Nwosu: Nigeria Must Leverage on Digital Records Storage Technology


The CEO, Secured Records Management Solutions, Dr. Sam Nwosu, spoke with Emma Okonji on the need for organisations and government agencies to take advantage of records management solutions in the digital age. Excerpts:

We are in a digital age where a lot of information is stored digitally. How will Secured Records Management Solutions help organisations with digital storage?

One of the cardinal basis for the existence of Secured Records Management Solutions Limited (SRMS) is to add value to organisations’ document management methods. Most organisations, especially outside the shores of Nigeria, have been keying into digital storage as an effective means of document or record storage hence the popularisation of the cloud storage system in most western countries. To this end, we have forged partnerships with some foreign companies, acquired requisite skills and expertise, and necessary tools and solutions to ensure that organisations are able to key into digital storage seamlessly. Our goal is to be the partner of choice to our customers by implementing process management and integration that would achieve near paper-less environment, and bring greater productivity, digital transformation and operational excellence to our customers’ routine workflow as well as industry-specific processes. Our solution can improve organisations’ workflow process, increase information re-use, eliminate redundancy, securely control content, and avoid conflicts and data losses. With our digital insurance concept, we have assisted many organisations in different industries (banks, pension managers, insurance, telecom, hospitals, law firms, accountants, among others to develop organisation-wide strategies for managing and protecting vital records.

In spite of technology evolution, most companies and organisations, including government agencies, are still involved with paper documentation. What are the likely risks associated with paper and physical/manual documentation?

There are a number of serious risks associated with manual or physical documentation. Some of them include risk of information loss arising from fire outbreak, flood disaster, wear and tear of documents and information theft by even your employees. These risks can lead to another risk called ‘litigation risk’, owing to the inability of the organisation to produce vital information pertaining to clients. There was a report on one of the major banks, which was forced to settle out of court because the bank could not locate supporting documents, which would have been used to defend its case against a lawsuit.  Other risks include customer loss, employee turnover arising from job dissatisfaction, profit depletion and a host of others. Some businesses remain reluctant to see digital document management as a necessity. The ones that formulate a digital business strategy around a document management system usually find themselves in a better position than those that do not. For example, most of the vital documents that can never be recovered from the recent fire outbreak at the University of Jos library building, would have been recreated digitally.   Every forward-looking organisation should focus on controlling, managing, and protecting company data, often in the form of documents; it is an initiative that touches every facet of a business.

How will digital documentation add value to economic growth of a nation?

From an understanding of the drivers of economic growth, one would realise that digital documentation adds value in many ways but I will attempt to throw some light on it. First, it ensures the productivity of employees in such a way that employees are productively allocated to job functions across the organisation, results are achieved more speedily and then they derive job satisfaction from performing their tasks; and mind you this has a direct influence on human capital development. Another is that it increases the response time to clients’ needs as information regarding clients, are available at the click of a button, hence, giving rise to increase in activity turnover and generating more revenue for the company to carry out its activities and engage in corporate social responsibilities.

Document management improves a business’s ability to provide great service, to do more with less and to use their business assets – both data and people in an entirely modern way. One method of valuing the economic growth of a nation is by measuring the Gross Domestic Products (GDP), which is the aggregation of all goods and services produced by private and public entities. This implies that the adoption of any program or process that enhances productivity of workers and speeds up decision making at all levels of management is a value-adder. Also, it reduces organisations operational costs and maximises profit for the company hence more taxes for the government to carry out its activities. I could go on and on, but the point is that digital documentation is of economic importance for companies and the government alike.
In addition, any business that aligns its digital strategy with a document management strategy is in a better position to centralize information, dissolve silos, and build interdepartmental and external workflows that are much easier to scale as the business grows.

