations at her firm. It seems clear that the solution will have to involve re-entering some information at the two firms and at the home.

For home, it seems a web-based application would be best. Then we have access to our "personal" contacts anywhere that we have internet access. Then The Wife and I could update information at home or the office.

I was drawn to Plaxo. It seemed to offer the ability to synchronize across multiple sources. By setting a up a connection with others in Plaxo, your connections would get your updated information when you changed it. So I created a profile on Plaxo:

I was able to combine my contacts from various sources into one place. It also provides a synchronization with Outlook. (I can't get the synch to work at the office.) So at least I have lots of contact information combined in one spot. The downside is that Plaxo merely downloads information from Yahoo and Gmail, but can't push changes back to those systems. Also, the account is for me, so it is not shared with The Wife.

Currently, at home The Wife can log onto the computer and lookup contact information. Most of her contacts are her office computer, so her contacts at home get out of date.

Ideally, we could have a central location that we could maintain a pool of contacts. So far I have not found the right process or technology.

How do you manage your home contacts? I would love to hear your solutions.

1 comment:

  1. Highrise is a pretty impressive offering from 37Signals. It's got some interaction with Plaxo and the the tags feature is excellent.


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