Contacts are at the heart of every business application that I have worked with. Whenever I start work on a new application for a client, the first thing I have to plan for is the migration of contact data from some legacy system into the new application. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just use a service that I could use as a master contact management system? That way I could use the service instead of constantly having to re-invent a custom system or integrate with other systems that have their own contact management system built-in. When I use the word “contact”, I mean a person, company, or organization. When I work with contacts, I want to be able to see all of their basic information, such as names, phone numbers, email addresses, postal and street addresses, etc. I also want to see all the other information in my system associated with a contact, which may include documents, invoices, orders, agreements, appointments, and any correspondences. The correspondences may include email, letters, messages, and recordings. I think this is what anyone would want from a contact management system, but I am finding it hard to find a system like that as a desktop or web-based application.
What I envision is a list of contacts that can be organized into groups, much like the way you can organize them with Gmail Contacts, or Live Mail Contacts. However, these are email clients, so they are primarily designed to work with email (of course). It is interesting that you can’t display a contact and show all of the emails that were sent to and received from that contact. You can sort a list of emails by sent-to or received-from and even filter the results, but you can’t just show the contact with the related emails.
I can find document management systems that come close, but they have to be integrated with email and messaging systems. They also require more integration with customer relationship management systems, human resource management systems, and other enterprise systems. As it turns out, for every major business entity that I work with, contacts are the one entity type that ends up being related to every other major entity. For example, emails have email-to and email-from, orders have orders-to and orders-from, projects have people responsible for each task, etc.
Let’s see what can happen when we start with contact management.