Futuristic filing

Despite the dawning of the digital age, the majority of offices within the Middle East are still drowning under a deluge of paper. In certain sectors, such as government and banking, the number of documents that have to be stored is even higher and the legal responsibility to do so greater. To stay afloat in this sea of paper, users are turning to document management solutions.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  February 8, 2004

|~|Forefront.jpg|~|Document management is a long-term investment, says Johni Jabbor, regional sales manager for Forefront.|~|Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) is in the process of rolling out a comprehensive document management (DM) solution. Using software from Filenet, the first phase of the project is complete and has seen the digitisation of the bank’s financial vouchers and cheques. The second phase of the project is already underway and will see the DM package, which runs on Windows Server 2003, rolled out across ADIB’s 17 branches by the end of 2004. “In the second phase [of the project] we are looking at digitising customer mandate and credit administration and all sorts of bank documents and papers,” says Adel Al-Zarouni, senior vice president of IT at ADIB. “The final phase in 2005 will involve full automation and the full integration of the DM solution with workflow management and our online and tele-banking channels,” he explains. The biggest hurdle faced by ADIB so far has been clearing its immediate backlog of more than four million historic documents while attempting to deal with the thousands being generated each working day. To help address this issue, ADIB has outsourced its scanning to a third-party, which scans all branch documents centrally at head office. In spite of this challenge, and the sheer cost involved in digitising millions of documents, the bank is already reaping benefits. Not only does the fully indexed and Arabised database facilitate easier report management, internal auditing, financial monitoring and back up, but it also helps ADIB adhere to international banking standards and mange its workflow more effectively. ||**|||~|Opentext.jpg|~|Sriram Narayanan, major accounts director at Open Text Middle East, says only few vendors offer a comprehensive DM solution from scanning to retrieval.|~|“We are seeing two immediate benefits [from the implementation]. Firstly we are one of the few banks to abide with legal compliances that mandate all banks to keep all documents and secondly, the DM solution has created very efficient processes in the bank,” says Al-Zarouni. “Employees are saving time instead of looking at millions of documents manually and when we integrate our DM solution with our portal for online banking, customers will be able to avail the full benefits [of the system] too,” he adds. ADIB is not the only finance house in the region to have embarked on a DM project. For instance, Metrofile-UAE and Emirates Bank recently started work on a DM project that involves the conversion, centralisation, storage and management of millions of Emirates Bank’s documents. The computer-based archiving system will also use barcode technology to help track the physical storage of the document, thus making it more efficient for users. Outside the banking sector, a number of the Middle East’s other key verticals are investing in DM solutions. In the telecommunications sector, Etisalat has digitising more than 60 million historic documents in just 10 months and proposes to convert a further 20 million over the next four years, while a number of government bodies are also getting involved in DM. Dubai Naturalisation and Residence Department (DNRD), for instance, has been running an ArabDox solution from Sakhr Software and an Ultimus workflow management application for the past year. Used to scan and store visas and other valuable documents from the millions of visitors passing through Dubai, the solution has helped DNRD scale its growing paper mountain. ||**|||~||~||~|“We had papers, documents and photos running into millions. To digitise all this paper-based information and route it electronically to the right departments at airports, hospitals, and the police for visa process was the objective,” explains Mohamed Abdul Elrehim, document management system & workflow project manager at DNRD. Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources & Irrigation (MWRI) has also got in on the act and recently unveiled its own Library Management System (LMS). Arabised over a five-month period, the implementation has cost US$75,000 and has improved the management of information resources and facilitated easier access to material from libraries, archives and databases. “More than 400 employees in the ministry who use the DM solution are seeing the benefits,” says Klaus-Deiter Kees, managing director of Astec, the firm responsible for the implementation. The vast number of complete and ongoing end user projects within the Middle East are indicative of a burgeoning DM market. For instance, the UAE alone is currently worth an estimated US$42 million and is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 300% for the next four years. Worldwide, IDC expects the content and document management space to post a 44% CAGR to reach approximately US$14 billion in 2005 and US$24.4 billion in 2006. “The DM solutions market in the UAE is very dynamic, with the market showing no signs of slowing down. It will be even more competitive in Saudi Arabia or Egypt soon. We are seeing annual growth between 40% and 50% largely driven by the e-government initiatives,” says Lars Jappesen, managing director of Valuevad. ||**|||~||~||~|“The DM industry in the Middle East is more mature now, as we are seeing not only first time installations, but also upgrades from older versions to DM systems that