Business cards? Not quite as passé as you think

  • Still a mainstay of business, the name card is an important source of contact info
  • Sansan hopes to make it easy to manage them by combining OCR with crowdsourcing
Business cards? Not quite as passé as you think

COMPANIES may be going all-out on their digital transformations, but despite the many options available, the humble old name card still plays a role in today’s business world.
Business cards will likely remain a mainstay for exchanging contact details, with Statistics Brain estimating that 27 million business cards are printed a day.
So we still print and collect them, but searching for one – or sharing a business card with a colleague – across those stacks can sometimes be a daunting task.
This is the problem that Sansan founder and chief executive officer Chika Terada faced during his corporate life, he tells Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore.
“There was also many times when I wanted to approach a company and asked for a contact from my colleagues, to no avail – only to find out, after cold calling, that someone in the company I contacted knew a person in my company who just was not in my department,” he says.
These problems could easily be solved by digitising business cards and managing them digitally. But while there are solutions for individuals to manage their business cards digitally, there is a gap for such solutions that is geared towards companies.
That is where Japanese-based Sansan comes in, with a solution for companies to manage and share business cards, without employees having to ask each other for contact information.
Tailored for the enterprise

Business cards? Not quite as passé as you think

There are other solutions in the market, but they rely on optical character recognition (OCR) technology to parse data from a business card to populate databases. This leads to a host of issues, according to Terada (pic above).
OCR technology is not perfect. For instance, the letter ‘I’ may be read as the number ‘1.’
“While recognition may be 90%, as they say, the 10% is still critical when it comes to business cards, because if one letter is missing in your email address, then it is not complete,” says Terada.
This is where Sansan differs, he argues, by using both OCR and human power to gather data from business cards.
“We digitise 10 million business cards a month – we combine technology with crowdsourcing so that we can ensure accuracy.
“Once we receive all the scanned business cards, we use OCR technology to parse data automatically, then cut the business cards into pieces – with no personably identifiable information – and submit this to a crowdsourcing platform for transcription,” he says.
The ‘crowd’ will then transcribe each bit of the business card twice before the information is accepted into Sansan’s database, according to Terada.
“All the data downloaded can be used in and out of the system, used for marketing emails, or even imported into Salesforce,” he says.

This is currently only done in Japan, according to the company, with the process in the works for the English-speaking market.

Expanding out of Japan
Sansan has primarily been focused on its home market of Japan since its inception in 2007, but it opened its first office outside of the country in October 2015, choosing Singapore as the base.
“We did some test marketing in English-speaking countries over six months, and we had a good response from Singapore, so we decided to focus on this market,” says Terada.
But the next six to 12 months will be the launch phase for Sansan as it gathers steam.
“We are going to invest US$1 million in promotions for this market, to get more customers,” he says, adding that it has already gathered some customers from its test phase.
The strategy for Singapore will be different from Japan, where Sansan has big sales teams reaching out to customers.
“We don’t intend to establish a strong sales team in Singapore – instead, we would like to use public relations and our product itself to attract customers,” Terada says.
“We would like to establish a team to help companies scan business cards, which is a pain and takes time,” he adds.
In Japan, Sansan has a dedicated team to scan business cards at the customer’s site, and aims to establish one in Singapore as well, according to Terada.
“This is so customers can be at ease at buying our service, and the initial database can be easily set up,” he says.
Terada does not rule out expanding out of Singapore should this initial entry prove successful. “Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are possible targets,” he says.
“As we transcribe manually, our localisation should always involve transcription, hence we would want to expand to other English-speaking countries,” he adds.
Related Stories:
Sansan expands APAC footprint with Singapore office
Malaysian startup out to redefine document processing … and how
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