Tell us more about your document management solution

Document Management Solutions SRMS’ digital insurance (document management) programme, achieves systematic storage and tracking of documents, facilitates faster decision-making, enhances collaboration across departments, minimises human errors, and consolidates seemingly different technologies. Our solution increases ease of retrieval and speeds up the pace of work while eliminating errors that arise when a document moves from one department into another. It’s a three-pronged and holistic approach.
According to industry experts, on average, an employee spends 18 minutes searching for a document, but with our fully integrated document management system, this process takes 10 seconds. To save 17 minutes on finding any file for any department within any workflow is like adding a full headcount to the organisation.
SRMS is advantageously positioned in the business of converting paper documents /records into digital imagery; index and customise according to customer metadata preference; storage; and electronic retrieval from anywhere and anytime. To provide best practices for document security, access, and compliance, we have entered into partnership with several Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) solution providers, including M-files and Microsoft SharePoint. Our EDMS solution solves the challenges of managing, finding, and tracking documents in today’s information-intensive organisations.

What is physical record warehousing all about?

Walking into so many establishments today, you would realise that documents and records are piled up in the office in such a way that they compete for work space with the employees, be it government establishments and privately owned companies. So, what physical records warehousing or physical archiving entails is that organisations can now contract the safe keeping of these records and documents to us at an efficient cost level and free up their work area and space for more productive activities. Ideally, the warehouse facility has a look and feel of a library, except that instead of books on the shelves, you have standard boxes.  This is promulgated by the regulatory requirement of a retention period within which all vital records must be preserved.  To drill down on the description of physical records warehousing, I use the concept of ‘Space Economics’…Record keeping requires administrative cost for filing equipment, office space, and staffs to maintain an organised filing system or to search for lost records when there is no organized system. For example, in Lagos Island, especially Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Banana Island, it costs over N80, 000 per square meter of office space, versus a small fraction (less than 30 per cent) to store the files off-site with professional records management company like us. A proper records management program creates an opportunity to achieve significant cost savings in space and equipment, and allows organisations to utilise staff more productively.

How can your solution be localised to meet the federal government’s drive for local content development?

The drive for local content development especially in the information technology (IT) industry is not something that can be achieve overnight; it takes a process. One way we are going about this is to create valuable partnerships with some of these foreign companies and in the process knowledge is transferred locally to Nigerians and from there other activities can spring up. One amazing thing about our company is that these solutions are deployed and implemented in its entirety by Nigerians as we have got some really smart Nigerians working with us and I can say it is a good step towards achieving the goal of the federal government in terms of local content development. As a foremost provider of solution for document management and data protection, and to achieve a one-stop shop solution, we design portals and software application and customize them to suit customer needs…and I am proud to say that all these are done by Nigerians, though some of them were trained abroad.

When you disengaged from the service of Nokia Nigeria, a telecoms company, as Country Director, many thought you were going to set up your own telecoms company, but you deviated completely into record management and documentation. What may have informed the shift in career?

You are right. After over 25 years in telecom, I was seeking to offer a solution that could be ‘industry agnostic’ – meaning, a solution that can be embraced by any industry.  At Nokia, we never subscribed for cheque books because there was no need for it as most processes, including payments, are fully automated. I was intrigued by such discipline and I wanted to integrate workflow automation into the traditional document management system to achieve a one-stop shop solution.  The demand for our solution spans across all industries, including financial institutions, telecommunications, hospitality, and government agencies. Besides, I get fascinated and pleasantly ticked by the trail-blazing opportunity to venture into something that can positively disrupt the traditional ways of thinking and doing things.

Telecommunication is growing exponentially in Nigeria   since the inception of GSM in 2001. Can that be said of record management solution in the near future?

Absolutely. The truth is that companies are already realizing the outstanding benefits of digitization and proper records management and are beginning to key into it.  In the near future, any company that refuses to adopt it will be faced with the dilemma of “adopt it or face the ugly consequence.” History has shown that companies that failed to embrace popular ‘killer’ Apps have disappeared. Does anyone remember Wang & Olivetti typewriters?  The reason is because it will be a major criteria for which companies’ ability to meet up with customers demand and needs will be measured and any company not meeting that is as good as dead. I believe that the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) into law in Nigeria and the proliferating agents of digital revolution (such as Big Data analytics, Internet of Things, Cloud technology, Software-based digital therapies and Machine learning, etc.) have created an inflection point, which guarantees a hockey-stick growth in the space.

What are the likely indices that will propel the adoption of record management solution in Nigeria?

