Thursday, May 8, 2008

Contact Networks - Enterprise Relationship Management

We had Rich Rifkin and some of his colleagues in from Contact Networks to see what their product can do. I was left very impressed.

They call their product Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM) and distinguish it from Client Relationship Management (CRM) products. I have posted about my dissatisfaction with CRM systems: CRM in Law Firms, Is CRM Worth It? The Pros and Cons of Client Relationship Management. The problem is that they do not add much value to the lawyer so there is little incentive for them to add and maintain the information in the CRM system.

Contact Networks mines information from email traffic, address books, calendar, the CRM system and other available data sources. In particular, it matches an email domain to database of companies. So it knows that an email to, is an email to someone at Goldman Sachs. Using that email address they match the contact information to the CRM system or the contacts to flush out the name, title and other information.

They crunch all of the contact information, the frequency of email communication, and some other information to determine the strength of the relationship between someone inside the firm and an external contact.

Contact Networks provides a simple, "Google-ish" interface to search for who inside the firm knows a particular person outside the firm or who inside the firm has contacts at a particular company. That is a question that passes through my email system dozens of times a day. InterAction was set up to try to answer the question. But InterAction relies on attorneys adding contact information and dealing with its kludgey interface. Contact Networks also goes farther than showing Who Knows Who to showing How Well Who Knows Who.

When seeing the relationship, it displays what data is part of the relationship: emails, contact card, InterAction entry, etc. This exposes some interesting information. A large amount of email traffic goes out to people that are not in your address book. Looking back at my recent traffic, I agree that the proposition is completely true. I am just as lazy and time-pressured as anyone else. I often will just hit reply all and not bother adding the contacts into my address book. Rich threw out a number of 70% of email traffic recipients not being a person's address book. A benefit of Contact Networks is that it can match the email address and email traffic from one person to someone else's contact card or InterAction information for that person. I may just be hitting reply all. But if my junior associate has entered that person's contact information, Contact Networks will match the contact information to the email address.

Contact Networks also has a compilation of Standard Industry Codes for the companies so you can associate the contact with an industry. The you can search for contacts in a particular industry and see who in the firm knows the person and how well they know the person.

Contact Networks is not trying to position itself as an alternative to InterAction or CRM, but as a complement. Contact Networks is able to pull in lots more information than InterAction can get on its own. Bu Contact Networks does not have the management and control features of InterAction to track information and catalog it.

Obviously, Contact Networks focused on alleviating concerns of privacy. First, they do not look at the contents of the email. They just grab the address, date and frequency of email contact. You can also allow users to opt-out, you can allow users to apply a private label to exclude the contact information and you can limit who has access to the ERM information.

The great thing about Contact Networks is that it requires no user input. It harvest everything from existing inputs in other processes and systems. It has a simple user interface, so training is a few minutes or a simple email instruction.

Tom Baldwin has been telling me to bring in Contact Networks for months. I am glad I finally did.

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