Tackling the paper problem
Information management company InfoFort is helping government customers to manage their documents — both paper and digital — in a more effective way to enable smart government solutions.
The drive to e-Government and digital services frequently promises to introduce a new era of paperless transactions and the elimination of manual procedures. The reality of course is that while there may be some reduction in paperwork, many processes still have a manual element, creating paperwork that needs to be turned into digital documents if it is going to be properly utilised in digital systems. The corresponding volumes of digital data, created either natively in electronic systems or converted from paper, also become a major overhead which government organisations need to manage.
Managing these volumes of data can be a formidable task, so it is not surprising that many organisations, public and private sector, turn to outsourcing. Abed Shaheen is CEO of InfoFort, a subsidiary of logistics company Aramex, which has been offering document management and related services since 1997 operations.
“We take care of information in any format or any media, and we take care of the whole information management lifecycle, from the moment the information is created until it gets disposed of,” Shaheen said. “We manage that process, storing, managing physical records and documents, we digitise paper archives into digital formats for ease of access and preservation, to storing digital data on back-up tapes and other media, for longevity; and eventually, getting rid of information through shredding or destruction of digital information. We manage the whole thing. Our ultimate goal is preserving intellectual and knowledge capital.”
The company, which now has operations across the Middle East and Africa, has a number of services developed specifically for government clients, Shaheen explains, and is serving public sector customers in a wide number of areas.
Among the solutions that InfoFort offers are systems for municipalities; solutions to manage town planning documents such as digitizing engineering drawings; managing records for utilities companies; processing naturalization and residency documents such as applications for passports, birth certificates, and so on, and managing of documents for law enforcement. By outsourcing these services, government are able to concentrate on serving their customers rather than managing documents, which helps improve customer service, he added.
“For the government sector, we really focus on the future — first fixing the paper problem that governments usually have. Governments traditionally hold a massive amount of paper, they create so many documents,” Shaheen said. “We take care of that by offering solutions to safeguard documents offsite, away from the government offices, to give them easy access with better security, better preservation, and we also digitize these documents for them, so that they can access them immediately, and it leads to better government and better citizen services.”
InfoFort works differently with each customer, Shaheen explained. The company has its own record management centres around the region, which provide secure storage for both paper documents and digital media. The centres aslo host scanning facilities to digitise documents along with data disposal capabilities. Typically InfoFort would collect clients’ documents and transport them to and from the centre as required.
For other clients that don’t want to outsource completely, the company will go and manage their data at their own facilities, deploying technology and personnel at the customer site.
The company is careful to adhere to the highest standards of operations, and is certified for ISO 9001; it also applies a number of industry-specific standards including standards from PRISM, a global trade association for information management professionals, the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), ARMA and the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID).
“We serve Fortune 500 companies, most of our clients are banks, government, and financial institutions, so when you work with banks, you become like a bank,” Shaheen said. “We also learn from our clients, given that our clients are international banks and financial institutions, with very rigorous and stringent policies for dealing with confidential information, we have elevated over time, and we have become like a bank for information. We apply the same security checks, due diligence and everything else in building and managing facilities and information.”
The company’s services go beyond just data storage however, and are increasingly focused on management of digital data and helping customers to manage their digital assets better. The company has invested in solutions for workflow, business intelligence and analytics, and smart management of data. InfoFort can provide consultancy for clients, and also offers software integration so that government organisations can either manage data themselves or integrate with InfoFort systems as required.
“We have software that can help governments to run and manage their electronic data just like they would have their physical data. We can integrate our solutions with the government solutions. When we digitise documents, we give the client electronic content management (ECM) and they have complete autonomy in managing data,” Shaheen said.
It is this high degree of management of data that will help support public sector entities in their drive for smart government, and smart cities, by taking a more intelligent approach to data and enabling data to move from being a static asset in storage to become a resource that can provide value for governments and citizens.
“We hold literally billions of records in our record centres. It is not just scanning, it is about managing the whole process, and doing it smartly, how you integrate the document that you scan with another process, so that immediately a citizen is approaching a government counter, they can get information while we are working on it. We look at every piece of information or document as content, rather than paper,” he concludes.