Africa Centre saves money and improves document retrieval with digital archiving

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The Africa Centre was paying to store over 15 million paper documents. By digitising them into a document management system, it has reduced costs, saved space, and sped up retrieval. 

The challenges

The Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies is an international research centre, and is located in a remote part of KwaZulu-Natal. It is at the forefront of research into fighting the HIV epidemic.

Each year, the centre prints about 1.2 million forms, which are then used by its field teams to collect data as part of demographic surveys. This raises a problem – what to do with all of this paper after the forms have been returned?

“As years went by we realised that we had difficulties with storing documents, such that we even outsourced the storage, which was costly,” says Zanomsa Gqwede, data centre manager at The Africa Centre.

The solution

With 15 million forms to preserve, and the professional storage company it was using putting up its prices, the centre realised it needed to do something. It turned to Nashua, who provided a solution to scan and digitally archive all the forms using document management software. The Africa Centre was impressed by Nashua’s broad capabilities: not just document management, archiving, or printing, but a combination of all relevant facets.

“We are now able to do the archiving in a document management software database in real time,” says Gqwede. “Previously we used to take about two to three years before we could digitise, but recently we are able to do that as soon as we finish a round.”

The document management software application is centrally deployed on the centre’s network. This means it can be accessed remotely from different sites, and that researchers can scan their documents from any suitable device on the network, wherever it is. The shredded documents are sold back to a local paper company for recycling.

Once the documents are scanned, the centre’s staff can populate their main database directly from the information in the document management software, which has improved quality control. Nashua also uses barcodes and optical character recognition (OCR) to cross-reference information and validate inputs.

Easy retrieval

As well as saving space, by archiving the documents electronically it has become much faster to find and retrieve them. Previously, the centre found it expensive and difficult to retrieve individual paper forms, which apart from the most recent year’s data were stored offsite 60km away.

“The system has really helped the Africa Centre, mainly on saving time, because it could take us many hours or days to look for a certain form,” says Dickman Gareta, scientist, the Africa Centre. “These days, at the click of a button we can get a particular form.”

Cost savings

The digital archive has removed the need for the centre to pay for external storage for its paper documents. This has reduced costs, freeing up money that can now be spent on its research.

“Nashua has saved our life,” says Lindiwe Sithole, document management coordinator. “We’ve got a lot of space now. We no longer need outside storage, so we’ve saved money.”

Nashua provides a high level of support, and it has service people based in the area close to the centre, which means that response times are short. It is also able to log in remotely and help fix any software issues, which speeds up problem resolution and helps minimise downtime.

A key part of Nashua’s approach is that it has helped the centre to train and develop its own staff. The centre now has a team of seven people who handle document preparation, scanning and quality control, and Nashua provided three months of training to help build this resource.

As well as the document management software and the scanning project, Nashua also supplies high-volume printers to the centre. Nashua has helped the centre to reduce the number of pages it prints, saving money. It has also supplied Equitrac software, which improves monitoring and enables the centre to allocate printing costs to different projects.

For further information on any aspect of becoming a customer reference for Nashua , please contact Nashua’s communications manager, Jessica Midlane – [email protected].

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