Here’s why African businesses haven’t gone paperless yet (and won’t any time soon)

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I got the shock of my life(from which I haven’t recovered yet) when i was asked to write  the old school snailmail instead of email to the Director of ICT or DICTs Makerere university for an inquiry i needed while doing some consultancy for one of clients of an ICT firm i work with as a consultant. Suddenly it hit me that the envisioned paperless office of the future is only a myth engrained in the firmament of my imagination.

It’s not just me with these kinds of experiences! Robert Baguma, a member of i-network, an emailing list for ICT professionals and enthusiast in Uganda had the similar resentments when NITA(National Information Technology Authority) required hard copies for a job application;

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I am personally disappointed with NITA. The agency that should be spearheading or advocating  online job application , it still reverts to old ways of hard copies .How will Public service or OPM adopt  the system if NITA hasn’t embraced it

The benefits of “less paper in the office” are tremendous and they include among others;  unnecessary stationery expenses, reduced space for file cabinets, shelves, paper, secure and safe environment for content to be stored, leveraged and reused and reduced human errors in manual records keeping and hence loss of data.

But why are organizations and businesses still so obsessed with paper?

To answer this question, i headed over to the African Chief Executive Officer Business network on Linkedin where Eng. Charles Muhigirwa  who’s a Managing Director at Damude Technical Services Ltd thinks that there’s not much usage of ICT applications in the organisations and that literacy is still low in Africa compared to other continents.

But J. Mwabeze from i-network thinks that its our outdated laws that are still clinging us to the old ways rather than propelling us to the new efficient future;

Our laws are still outdated and only recognize, signed letters/memos/logs etc. Some govt entities that have tried to put some systems in place, can only use some of the reports from these systems for reference/management purposes. But may not administer such reports in case of any legal issues.

Eng. Charles yet again concurs;

Gov’t have a colonial tendency of following many stages prior to approval of actions. Due to lack of knowledge of ICT, they think endorsement may only be done when physical signing is done on paper!! That’s the reason, I think Gov’ts have not taken it on to encourage paperless offices. Don’t forget corruption by Gov’ts especially African ones!! How will they eat if stationery shops are owned by wives or husbands, whichever the case?

There’s no denying that too much paper can be both messy and costly! Yet most organisations are not anywhere close to getting rid of even 10% of the office “paper clutter” despite the availability of applications and tools that make document or content management a breeze.

It turns out if the systems in place do not have policies that are friendly to new forms of document signing, approvals or whatever, it seems to me that the “paperless office of the future” is still, a very remote reality on the African continent.

  • Jemimah

    It is definitely going to be a while especially if even ICT firms still believe in hard copies.

  • all

    i wish these guys knew that the second economy has been driven by IT and in the developed world it fetches more money than the first economy(no IT) we rely on

  • Llewellyn

    David, i agree with some of your points, but not all of them. it is difficult to enter into debate on the comments section of a blog post. Would you be willing to open this discussion on a either the group started by Theo or the one started by me. They both sub groups of the Africa CEO business network group.

    • Llewellyn the conversation continues on either platforms. I’ll participate on both of them.