Nwosu: Robust Records Strategy Will Create Paper-lite Economy

Chief Executive Officer, Secured Records Management Solutions, Dr. Sam Nwosu, speaks on the need for organisations to embrace robust records management strategy in order to reduce operational costs and loss of valuable records. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:

Secured Records recently launched its second document archiving warehouse in Abuja. What informed the second launch?

As the foremost provider of end-to-end document management services in Nigeria, Abuja off-site document warehouse is positioned to improve our operations and extend our service footprint outside Lagos. As a growing company, we needed to extend the archiving services in regions other than Lagos, and Abuja was the best choice for the second warehouse, considering the high demand and need for the service. With a thriving clientele in Abuja, it became necessary for the federal capital territory to enjoy the excellent archiving service that we offer elsewhere. We are confident this will address the physical archiving needs of our clients as well as open the doors for potential clients.   

Like our Lagos document warehouse, the Abuja Physical archiving facility has all essential world-class features to ensure confidentiality, safety, security, and document preservation. All physical documents are systematically and methodically stored in archival boxes and placed on storage racks with external labels, QR-codes for easy identification and retrieval. Our document warehouses come with the following features: climate controlled system, state-of-the-art racking system built to international standard, color-coded (QR codes) for secured and easy identification of client boxes, automated and customised inventory software, fire suppression system, alarm system for anti-burglary and theft, live CCTV surveillance, strict access to only authorised agents, and managed by experiences personnel.  

Through the expansion, we strive to reinforce our commitment to offering comprehensive range of services including digital archiving, data warehousing, workforce automation, and customised software development.

With two document archiving warehouses in Lagos and Abuja, how will you describe the demand for document archiving in Nigeria.  Is there likely going to be a third warehouse from Secured Records anytime soon?

Several factors drive the demand for document archiving in Nigeria when taking a holistic market review. This suggests that even after complete digitalisation, organisations are still saddled with the responsibility of keeping their physical documents throughout the retention period. The big question is: where should they keep those documents to ensure proper preservation as well as safety and security.  Organisations are also actively seeking ways to reduce the time and cost of managing documents efficiently and effectively. In summary, these factors can influence the existence of a business, ensuring business continuity.

In today’s digital world, there is a shift in operations, especially post-covid, when many companies are adjusting to the new management reality in a world controlled by technology, among other reasons. Digital archiving has become increasingly popular for managing documents and increasing turnaround time. Despite the new reality, physical document archiving still has a healthy market: identifying what type of organiations still work with physical documents, why they do so, how they currently manage the process, and their location will help us understand how these organisations use documents today. We have visited clients with a heap of bags containing legacy documents occupying dedicated and sometimes, expensive workspaces.

Various organizations maintain these print records for different reasons, and according to regulations, organisations operating in diverse sectors are to retain certain documents for a particular period. Financial institutions, law firms, oil and gas companies, pension managers, and schools are a few examples.

Google search trends for relevant document archiving keywords over the past five years suggest that companies from Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt are constantly looking for document archiving services.

Secured Records is open to launching more document warehouses in areas where we are able to determine high levels of demand, in line with our mission to be the foremost provider of end-to-end document management and secured software solutions in Africa.

The world is going digital in line with global digital transformation. How will you advise organisations that still practice paper-based documentation?

For organisations that still practice paper-based documentation, we typically share two views: Firstly is to help them understand the time and secondly, the monetary cost of managing a paper-based documentation system.

According to Gartner research, companies spend as much as three per cent of their revenue on paper. Included here is the cost of procuring the paper, before you get to the cost of printing and filing documents. Beyond this point, an organisation will deal with the logistic costs of managing the documents, including moving, storing, and disposing of documents, at the end of their retention periods.

With the retrieval or tracking of documents being a major challenge in most public and private sector organisations, we suggest the deployment of an Electronic Content Management (ECM) for managing documents in digital format and simplifying the document flow process to ensuring that documents are easy to retrieve, and tracked in a manner that ensures integrity, confidentiality, and authenticity.  

Quite often we hear news of organisations experiencing calamities, ranging from floods and fires to hard drive crashes, which destroy their records with disastrous consequences for their business operations. The reality is that many organisations assume they will never experience such disaster, so never develop a plan for protecting one of their most valuable assets: records. 

However, disasters do happen, and forward-thinking organisations are now actively putting in place a robust records management strategy to significantly reduce the impact, in terms of loss of valuable records and attendant costs.

