Nwosu: Adoption of Digital Archiving Technology Still Low in Nigeria

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Sam Nwosu

The Chief Executive Officer, Secured Records Management Solutions Limited, Dr. Sam Nwosu, in this interview with Emma Okonji, speaks on the importance of digital archiving as evolving technology and the need for Nigerian businesses to adopt the technology for digital transformation. Excerpts:

Digital document management is an evolving technology that is helping businesses to archive their data and reposition their businesses. How well have Nigerian businesses adopted the evolving technology?

The adoption rate for overall document management and electronic document management system (EDMS) is low, though growing. While the public sector is playing catch up, the growth in the private sector is encouraging as businesses realise the tremendous benefits of digital transformation as an enabler to better decision-making, enhancing productivity, ensuring business continuity, and achieving cost reduction without negatively impacting their quality of service and delivery.

How will organisations achieve proper document management, using data, records, documents and information?

At SRMS, we approach the concept of document management from a horizontal perspective, meaning that we do not see any difference between and among data, records, documents, and information. From that perspective, we designed our solutions in four categories, namely traditional document management, which consists of digital conversion of paper documents, physical (off-site) storage, and data capture; process automation, which comprises enterprise content management, software and applications development, systems integration, and Internet of Things sensors development; information security, focusing on cyber security and penetration testing; and IT consulting. The need for a one-stop shop is that as the traction for digital economy grows, all seven layers of open system interconnection (OSI) will become more vulnerable to cyber security attacks. As a provider of end-to-end document management solutions, SRMS is favorably disposed to offering preventive measures as well as being able to provide recovery when unexpected incidents occur.

How will organisations in the 21st Century, apply IoTs, Big Data and Machine Learning skills in digital document management?

The trending technology buzz word for most organisations in the 21st Century is “digital transformation” which totally affects the way businesses are ran. Today, most businesses leverage on the data that they have gathered overtime to make informed business decisions and this data could also be used as an input to product formulation.
Internet of Things (IoTs), Big Data, and Machine Learning (ML) are the technologies used for collecting data from electronic devices using sensors, managing huge amounts of data and analysing and predicting collected data respectively. They all have a major role to play in collecting, storing and analysing data. These skills, when properly applied have brought about a paradigm shift from the traditional electronic document management to the invention of intelligent content management (ICM), which now supports unstructured data.

What solutions does Secured Records Management Solutions Limited have for proper digital data management in Nigeria?

Digital document management in Nigeria isn’t industry agnostic. Each industry has different document management requirements, and also, budgets. At Secured Records Management Solutions Limited, we first engage our clients as consultants to understand their requirement before suggesting a best fit technology for their use. In our years of doing business, we have been privileged to work with tools like M-files, Laserfische, ABBYY and SharePoint, just to mention a few. We bridge the gap between the business strategy and the technology, which would aid digital document management.

What level of value will document management bring to organisations?

Our solutions are designed to provide significant value to organisations, private and public alike. Our key value propositions include: cost reduction, which is generally derived from compression algorithm and space economics; enhanced productivity and operational efficiency, which is achieved through workflow and process automation; business continuity, which ensures uninterruptible business when disaster occurs; and compliance with the law by opting to use our ultra-modern off-site storage facility, equipped with fire suppressant system, humidity control system, and other security fittings to ensure compliance during document retention period.

Human error in business, most times negatively affect business growth. How will digital data management help organisations to remove human error in business?

There is no doubt that businesses suffer significant losses due to human errors. We have a solution that allows businesses to extract data from any type of document, including hand-written and convert them into business-ready data. For example, we have helped the Pension Management industry to eliminate manual data entry and invariably, reduced their customer on-boarding time by over 80 per cent. In addition, we provide solutions that automate process workflow to reduce or eliminate human interventions. Automated workflow is a technology solution that programs all the process involved in the workflow by eliminating most of the human intervention requirements.

In the process of document archiving, there is need for mapping of document for ease of tracing and sorting out document. How do you manage digital document mapping?

As part of our value proposition to help customers enhance their productivity, and leveraging on our business model of providing end-to-end document management, we are favorably disposed to achieving digital document mapping. We have developed a mapping algorithm as an option, which can be activated during conversion of paper documents into digital imagery. The mapping algorithm allows us to link digitised documents to standard storage boxes for ease of identification and retrieval. For example, when a client logs into its EDMS to search for a particular document and there is a need to retrieve the original document from the physical storage, the client would see the exact box where that document is kept.

