Contact Networks unlocks relationship data

Von Cathleen Moore

Contact Networks on Tuesday rolled out ContactNet 4.0, a knowledge-management, search, and collaboration application designed to help enterprises find and use employee relationships with outside contacts and companies.

ContactNet helps employees unearth a specific type of corporate knowledge -- relationships -- which can be instrumental in driving sales, said Geoffrey Hyatt, CEO of Contact Networks.

"For so many companies relationships are an important asset but there are not a lot of tools to find relationships in databases," Hyatt said.

Distinguishing itself from public social-networking sites such as Friendster and LinkedIn, Contact Networks offers an enterprise software application designed for use within large law firms, consulting organizations, and venture capital companies, for example.

Instead of relationships being something each person has, ContactNet turns relationships into resources that are shared. Once they"ve located the appropriate colleague, a worker who needs an introduction to a specific contact or company can then collaborate with his or her coworker.

"Our software takes all the individual"s knowledge [and] professional relationships and transforms them into a firmwide resource," Hyatt said.

Contact Networks is hoping its automated approach to data collection will help its relationship-search application avoid the pitfall of many early attempts at knowledge management that failed because the applications required workers to input data or change work habits.

In ContactNet "no one has to input the information," Hyatt said.

The application is constantly crawling corporate data, and indexing relationships by looking at address books in Outlook or Domino, patterns of corporate e-mail traffic, and employment history.

"When you ask, "Who here knows these clients?" the software has already uncovered the relationships and can point you in the right direction," Hyatt said.

ContactNet 4.0 includes expanded search capabilities that let users search by business function, seniority, geography, and industry in addition to name, title, and company.

Scalability has also been improved in Version 4.0, which can now handle up to 200,000 users in an enterprise.

Other enhancements include new access control functions that let users fully or partially opt out by blocking certain types of relationships, additional privacy and sharing preferences, improved security, and group-based permissions for setting specific access rules for a department.

For relationship-focused businesses, relationship search is a very useful tool and will likely catch on, said Guy Creese, managing principal at Ballardvale Research.

"Especially in organizations that have a large reservoir of knowledge and have trouble surfacing it," Creese said.

"The idea is not much about finding facts but people who know of relationships," he said. "There is a whole bunch of info held in people"s heads."

Another corporate-focused relationship-search company, Spoke Software, next week plans to announce availability of the 2.5 release of its hosted sales-lead network called Spoke. Spoke is a Web-based service designed to help salespeople leverage a network of relationships to identify prospects and gain access to buyers, according to Spoke officials.

Spoke 2.5 will include the recently announced custom Web tab for"s Sforce. The Sforce custom Web tab lets salespeople search the Spoke sales lead network and add contacts to Salesforce without leaving the Salesforce application.