To mitigate potential losses due to human errors, the necessity for automated workflow needs not be over-emphasised. With proper records management practice, an organisation can work from anywhere, realise significant cost reduction in running operations, improve response time, achieve accuracy, enhance productivity, and attain operational efficiency.

For organisations that have sensitive supply chains, where there are many moving parts interacting with one another, resilience and agility are necessary to adapt to changes on the fly. Physical document archiving is ideal when managing legacy records, that is, documents that are not consulted on a daily basis, but need to be preserved due to retention policies.  For instance, the Nigerian court system still works with physical documents. Financial Auditors still tend to work with physical copies of relevant records so in cases like these, it become necessary to store physical documents in safe and secured facilities.

At Secured Records, we advise customers to digitize document backlogs, implement electronic content management for retrieval of digitized records, automation of repetitive manual processes to facilitate where from anywhere program, and store physical paper documents in a safe and secured facility for preservation and ease of retrieval when needed.

As technology develops faster than imagined, do you see Nigeria becoming a paper-lite nation anytime soon? 

There are various factors to be considered when looking at becoming a paperless or paper-lite nation, and all centred on the peculiarities of the country.

Let’s start by looking at the public sector with most Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) still heavily reliant on paper-based operations. Courts for example, still depend on physical documentation records to operate. Businesses in other states still need to send hard copy documents to government organisations in Abuja and or their state counterparts. 

In a lot of cases, there exists some internal resistance to change, combined with exogenous factors, which historically have frustrated such efforts in the past.

There are also concerns that paperless architecture may lead to load-shading, meaning that people may lose their jobs. I frown at this particular concern because similar arguments were put forward during the first and second industrial revolutions, where people were concerned about the potential job losses due to industrialization.  Admittedly, jobs were lost, but many more lucrative jobs were created.  Let us remember that people are still needed to scan documents and push them to the electronic records management platform, which serves as a repository and automation engine.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, so many government officials have demonstrated propensity to digitally transform their organisations.  For us, it all started in 2019 when the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Dr. Zaynab Ahmed commissioned a pilot to test the viability of our electronic records management (ERM) as a starting point to achieving paperless-paper-lite ministry. She has since extended the program to include digitization of millions of records, deployment of electronic records management platform, mapping and automation of several manual processes, and tracking of all inbound and outbound documents.   At the middle of COVID-19 pandemic, the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, sent a circular to all MDAs to digitize and automate their processes to ensuring business continuity, operational efficiency, and productivity of the federal civil service. Others include the DG, Budget Office of the Federation, Comptroller-General of Nigerian Immigration Service, DG, NOSDRA, MD, Development Bank of Nigeria, ES, PTAD, Chairman of EFCC, and DG, Tetfund.  

Today all manual processes at the Head of Service headquarters have been digitally mapped and are being automated.  So I remain optimistic that with increasing interest and momentum from Heads of MDAs, more release of funds by the federal government, and a boost from the private sector industry captains like AIG Foundation, Nigeria will someday soon achieve Paper-lite workplace operations, and perhaps, reach paperless communications in a few years. 

There is no doubt that the private sector is ahead of the public sector in adopting digital transformation. The pace was accelerated by the devastating impact of COVID-10 as many organisations were forced to lock down operations and not able to work from anywhere outside the corridors of their offices. I am aware that many private sector organizations are making efforts to transition to digital platforms, but several others are still heavily dependent on paper forms for their day-to-day operations. That said, I am optimistic about a paperless Nigeria. 

In terms of capacity, how long will it take Secured Records to complete archiving of organisation’s document?

Good question.  The answer to this question depends of several variables including the volume, the nature, and the retrieval mechanism.  For digital archiving, we are capable of converting, indexing, classifying, and uploading of over 250,000 pages of documents per day, provided the customer provides adequate space.  We come prepared with our staff, scanners, laptops, and all necessary equipment to complete the process. For the provision of electronic content management software, it could take just a few days.  The process mapping and automation may take a few days to a few months depending on the number of manual processes to be mapped and automated. For physical archiving (off-site document storage), the implementation timeline once again depends on the complexity of sorting, data capturing, file planning, proximity from customer site to our warehouse, and the number of boxes to be stored.  

I can unequivocally say that we are favourably disposed in providing end-to-end document management solutions – be it in digital imagery or physical configurations, and we have the capacity to scale up to meet the desired archival needs of our existing and potential customers. 

Aside from creating more workspace, what are the other benefits of physical and digital document archiving?

Both digital and physical archiving, provide easy way to track, retrieve, and, manage documents, as well as ensuring documents retention compliance. This reduces the burden associated with time-wasting tasks of searching and retrieval, especially when working with tight deadlines.