How can data capture automation help in digital archiving of documents?

As we enter the world of digital economy and as many organisations embrace digital transformation, the need for data capture automation, using intelligent character recognition (ICR) increases. To achieve digitalisation, one must work in a digitized environment. For example, our ICR technology by ABBYY can be used as an enabler to extract information for form transfer documents and send them to any automation engine to execute the request. ABBYY ICR technology are used to achieve significant turnaround time in form processing such as e-mandate forms and also able to do automatic indexing and archiving of processed documents, which reduces paper generation significantly.

How will digital archiving address business innovation and continuity?

The use of data capture as an integral part of document management solutions can help to eliminate manual entry, streamline business processes, allow scaling, enhance collaboration within and outside the ecosystem, and support cross-functional activities and business innovation through big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Business innovation drives operational efficiency, which requires a drastic reduction in manual activities. Business innovation is not mere optimization of practices, but requires the understanding of the uniqueness of content management layers in an organisation.
We recommend that every company seek the knowledge of experts like us to manage their documents to fend off potentials for disaster, plan for quick recovery when a disaster occurs, and ensure business continuity.

How does digital archiving helps in protecting sensitive materials of organisations?

This question underscores the critical need for organisations to embark on proper document management practice. We often refer to the process of digitisation, indexing, storing either on cloud or on premise, and retrieval of documents as digital insurance. This implies that your data is now fully secured and can be recovered intact when needed. Vital documents need to be protected from unauthorized access or disclosure and should be treated with caution and discretion. Records management, including offsite storage and shredding of paper documents make it easy for any business to secure sensitive data. There is a myth that it is expensive to outsource the services and therefore cheaper to maintain them in-house. On the contrary, I can assure you that with us, it would cost your organization just a tiny fraction of what it would cost you to run the practice in-house, be it digitization, data capture, automated workflow, or offsite storage.

What is the difference between on-premise storage and off-site storage in physical archiving? Would you recommend that an organisation build its own physical warehouse or outsource it to physical archiving companies like Secured Records?

On-premise document storage is usually the provision of a space within or outside the organisation’s office for storage of paper documents. On the contrary, off-site storage, also known as outsourcing, is the provision of such services by an outside vendor like SRMS.
SRMS offers confidential, secure (fire-proof, flood-proof, and tamper-proof), climate controlled storage facility, where physical documents are systematically and methodicallystored in archival boxes and placed on storage racks or cabinets with external labels, QR-codes for easy identification and retrieval. Using modern computer inventory system, we keep meticulous records of all boxes or files in storage, as well as items retrieved, delivered or returned while keeping track of where everything is for customers. Our complete pick-up and delivery service ensures that we can pick-up or deliver your archival documents to you anywhere in the country. We have done several cost benefit analyses for some of our clients who proposed building their own Warehouses. After the analyses, it became obvious in most cases that it is not cost effective to tie down such huge capital, which could have been invested in other financial derivatives with high yield. Building a warehouse that meets international standard with all necessary fittings for internal use is capital intensive, and in fact, not necessary. By outsourcing to experts like us, we take off the burden of building and operating of document storage facilities so that organisations can focus on running their core businesses. So, I recommend outsourcing to SRMS with no reservations.

In government agencies, there are lots of paper work still going on. How will Secure Records help government embrace digital archiving?

We are working closely with various government arms on this and striving to implement same across government parastatals and agencies. We have recently completed several projects, including content management, process management optimisation, and digitization with electronic document management system (EDMS) for various government agencies. While the efforts continue, I must say that a more aggressive stance is needed, perhaps, an executive mandate to implore all government agencies to embark on our digital insurance programme to convert all paper records into digital format with provision for electronic retrieval.

Workflow Automation as an integral component of our end-to-end document management solutions replaces manual, repetitive and error-prone tasks with automated processes that, when combined with data analysis and integrated with core systems, free government agencies from bloated processes that perpetuate inefficiency and cost. Integrating records management with information resources is needed across all corridors of government. With proper records management practice, various government agencies can realise significant cost reduction in running government operations, improve response time, achieve accuracy, attain operational efficiency, and encourage uprightness.

How can you liken digital archiving to Treasury Single Account (TSA)?

