Electronic document management in Africa : the key to a successful digital transformation

Regardless of the type of business you're talking about, African organizations invest in digital transformation for a myriad of different reasons.

Some African companies turn to the power of modern technology to improve efficiency - empowering employees to communicate from department to department easier than ever before. Others want to guarantee that data can flow freely across the enterprise, making sure that the critical information that people need to do their jobs is always in the right hands. Others still do it for the cost savings. Not only can a digital transformation save a tremendous amount of money upfront, but it's an investment that will also continue to pay dividends for years to come.

All of these benefits have always been important - but they're especially so given everything going on in the world right now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March of 2020 as the pandemic first began to make its way across the world, millions of employees suddenly found themselves working from home indefinitely. As a result, many organizations suddenly realized that they lacked the infrastructure needed to support this revolution. In addition to not having access to the tools people needed to work as productively as possible, they found themselves in dire need of solutions that would allow them to share critical information as securely as possible. This is especially true in an industry like accounting and financial services, where firms are dealing with data that is decidedly more sensitive than most.

Even though vaccines are rolling out across the world, Africa stay until today the less vaccined continent, the number of remote workers isn't exactly dropping. One recent study revealed that in August of 2021, about 13% of people were still working remotely full-time due to concerns about the pandemic and the newly emerged Delta variant, among others.

Indeed, working from home is a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon - which means that organizations in Africa who were preparing for digital transformations prior to the pandemic need to seriously rethink their approach. The world has changed in a dramatic way and there's no putting that particular genie back in the bottle. This is only a negative thing if you allow it to be. If you approach your digital transformation from the right perspective, you stand to gain enormously in a wide range of different ways, all of which are worth a closer look.

The Future of the Workforce Has Arrived

All of these things underline the importance of digital transformation in the modern era - particularly during a time when the "new normal" that we're all about to return to will likely have little resemblance to the one we left behind.

Case in point: data security. As stated, African firms for example in particular lacked the infrastructure needed to truly support digital transformation for remote workers in the most secure way possible. In addition to email folders, respondents to the aforementioned survey said that they used files and folders across shared network drives, solutions like Microsoft SharePoint, CRM and ERP systems, dedicated accounting solutions, file sharing applications like Google Drive and more to manage and share business and client documents within the firm itself.

The right approach to digital transformation is an opportunity to consolidate all of this down into one simple, easy-to-use system that is built with modern workflows in mind. M-Files, for example, is a document management system that allows information to be accessed based on not where a file is stored, but on what is contained within it. All data is stored via a system that can be accessed anywhere, at any time, on any device. More than that, permissions can be set to make sure that only the people who need a particular file to do their jobs have access to it - thus preventing that information from falling into the wrong hands.

Likewise, a digital transformation can be a great opportunity to create branded, customizable client portals that themselves can help African firms better collaborate with clients. Not only does this guarantee the security and privacy of client documents, but it also improves the digital client experience as well.

In the end, a digital transformation is a massive undertaking, yes - but for most African firms, the pandemic has proven that it's an investment that is well worth making. "Change" and "disruption" are only negative words if you allow them to be. With the right perspective, you can see them for what they really are - opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of to propel the next decade of your firm's success and beyond.

The 3 Main Types of Content Services: Collaborative, Archival and Transactional

Over the past few years, content services have fallen into one of two different categories: transactional or collaborative. Transactional content, as the name suggests, directly relates to the case management content that businesses are working with on a daily basis. Collaborative content, on the other hand, has to do with all of those project-related documents that people are tracking to actively do their jobs.

In the past, both of these would have been handled by way of an enterprise content management system, otherwise known as an ECM for short. Unfortunately, this had led people to attempt to divide up their workflows based on which technologies help to solve their content problems. In reality, things would be much more productive if efforts were divided up based on the content type they were working with.

To that end, there are three main content types that any modern enterprise needs to be aware of: collaborative content, archival content and transactional content.

How to Create Consistent Processes, Even When Working Remotely with MFiles ECM

The "Problem" With Working Remotely

Obviously, one of the biggest immediate challenges that most businesses have faced while working remotely is that communication got harder, not easier — at least in the short-term.