better suit the Arabic customer needs,” adds Salah Malaeb, general manager of Sakhr Software. Despite this growth and the opportunities it presents for those vendors that contribute the scanners, software, management and storage solutions that comprise DM offerings, the market is not without its problems. For one, the sheer number of vendors involved in the market will result in diminished margins. While this could be good news for users, as it forces the vendors to focus on services and adding value to implementations, it could fracture the market yet further as proponents of DM concentrate on particular niches. Sriram Narayanan, major accounts director at Open Text Middle East, suggest this is already happening and few vendors are taking a comprehensive DM solution to market. “Very few vendors are offering end-to-end solutions from scanning to retrieval, while the low and mid-tier vendors are ignoring the record management system elements of DM, such as the tracking and safe storage of the original physical record,” he explains. Aside from vendor strategies, there are other concerns for end user organisations. For instance, manning a DM project can be a resources headache and the assumption that unskilled personnel can take care of is often unfounded. “Since implementing DM is a big and long-term investment, companies should spend very carefully and have dedicated DM managers to handle their projects,” says Jappesen. While outsourcing the task worked for ADIB, others can recruit employees internally. However, organisations have to ensure that those responsible for the project know what they are doing. Valuevad, for example, runs a Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA) programme through which end users can be trained specifically on DM projects. Other issues affecting DM strategies include the legal ramifications and Arabisation. While Jappesen believes a ruling on the legal statues of standalone digital documents would help drive the market, such a resolution has yet to be passed across the Middle East. “The biggest challenge is the legal aspect of document management, where local governments still don’t accept digital documents, unlike in the EU or the US,” he says. “The industry needs strong legal approval for digital documents and digital rights management whereby federal law should provide a foundation for digital content,” Jappesen adds. In terms of Arabic capabilities, the debate surrounding just what comprises a fully Arabised DM solution continues unabated. Sakhr’s Malaeb argues that unless a DM solution offers features such as Arabic automatic keyword extraction, full indexing, machine translation and search engine capabilities, alongside native integration with a workflow or knowledge management (KM) system, the product does not qualify as a truly Arabised offering. Furthermore, he claims few vendors are close to cracking the problem of Arabic character recognition. “Some DM systems treat the Arabic document as an image, some only localise the menu interface while some offer only either an Arabic optical character recognition (OCR) feature or search engine as an optional feature. Very few offer multi-lingual OCR,” Malaeb says. Despite the problems surrounding the Arabisation of DM solutions, it remains key to securing local market share. “Full application support for Arabic or the national language is very crucial both from the vendor and customer point of view,” says Audai Altaie, solutions product manager, Canon Middle East. “For instance, if you want to penetrate the government sector you should have Arabic support, and companies that cannot offer this [Arabic support] will not be able to compete,” he adds. Perhaps an even bigger problem facing DM solutions in the local market is the expense of such packages. According to Johni Jabbor, regional sales manager for Forefront, a mid-range 10 concurrent user DM solution comprising of a scanning station, DM software tools, storage, Arabic support, training and integration can cost around US$50,000. “DM is expensive and typically takes three to six months to implement. It should be treated as an ongoing, long-term investment,” he says. While such an expense can be tolerated by larger multinational companies or accommodated by governments and finance houses, it poses a problem for widespread adoption among the Middle East’s massive small-to-medium sized business (SMB) sector. “From a vendor perspective, offering cost effective solutions is essential,” says Altaie. In addition to Canon, other vendors are attempting to provide DM functionality at a lower cost in an attempt to tap into the SBB market. For example, Forefront is selling DM bundles starting at US$1000 for the small-office-home-office (SOHO) market, which includes an entry-level scanner, imaging software with an OCR engine and a storage device. The IT industry giants have also got involved. HP, for instance, is leveraging its peripherals expertise and bundling DM software with some of its multifunctional devices, while Microsoft has introduced DM and workflow capabilities to its Office 2003 suite. Whether local users opt for a cost effective package or a more enterprise focused tool, a grasp of reality has to be maintained throughout the implementation and use of DM. For instance, although the likes of ADIB, Etisalat and Dubai Government have reaped the rewards of deploying DM solutions, they all still deal with mountains of paper on a daily basis. According to Altaie, this is unlikely to change, as DM solutions will never make paper redundant. “No office will ever go without paper. Since users backup paper only by photocopying, which creates more paper, digital archiving and DM will only complement it and reduce paperwork by making information storage and retrieval easier,” he says.||**||

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