One of the reasons for the TSA was to ensure adequate monitoring of government revenue receipts and expenditures and block leakages. This also helps to promote transparency and reduce corruption. From a digital archiving point, we can set a lot of parameters from a metadata point of view that would ensure that there are no duplicates of a specific type of document.
Some years back, a friend of mine lost his degree certificate in a robbery incident and had to go back to his institution to request for another one. It took him months of going back and forth before his records could be found as they had to check from file to file to retrieve his documents. Imagine if the institution had digitized all documents from inception till date, it could’ve taken them less than five minutes to provide his certificate. Digital Archiving also brings about accountability, transparency and is also in line with the Freedom of Information act.

To what extent will small businesses like SMEs leverage on the powers of digital archiving for business growth?

With our data capture automation and automated workflow, we work with SMEs to streamline their processes by utilise cutting edge technology to eliminate manual data entry at affordable prices. My team has developed scalable systems, which are menu-driven to fill the content management system needs of SMEs without emptying their pockets. Operational efficiency would lead to increase in productivity, which could drive revenues and profits up.
SMEs do not have the financial muscle to procure expensive enterprise systems to streamline business processes, including ERPs and CRMs. In addition, we are encouraging SMEs to transfer their paper documents to our offsite storage facility at a fraction of the space cost in their offices, especially those operating from expensive areas of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and other big cities.

You appear too passionate about digital archiving. What actually motivated you into the business of digital documentation?

As the Country Managing Director for Nokia Nigeria for over five years, I benefitted from its use of automated workflow. Besides, I took time to study the Nigeria market and observed a huge gap that needs to be filled in the area of digitisation and automated workflow in particular, and conventional document management in general. I truly enjoy my business because I have never engaged any executive who had no need for at least one of our end-to-end solution, which consists of document management, process automation, information security, and IT consulting. Also, what we do is somewhat industry agnostic. This implies that every vertical segment of the economy needs our services.
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 organisational 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 industrial revolution.

FinTechs are busy developing new solutions that are driving the financial technology sector. What is Secure Records doing in terms of developing new solutions that will further drive digital archiving in Nigeria?

At SRMS, we help organisations simplify the process of storing, managing, tracking and retrieving physical and digital documents. Our business focus is in two parts; Providing end-to-end document management and Process Automation. From a document management point-of-view, we have an ultra-modern, state of the art physical warehouse in which we store valuable documents for most organisations. This helps to avert the risk of theft, fire, and death of such documents. We also convert physical documents to electronic format in order to preserve them, as we know, there’s no lifespan for digital documents.
From a process automation point-of-view, we assist organisations in making their staff more productive and effective, by identifying business processes that should be automated and automating same. We have also developed some mini-ERPs that simplify the way businesses are done. Some of our proprietary solutions are; Secured Biometrix, Secured Information Management System – SIMS and Secured Human Resource Information System.

What is your view about technology development in Nigeria, vis-a-vis the emergence of evolving technologies like Artificial Intelligence?

Nigeria is categorised as one of the emerging economies in the world and with a population of 154.5 million people according to Google. In 2014, our GDP saw its highest with technology contributing between 11 – 15 per cent of the $568.5 billion.
The prospects are indeed high as each government that comes in adds in its agenda the need to fight corruption, diversify the economy, provide more jobs for youths, and provide security. Technology could serve as an enabler to helping the government to meet all of these goals, however, its implementation in this case as we see is very slow.
The private sector is the biggest benefactor of the ongoing emergence of recent technology. Today we see companies in the financial sector implementing recent technologies like Chatbots, built on artificial intelligence that provides you with a 24 hour helpdesk that doesn’t require any physical human intervention. We’ve also seen most banks implementing Robotics Process Automation (RPA) – passing on repetitive and mundane tasks to software robots for execution. If the adoption level of technology could increase in the Public sector, I am very sure that this would also positively affect the nation’s productivity output and help to attain the long term strategic goals that government would like to achieve.

How will you describe the speed of business operations in relation to data archiving?

According to Accenture, 59 per cent of 1,000 managers surveyed say they miss important information almost every day because it exists within the company, but they can’t find it. Another report by Harmone further suggests that users waste 30 minutes a day or 16 days each year searching for documents. In its recent publication, AIIM, contends that efficient solution for conducting enterprise searches across all available internal content could improve staff productivity by an average of 30 per cent. If a bank with six million clients was to search through the physical account opening forms of one client, it would take nothing less than three weeks to do. If these documents where properly digitised and indexed, it would take at most one minute to find the same document. Digital archiving is an effective way to store documents for the safest and quickest means of retrieval from anywhere, anytime.