The fire that swept the Bank of Lisbon building in September 2018, killing three firefighters, could be the catalyst for a new generation of technologies that transforms record-keeping and service delivery at provincial and national government departments across the country.

Several departments have started piloting enterprise content management (ECM) technologies and document management software, which will allow them to store, access, control and locate documents with unprecedented efficiency, says Kabelo Lefifi, a project manager at black-owned business communications provider Itec Tiyende.

Three Gauteng provincial departments were housed in the Bank of Lisbon at the time of the fire. The Department of Human Settlements was the worst affected, losing a vast number of paper-based records, which were stored in various repositories in the building.

“A building fire is probably every government department’s greatest fear right now. Most of them have mission-critical records, including historical and legacy documents, standing around in boxes. If something happens, they’re gone for good,” says Lefifi.

State of Government documents

Right now, government departments in South Africa face huge volumes of unstructured content, which means there’s almost no control over the way in which documents are saved, stored and accessed by employees.

ECM systems manage an organisation or government department’s documents by storing them and making them available to the right people at the right time. By eliminating the existing dependence on paper documents, departments are able to streamline business processes, drive better customer service, increase productivity and reduce risk.

One of the first departments to start implementing an ECM system was the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA), which has a mandate of supporting export development to grow the Gauteng economy.

Apart from a vast repository of legacy paper-based documents that need to be digitised, the GGDA sends out numerous tenders, receiving up to 30 bids per tender. Each tender is evaluated and currently stored in a hard copy form, says the GGDA’s Nathi Mchunu.

“We’ve started implementing the ECM system in our finance department and are setting up the framework for our supply chain. So far, we’re already seeing effects on the business, and the potential is significant. Better document management capabilities are a high priority for us, and we see the ability to streamline workflows as a key driver of our journey to electronic document management,” says Mchunu.

Going paperless saves time, costs

The big benefits the GGDA is looking for include an almost completely paperless environment, with major cost and time savings. “We won’t have to go and rummage through boxes to find documents anymore. It will make the audit process a breeze,” he says.

The ultimate vision for government departments like the GGDA is a system whereby all tenders are submitted and processed electronically, says Lefifi.  “ECM solutions are going to play a big role in improving access to services in the coming years. ECM will enable government to centralise processes, functions and communication, so that the citizens of South Africa can have a one-stop-shop experience.”

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