Three years ago, Mr Moses Wagabono, a sales manager of a shop selling music instruments along Kampala Road made a U-turn on keeping manual business records. This was after he had encountered challenges, among them difficulties in accessing the manual records.
"For the manual book keeping, finding something of two years back, you had to go page by page and you might find that you have used over 10 books in the last two years. So we began digitalising them," he says.
Mr Wagabono began digitising records, a move that saw the business' expenses and incomes make their way to the enterprise's computer.
This is the ideal practice for small and medium enterprises according to Mr John Ocan from COSEKE. However, many Ugandan businesspeople lack basic technology for the management of their records while some simply dread the use of electronic records.
"The major phobia they have is the documented cases that you keep hearing about that there was a certain hack somewhere but what people do not realise is that there are already inbuilt tools within some of those solutions to cater for this phobia," he says.
This is partly true according to Mr Wagabono's experience. He says, "They would sometimes be attacked by a virus. You find the files damaged and you could not restore them. So we decided that we have them saved on the computer and in the books."
On the other hand, in terms of knowledge, employees responsible for enabling businesses to automate their records are ignorant about the same.
"The level of illiteracy in terms of adoption of the new technologies is a challenge," COSEKE country manager Joseph Macheta, says.
According to Mr Ocan, it would be an overkill for a small business to acquire a content management system if business owners are certain that they can easily access their manual records. However, as the business grows, operations grow and the enterprise will need to manage a lot of information.
He says at the end of the day, electronic record management system is key for all businesses as it enables one to manage records. It is important for businesspeople to dodge the risks associated with paper.
"Paper gets oxidised with time as it turns to yellow and you lose information. Fire is a bad risk for paper. Then two people cannot work on the same piece of paper concurrently whereas more people can access electronic documents. Tracking paper documents is hard when it comes to knowing who accessed what," Mr Ocan explains.
Besides, with electronic documents, there are a lot of tools that enable businesses to manipulate data into useful information, for instance, if one has to run statistics.
Risks of going digital
To ensure that technologies used are well-supported, Mr Macheta cites a lag among Third World countries, a challenge that constrains proper implementation of such initiatives.
"There are businesses that have automated but these systems have recurrent costs and it reaches a point whereby they cannot afford in terms of maintenance and the systems collapse," he explains.
On the other hand, he says as long as rules and regulations such as the Computer Misuse Act 2011 are adhered to, business owners should not be wary of digitising records.
In relation to security of records, content systems are protected because they have inbuilt security features. More so, the law on electronic use states the type of media to be used to store electronic records.
Mr Macheta says once the records are stored in their rightful media, it is difficult to alter or delete the records. Once there are any changes in the records as part of the business process, the content systems has the ability to not only create versions allow the business owner to audit and track whatever was done in the system.
Tips on automation
Experts strongly advise SMEs to first identify their problems and search for solutions that are specific to the business. Automation of documents is not the prowess of consultants, they become necessary when scope of the business has grown. If it is a small business, once a decision is made internally, business owners can craft their solutions and use the wide number of tools available to run the enterprise.
For business owners who lack computer literacy skills, Mr Macheta says content managers have to build capacity as part of their implementation process of the electronic records system management.
"It doesn't start overnight. We have to do training and build capacity before implementation of electronic document management system. We have to reach out to them, ensure they adopt and have the prerequisite to manage automated documents," he said.
To respond to budgetary constraints, he advises SMEs to start small by phasing the digitsation process.
When to automate
Mr Ocan says other than wondering whether the size of your business warrants automation, business people should focus on what they want to achieve with such a system.
"I could be running a shop, doing simple book keeping, like invoices, but if URA (Uganda Revenue Authority) comes to assess me and they need access to information, how fast can I get that information in order to clear that assessment?" he says.
Technologies are available for the smallest to the large enterprises and the beauty is that there are open source and commercial solutions that can cater for both small and medium enterprises.
Mr Ocan recommends that smaller businesses start off with an open source content management system as it has computer commands that can be inspected, modified and enhanced by anyone.