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Get More from Your Outlook Inbox

Xobni adds speed and functionality to your Outlook window.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 08/14/2008

There is little doubt that many financial advisors use Microsoft Outlook. In a December 2007 survey conducted by Financial Planning Magazine, 36% of respondents said that they used Outlook as their primary client relationship management solution. A more recent survey by the Financial Planning Association indicated that 16% of respondents used Outlook as their primary CRM solution. If anything, these numbers probably understate Outlook usage among financial advisors because many advisors who use another CRM system still use Outlook to manage their e-mail.

With so many advisors using Outlook, I'm always interested in tools that can help Outlook users be more productive. One software program that may fit the bill is Xobni. The rather unusual is "inbox" backwards.

The application, developed by a startup firm Xobni Corp. was founded on the belief that most people spend too much time searching for conversations, attachments, and other important information stored in their inboxes. The Xobni plug-in for Outlook, which is compatible with both Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007, greatly improves upon the utility of Outlook by adding, among other things, improved search capabilities, conversation threading, a statistical analysis of your inbox, and some social-networking capabilities.

Upon installation, Xobni creates a new pane at the far right of your Outlook window. It then begins creating an index of the e-mail in your inbox. Depending on the number of messages in your inbox and the type of e-mail accounts in use (POP or IMAP), indexing can take anywhere from minutes to hours. Those that currently use Outlook's search feature to find things will see an immediate and dramatic improvement once you switch to Xobni. That's because Outlook must "look" through all of your e-mail for every search. Xobni just references the index, which is much faster. In most cases, Xobni delivered the requested results in a second or two.

Searching is not the only e-mail trick that Xobni is capable of. It can also help with e-mail organization. Each time a user clicks on an e-mail in the inbox, Xobni recognizes who the user is corresponding with. This allows it to automatically group all e-mail by "threads" or "conversations." So, if you e-mail messages back and forth with a colleague five times for a total of 10 messages, Xobni will group all of them as one conversation, making them easier to reference in the future.

Xobni can work some magic with attachments as well. When users click on messages from a contact, Xobni automatically identifies all file attachments that have been sent back and forth between you, and it lists them in the "files exchanged" information box. To access an attachment, users can just click on its name in the box, and the attachment will be displayed.

Xobni can also read and extract contact information from e-mail signatures. If the people you correspond with include their address, phone number, fax number, etc., Xobni will store and remember it, and the contact's phone number is prominently displayed under the contact's picture. If you are a Skype user and you click on the phone number, the application will initiate a Skype call. If you hold the mouse cursor over the phone number, all of the additional contact info will pop up in a window.

Xobni can aid in scheduling appointments too. If you use the Outlook calendar you can select the "Schedule time with" icon below the telephone number, and Xobni will automatically compose an email for you to the contact which includes the times you are available for a meeting. Of course, you are free to modify the listed time to suit your needs, but starting with an automatically generated email saves a great deal of time.

At the top of the Xobni sidebar is the analytics section. Here users can see the number of e-mail messages to and from this contact, the contact's ranking versus other e-mail correspondents, and a graphical representation of the times of day that you receive e-mail from this contact. The graph is very handy because it allows users to better anticipate when they will receive a response. For example, if some contacts only reply in the morning and you send something in the late afternoon, the odds are that you will not receive a reply until the next morning.

On the social-networking side of things, Xobni can look at each contact and figure out who else they correspond with, so users can get a sense of social networking opportunities by viewing each person's "network," which has its own listing in the sidebar.

Finally, Xobni recently added some capabilities to communicate with LinkedIn. If this feature is enabled and if the contact has a public page on LinkedIn, Xobni will display the contact's LinkedIn photo, as well as some basic corporate data.

While I'm really impressed with Xobni so far, one obvious thing that's missing is the ability to seamlessly share the contact information that Xobni captures with the Outlook address book. I suspect that some would also like deeper integration with LinkedIn and other social-networking sites, but be careful what you wish for. I can't help but think that while many would use a more "social" Xobni the right way, others could abuse it in a way that would undermine the privacy rights of others. We'll have to see how that plays out.

Overall though, Xobni is a great little application. If can help you get control of your inbox, operate more efficiently, and make better use of the information that already sits in your e-mail system. I can't think of a single reason not to download and Xobni and give it a try.

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