Gone are the days when important information could be exchanged by way of discussions, meetings and quick office drop-ins. It's not possible to catch up on the status of that big project with a quick meeting after lunch. Now, even the most basic communication usually requires multiple phone calls and an endless string of emails.

The issue is that emails can quickly get lost (or chains can become unwieldy) and phone calls can be missed when everyone is "enjoying the flexibility to work on their own schedules." Not only has this made communication and productivity more difficult, but it's also shattered consistency as well.

Another major issue that the remote era has brought with it is that suddenly most businesses are working with far more data silos than ever before. When everyone had access to the same tools in the office, you could reasonably make sure that everyone was storing information in the same places and in the same ways. This is hard when everyone is working from home and you now suddenly have personal hard drives, cloud storage services and other repositories to deal with.

This makes it difficult to find key information and even harder to make sure that it gets into the hands of the people who need it — again harming consistency during a time when it is desperately needed.

The Solution: Document Management

Thankfully, all hope is not lost. True document management solutions like M-Files and others are poised to help businesses solve all of these challenges in one fell swoop.

By leveraging a tool like M-Files to automate a lot of those menial, repetitive tasks that used to take up so much of an employee's time, you're significantly reducing the amount of communication that is required for a given task. This is especially true for those tasks that are repeated on a regular basis. When less frequent communication is required, you'll be dealing with fewer communication-related issues as a result.

Likewise, document management solutions like M-Files allow for automated workflows that greatly improve both efficiency and repeatability across the board. Again, a lot of the tasks that employees are forced to deal with are nothing if not repeatable. But if they're constantly repeated by humans without a consistent structure in place, you're only increasing the chances that human error will rear its ugly head and that quality control will suffer.

With electronic automation, you not only get the benefit of making sure that the job gets done properly every single time by way of a consistent, repeatable workflow — you also get to free up the valuable time of an employee so that they can focus on matters that will actually make you money.

In the end, the new remote era that we're currently living in has certainly brought with it some advantages. Unfortunately, it's created a "brave new world" of challenges, too. But thankfully, solutions have emerge that will allow you to embrace this "next normal" with as few of the potential downsides as possible — and the right document management solution like M-Files is absolutely at the top of that list.

Workflow automation features

Workflow automation allows you to model document, project, or process lifecycles based on processes you already perform in the real world.

M-Files workflows allow you to assign tasks to colleagues, perform automatic follow-up, and have documents reviewed and approved according to corporate guidelines. Workflow steps are determined by metadata tags.

You can set up workflows for documents, employees and projects.

Automating workflows can help regulated companies manage learning requirements. You can also let workflows handle reminders and tasks.
Document metadata in a workflow is automatically updated as it progresses from draft, through revised, then commented on, to final approval.

Workflows are created in the M-Files workflow engine, and can be tailored to your specific needs with a simple application.

Electronic Signatures

The electronic signature features offered by the Electronic Signatures and Advanced Logging module expands the M-Files workflows: the state transition can be certified with user credentials. You can use electronic signatures to certify, for example, approval of documents.

If you specified an electronic signature for the state transition, the signature is always required from the user before the change in state. The state changes when the object is checked in. The change of state with a signature can only be done one object at a time. Only users that have Windows authentication in use can do state changes that require an electronic signature. The user adds an electronic signature to the state transition when they enter their identification data and log in. The electronic signature does not refer to an electronic "fingerprint". The electronic signature always requires the user to enter the user identification and to log in.

Quick and easy integration and migration of business data and documents to M-Files EDM/ECM solution

Get all your information into one view

M-Files brings together information in separate systems, archives, and applications into one view. The integration of business data, other business applications, and your documents is where you reap real benefits.

Why integrations matter?

In a typical company, documents are stored in more than three separate content platforms — in addition to several line-of-business applications across the company.

To make some sense of the information you have, you need a way to connect these separate information silos to make it readily available. M-Files integrates with most common line-of-business applications, as well as various content repositories, including network folders, SharePoint, and legacy ECM solutions.

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