Specifically, the following benefits are associated with physical archiving: (also known as off-site records management): safeguarding of documents from the risk of fire, flood, and destructive pests, spending minutes instead of hours or days in locating documents, protecting confidential documents from unauthorized access, ensuring business continuity as a backup to digital documentation, stands as the ultimate source of truth when digital information stored becomes questionable, and finally, ensuring document retention compliance.  

For digital archiving, the benefits include: hedging against destructive incidents such as fire and flood, reduction in time and efforts in locating documents, reduction in cost of paper and all related paper-based filing, increase in productivity as a result of elimination of time-wasting efforts, and of course, enabling people to work from anywhere outside their primary places of work.

In the case of a fire outbreak, what is the best technology to store and retrieve physical and digital documents?

For physical documents, storing records in a controlled environment that is equipped with fire detection and suppression technology is the most ideal way to suppress and terminate a fire. What makes it a controlled environment is the fact that there are no electric circuits in the records management center, and this helps minimize the risk of electrical-induced fire outbreaks. The facility is equipped with FM200 fire suppression system, which automatically releases Co2 to put out the fire when smoke is detected or during fire outbreaks. Smoke detectors and nozzles are strategically positioned across the warehouse.  There are thunder arrestors on the roof of the warehouse as a further measure against first incidents. Furthermore, CCTV is hooked to an inverter, which gets its power source from sola panelsr.  The CCYV is monitored remotely and with security guards mounted 24×7, any incident of fire outbreak, which is highly unlikely, will be detected and quenched immediately. 

 For digital documents, Cloud-based technology such as ECM/EDMS will be more than enough to keep digital documents safe from fires. Unlike physical hard disk drives, once documents are uploaded into the cloud, they can be accessed from another location with the document owner’s credentials even if the office space where the digital document originates from is destroyed by fire. This is further strengthened by the provision of a disaster recovery site, which mirror data and provide backups and redundancies in case of a disaster.  

Nigeria is entering into election year in 2023. How will you advise leaders to leverage technology in governance?

Embracing technology in governance will help improve accountability, productivity, efficiency, and transparency in all government operation, including in the conducts of elections.   

The Electoral Act, signed into law by the president on February 25, 2022, will bring about significant changes to the Electoral Act that will affect the electoral process, specifically the use of technology and technology-enabled processes that will improve efficiency and transparency. Though I am not a lawyer, but I remember reading about some innovative sections of the Act that support the use of card readers, electronic voter authentication, and maintaining records in electronic and manual formats, as well as any other voter authentication technology deployed by INEC for conducting a transparent, effective, credible, and fair election. 

Through these provisions, the commission can automate tasks using technology-enabled tools such as advanced Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for typed records and Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) for hand-written records for classification and characterisation, process automation using an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), and data processing tools such as database management, optical scanning, and geographic information systems. 

Elections can be conducted using technology in several ways, one of these ways is using electronic technology (E-Voting) to cast or count votes. E-voting has many advantages, including increasing participation among the youths and making elections more accessible to people with disabilities. As part of our ongoing commitment to the country’s continued progress, we are at the forefront of an end-to-end technology-driven service offerings. To restore trust in the election process and reduce turnaround times, the government must strictly adhere to the provisions of the Act.

The federal government is insisting that all MDAs must be Digitized. What is your take on this?

We believe this is a welcome development and a move in the right direction. We’ are happy to be a part of this transformative and game-changing initiative, and we believe this will be a catalyst to improve the operational efficiency of our MDAs. Already, there are early benefits for some MDAs we have worked with to digitize their processes. These benefits include improved manpower efficiency, improved accountability, improved transparency and communication. Information security is not left out as there are layers of access control to manage the digitized documents or electronic assets as we sometimes call them. 

We have worked with some ministries in the past to digitize their document assets. This move is also environmentally friendly and in line with global climate protection policies. 

Can you list some of your solutions and how robust are they in protecting organization’s documents? 

In terms of document management, our bespoke warehouse management solution, which is focused on managing documents at our offsite records management facility was designed to assist clients in tracking their documents and retrieve them with ease. 

Its features include an inventory tracker, an approval workflow for retrieving documents, and an archive reporting system. 

The software assists in protecting the documents of organisations in the context of only approved individuals who can access the software to see what documents are stored in our facility and make retrievals, and even then, they would require approvals before documents can be retrieved. 

Secured Records engineering team will continue releasing updates on the software, which are focused on expanding its functionality and benefits as well as security improvements. We also have several new products currently in development that we are excited about and we will be announcing more on this soon to the general public.

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