I was recently writing to a prospective client explaining my approach to integrating what’s typically called “personal information management” into Sevanta Dealflow. (Of course, in the context of dealflow management, these tools are less “personal” and more “collaborative”.) Below is a snippet of an email I composed to him, which I think might be of interest to others generally:

Calendaring

I see relatively little value in having meeting planning inside Sevanta Dealflow in the form of a calendar. What I mean is that the fact that I had a meeting at 4pm on Thursday at the St Regis with the CEO of XYZ is not very meaningful inside Dealflow; you don’t lose much by having it in Outlook or wherever else instead, and there are some great tools, both new and old, for group calendaring–so I think reinventing this wheel would be a mistake.

What I really value is that the content of that meeting gets recorded in Dealflow after the fact… so when the meeting ends, you add a quick note of what was discussed into the ongoing diary of the deal. And by making that action as simple as emailing a quick line into the system, you can do that before you even get to a computer, from your Blackberry or iPhone, while it’s still fresh in your mind… and now it’s in the shared workspace where all of your colleagues can see it in near real time. That’s powerful.

Tasks

I view Tasks as quite a different case from calendaring. Task managers are generally quite rudimentary (esp. Outlook and Gmail) so reinventing this wheel is not hard. And in this case, it’s very helpful for a deal’s pending tasks to be immediately visible when you pull up a deal–and to potentially have pending tasks listed as part of your weekly pipeline discussion. Plus, our system helps facilitate the communication of those tasks by sending notifications when tasks are assigned to other people, and notifying the task creator when the task is marked completed.

By comparison with sophisticated project planning systems like Microsoft Project our system is very basic, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an investment firm use anything like that–you see Gantt charts in software engineering all the time, but rarely in private equity. So because Tasks are tightly coupled to deal management and our simple task manager meets all the needs of our clientele, we decided it would be a logical and powerful addition to the Sevanta Dealflow platform.

Contacts

Contact management sits kind of in the middle. I have yet to see a real-world fool-proof contact management solution. To begin with, people aren’t even very good at adding contacts to their own personal contact manager, let alone a shared system for the group. Most of your regular email contacts stay marooned in your email (I, for one, search my email for contact information more often than searching my contacts). At best you periodically have your admin staff scan the business cards you get and otherwise manually maintain your contacts, but it’s never perfect, even with well-written software dedicated to the purpose.

In this case, however, Sevanta Dealflow needed to provide a home for data about deal contacts (especially for special cases where the same people have connections with lots of different deals) but realistically I don’t expect our clients to use it religiously. I don’t believe there’s a magic solution here, and I’d be very skeptical if anybody pitches their system as such. We have some clever ideas for capturing contact info better, but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it’s a panacea.

If you have any thoughts or feedback on any of this, I’d love to continue the discussion with you.

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