Dex is an interesting new personal and business-focused contact manager with two special tricks: First, it tells you who, of the people you know, you should get in touch with to keep your personal relationships alive. Second, it's a unique CRM tool for businesses, since it lets employees take their contacts with them if they leave their employer. I met Scott Annan, CEO of Dex developer Mercury Grove, at the Web 2.0 Summit.
First, the reminder function: Dex will read your contact book from Outlook or LinkedIn. It analyzes each of your contacts for the strength of your relationship, based on how often you communicate with them and the number of contacts you have in common. It also analyzes these people for the opportunity they represent to you, taking into account the size of their personal network and the company they work for. The people with the highest relationship strength and highest opportunity get designated as the most important people to you. Then the system nags you to get in touch--not to make a sale, not to get a job, just to nudge the relationship. It's Facebook's "poke" with a business brain. Don't like the idea? Don't use it. I think it's fascinating and can't wait to experiment with it.
Second, CRM: Dex is a customer relationship management product like Salesforce.com, although its target market is the small and medium business, not the large companies that Salesforce sells to (see also: Zoho CRM, and Highrise). It does the standard CRM things: tracking dealflow, letting managers assign employees to accounts, and so on. But what's most interesting about it, to me, is that it respects the employees' ownership of the contact information they bring in to the company. Contacts brought in to the business by employees when they are hired, or established during employment by them, can come with them when or if they leave, along with overview data on deals they've done. Contract details and company-confidential workflow documents do not come along. But unlike other CRM tools that simply assume that all data in them belongs to the employer, Annan recognizes that people in small businesses are often hired for their personal networks, and those networks remain part of who they are. With Dex, you get to keep your soul when you leave your employer.
Dex's employee-first perspective will make it a non-starter for old-school and large businesses that clamp down on all the data they touch. But for smaller, nimbler companies that hire people not just for their skills but for their relationships, it's a very interesting service.
Dex will be free for individuals. Company accounts, which will layer on the CRM features, will cost $20 per person per month. The service is in private beta now. It opens up on November 26.