An audit of records and information management practices and ICTs utilisation among SMEs in Northern Uganda.

Author:Okello-Obura, Constant
Position:Information and communications technology; small and medium enterprises - Report
 
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1.1 BACKGROUND

In Africa, Uganda's economy is among the ones with great development potential. Endowed with significant natural resources, including ample fertile land, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits, it appears poised for rapid economic growth and development at independence (Okello-Obura 2011). However, chronic political instability and erratic economic mismanagement produced a record of persistent economic decline that left Uganda among the world's poorest and least-developed countries (United States, Bureau of African Affairs 2007). Despite that, the Government of Uganda has been implementing an ambitious and successful programme of macro-economic adjustment and structural reform since 1987--with strong support from multilateral and bilateral creditors and donors (Okello-Obura .. et al 2007, Okello-Obura 2011).

The government's continued implementation of appropriate fiscal and monetary policies--and its programme of substantial economic liberalisation--has maintained high growth, low inflation, a steadily improving balance of payments and an increasingly vibrant and diversified private sector (Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2012). During the 2003/04 financial year, Uganda's economy registered strong growth of 6 % compared to a growth rate of 5.2 % in 2002/03 (Central Intelligence Agency 2004). Solid growth in 2003 reflected an upturn in Uganda's export markets. In 2007, Uganda's growth rate reached 8.9% (Uganda, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2008). In 2013, Uganda saw the consolidation of macroeconomic stability and a gradual recovery of economic activity, with estimates putting annual real gross domestic product (GDP) growth at 5.2%, up from 2.8% in 2012. This recovery in economic activity has benefited from a fiscal and monetary policy stance focused on containing inflationary pressures, while ensuring debt and exchange rate stability, thus providing an enabling macroeconomic environment for growth. Growth prospects, however, continue to be hampered by a relatively unfavorable investment climate for the private sector, as well as by capacity constraints in public sector investment and management (African Development Bank Group 2014). Remarkable growth is being witnessed to a large extend due to the vibrancy of the private sector dominated by Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs play a significant role in the economy in terms of balanced and sustainable growth, employment generation, development of entrepreneurial skills and contribution to export earnings (Macintosh 2003; Saeed 2002). Although Beyene (2002) ; Mutula and Brakel (2006) argue that there is no universally accepted definition for SMEs in Africa, this study adopts the government of Uganda's classification of SMEs as business firms employing 5-50 people (small scale) and 51-500 people (medium scale) (Kasekende and Opondo, 2003; Schiffer and Weder, 2001, p. 13; Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 2003, Okello-Obura 2011, 2012). It is estimated that SMEs in Uganda constitute 90 percent of the private sector, with 80 percent being located in urban areas and, are largely involved in trade, agro-processing, and small manufacturing (Hatega, 2007). SMEs contribute approximately 75 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employ approximately 2.5 million people, signifying their importance in the economic development of Uganda (Okello-Obura ... et tal 2008). A UBOS report (2011) on the Census of Business Establishments 2010/2011 illustrated that 30% of 458,106 enterprises were small and medium enterprises and the sector employed over 1 million people.

The Uganda's continued growth and the expansion of the SMEs have created a vibrant private sector and active government departments. Ultimately there are a lot of business documents being generated in both private and public sectors today than before, calling for efficient and effective information management. However, despite SMEs importance to the economy, most SMEs are not able to stand up to the challenges of globalization, mainly because of difficulties in the area of financing (Gangata and Matavire 2013) and records and information management.

1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

According to Uganda, Ministry of Public Service (2006:8), records and information management (RIM) systems in Uganda are not fully developed. Records and information are not captured and stored in a systematic and easy to retrieve manner. Despite the recognized fact that efficient RIM is crucial for efficient decision making and that SMEs are considered the engine of economic growth of any country, little seems to be done to facilitate good records and information management among the SMEs sector (Okello-Obura 2012). Secondly, despite the recognized fact that ICTs are pillars in efficient management of functions, little seems to be done to ensure that SMEs adopt them in especially information management. This study was therefore set to make an audit in the management of records/information and ICTs utilization in records/information management among the SMEs in northern Uganda.