The risks as already talked about is a major propellant for the adoption of record management solutions or digitisation. As companies increasingly face the need for innovation to stay ahead of competitors, cut cost, improve employees’ productivity, and hit target profits, they will soon realize that document management solution is the right step in the right direction. Some businesses remain reluctant to see digital document management as a necessity. The ones that formulate a digital business strategy around a document management system usually find themselves in a better position than those that do not.

We have heard of cases of fire disaster where organisations lost valuables to fire outbreak. Can that happen when documents are digitally stored?

We have been pioneering the term “digital insurance” and what this tells us is that we may not be able to stop fire incidents from occurring, but we can surely cushion the effect of fire outbreak on our company’s activities and ensure eventual continuation of operation as though nothing had happened. The fire may destroy the offices and the documents stored in them but it cannot burn down the cloud or the disaster recovery plan put in place alongside. For example, once documents are converted into digital imagery and electronically stored, they can be easily retrieved when disaster occurs. Therefore, document management solution is the best bet.

Do you see cost as an impediment to the adoption of digital documentation in Nigeria? 

I do not see cost as an impediment to the adoption of digital archiving in Nigeria because at the end of the day it is built to save cost rather than increase cost. What I think is the major impediment is the lack of knowledge of the benefits of digitization which we at Secured Records Management Solutions are striving to bring to an end by informing and enlightening the populace through publications, seminars, and direct engagement with potential customers. I would caution potential customers to be careful in selecting providers because there are ‘fly by night’ companies that may claim to be experts, but with minimal or no technical prowess to execute and achieve delivery excellence.

What are the processes of digital documentation and how easy or difficult is it for organisations to adopt?

Our document management programme is robust.  It spans from conversion of physical documents into digital format to workflow integration and automation What we do is to first understand or assess companies’ operational processes and then draw up an action plan that meets the business needs. An integral part of our value proposition is to help our clients in saving cost, generally operation expenses, and as such, we would leverage on existing software applications and simply overlay our solutions on top.  Depending on customer needs and the complexity of existing software infrastructure, we may integrate our document management solutions with existing business processes for optimal business performance. So there are no one best fit for all organizations’ adoption. As for the ease or difficulty to adopt, we offer training at the end of each engagement to walk our clients through the process of retrieval of electronic documents and teach them how to maintain best practices in end-to-end document management.

What is the response level of Nigerians to digital documentation?

I can state unequivocally that for every person or company we have come across since we commenced business, we have usually left them impressed. It is a relatively new concept and as such, I expect the adoption to be gradual as companies become more familiar with the benefits and the opportunity cost of taking no action. While we are the only company to the best of my knowledge that is involved in providing end-to-end document management solutions, including data protection, we have discovered that there is no blanket demand for all elements of the value chain.  This suggests that the adoption rate may vary by services, which is driven by individual organization’s unique situation.

What efforts are you making to get government’s buy-in into your record management solution?

We have been working closely with various government arms on this and striving to implement very innovative solutions across many government parastatals and agencies. While the efforts continue, I must say that the government have taken very impressive steps in its adoption of digitisation as so many processes in many government agencies are being digitised as such we are enjoying the government support for our Value Proposition, but there is still great scope for the application of unique solutions to modernize government’s organisation and process.

What do you intend to achieve with the introduction of record management solution in Nigeria?

One of our goals for the introduction of records management solution in Nigeria is to bridge the gap between what is obtainable outside the country and what is obtainable in Nigeria. By so doing, we hope to help companies achieve a higher level of collaboration in the workplace; increase their employees’ productivity; reduce cost and maximize profit; guard against the effect of organizational hazard; and generally improve the level of efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. When this is done, Nigeria will be better positioned to take its rightful place among the developed countries in the world and will surely not miss out on the fourth digital revolution.

What are the key challenges for your company right now?

Like every business entity operating in Nigeria today, SRMS is also grappling with the challenges associated with a contracting economy. However, we view the current challenges not in terms of threat, but rather as an opportunity to help our numerous customers to cut costs of operation. Of course, the problem of fluctuating foreign exchange affects us in relation to critical inputs that require sourcing foreign exchange, for example equipment and software. Above all, in the current operating environment, it is an arduous task to access optimal financing for our planned warehouse infrastructure expansion project. Nevertheless, we are optimistic that the tide will turn in no distant future.