1.1. AIM AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

The aim of the study was to establish the records and information management practices and ICTs adoption in proper records and information management among the SMEs. The specific objectives of the study were to:

a) make an audit of records and information management practices of SMEs with reference to standard practices/compliance

b) establish the ICTs used in records and information management by SMEs

c) specifically find out how e-mail records and information are managed among the SMEs

  1. BRIEF LITERATURE SURVEY

    It should be noted that the SME, in virtually all countries, plays a key role in national economic development strategies by facilitating flows of information, capital, ideas, people and products. The contributions of SMEs to employment and the countries' gross domestic product (GDP) are by no means trivial (UNDP 2007, Okello-Obura 2012). Equally, the potential benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are well known. ICTs enhance SME efficiency, reduce costs, and broaden market reach, both locally and globally (Okello-Obura 2012). Since the SME plays a major role in national economies, these benefits to individual SMEs collectively translate into positive results in the form of job creation, revenue generation and overall country competitiveness (UNDP 2007). The application of ICTs in records and information management as well is pertinent in the efficient functioning of SMEs. In reality, Governments, therefore, should have interest in the promotion of access to, and use of ICTs by SMEs especially in management of records and information. Unfortunately, a number of factors hinder or discourage SMEs from fully realizing the benefits of ICTs, including, among others, lack of knowledge, resources and trust. Governments, using public policy as a tool, can play a critical role in addressing these concerns. Lack of ICT skills and business skills are widespread impediments to effective uptake once adoption decisions are made. There should be policy considerations that focus on issues related to a healthy business environment, network infrastructure and broadband deployment, human capital and skills development among SMEs, access to information, good e-governance, and public-private-civil society partnerships (UNDP 2007). Generally, the ability for ICTs to easily and transparently retrieve archived data, prepare data for potential future legal matters to rapidly respond to a litigation and investigation pertaining to the firm cannot be doubted any more. SMEs need to comprehensively adopt ICTs applications in business transactions and records/information management for efficient operations. A similar study was carried out in Tororo district, Uganda to determine the utilization of ICTs by SMEs to manage records and information. It was found out that there is need for a deliberate effort to facilitate the adoption of ICT utilisation in RIM. Following that study it was found it would be prudent to expand the study to cover northern Uganda hence the justification of this study.

    2.1 Management of the E-Mail communication as business records and information among the SMEs

    E-mail continues to be an area of weakness for many organizations. The sheer volume of incoming and outgoing e-mail is often a challenge to those entrusted with the duty to management of records and information of the enterprise. ARMA (2011) agrees to this by observing that E-mail continues to challenge organizations. "With the growth of e-mail, voicemail, and instant messaging--as well as other electronic records--the capacity for discoverable information has increased" (ARMA 2011). This dilemma will continue to escalate as the proliferation of e-mail-enabled devices grows exponentially (Okello-Obura 2011).

    E-mail is not a new communication platform, but the compliance culture (and recognition that emails can have legal standing as records) has put increased pressure on IT and records staffs to ensure that appropriate capture, control and disposal rules are reviewed. Even where a firm has a structured approach to the management of electronic office documents, e-mail often is ignored or left exclusively to the realm of IT control (Okello-Obura 2011). Organizations can face legal exposure, embarrassment and other forms of risk if e-mail is not managed according to context and content (Winkler 2004; TOWER Software North America 2004). Many IT departments, when left without guidance, will formulate disposition policies based purely on storage capacity or age of the message. The sheer volume of incoming and outgoing e-mail is often overwhelming for the records manager to consider. This dilemma will continue to escalate as the proliferation of e-mail-enabled devices grows exponentially.

    According to research...

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