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Record Holders

15 April 2006

The addiction of many organisations to generating paper is proving to be big business for those that manage printing, mailing, scanning and archiving processes. But, as Jane Fenwick discovered visiting TNT’s integrated operation, there more than just paper involved

CELLARS, ATTIC ROOMS, CABINETS AND CUPBOARDS in every organization across the country are packed full of paper records – and increasingly digital media – tracking the business, customer or patient records and client history across many decades. Space is money and haphazard record keeping is poor business practice.

It is not surprising, therefore, that document management and archiving is a big and growing business in the UK, and ideal for integration into existing mail and logistics operations such as TNT’s. In the last few years, TNT Express Specialist Services (TESS) has added significant capability in archiving boxes and files, computer tape and audio visual management, data capture, scanning and transactional print and mail services. Key transactions for TNT have been the strategic acquisition in January 2006 of Cendris UK, specialists in transactional print, scanning, off-shore data capture, data management and digital archiving. It built on its earlier acquisitions of London-based Archive and Data Storage, and Data Depot centred on
Nottingham.

But it was winning the 25 year deal to house and manage 12 million files under the ‘Pan Government’ contract for 12 government departments that has turned heads in the archiving world. The 12 departments include the Home Office, Department of Trade and Industry, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Met Police and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The size of the task is demonstrated by the fact that it took 18 months for 150 people to index, bar code and enter data for 13 million files at the MoD’s existing 30 acre site in Hayes. This site was vacated and the files moved over an 18 month period to the new purpose built archive at Swadlincote, Derbyshire. This was built under a PFI contract in which TNT teamed up with Prologis for its construction and for the redevelopment of the Hayes site when it was finally vacated last summer.

Highly secure
Set on eight acres, the 100,000 sq ft archive building at Swadlincote is built to the MoD's rigorous security requirements demonstrated by the imposing perimeter security and verification process for all requests for records. Material stored there includes policy files and service personnel records dating from the 1920’s and World War II.

With the MoD taking the lion's share of the archive space and generating most of the activity, its records are far from static. Overall there are 2,500 retrievals a week on average. All government departments continuously review the status of the records deciding on retention, destruction or transfer to the National Archives at Kew. Record requests are met on a next day delivery and integrated with TNT logistics operations. However, the records can be delivered to London on a four hour SLA, while hospital patient records can be retrieved and delivered within 90 minutes. Later this year, TNT will be opening its own secure destruction unit at Swadlincote for those records no longer needed by its clients.

The Pan Government contract takes up just over half of the space available at Swadlincote with other contracts such as legal partnerships, and hospitals taking up some of the remainder. Finding records in the floor to ceiling stacks on five levels totaling 220km of shelving would be a nightmare but for the use of the O’Neil RS-SQL bar coding system. Clients such as the MoD and the other government departments have remote access that enables them to check the whereabouts of the documents.

No less historic and possibly even more valuable than the historic service personnel records, are the unique and irreplaceable film and ‘first cut’ tapes of musicians and pop stars on Universal, Polydor and Decca recording labels. This unique collection is held at the Archive Centre and Media Vault in Beckton, East London.

Storing magnetic and digital media requires special attention to temperature control and the installation of appropriate fire suppression systems. Later this year, a second site will open in Thurrock to meet the demand for these specialist as well as standard archiving needs in the capital. TNT has dedicated, highly secure and trackable vehicles that provide a one hour recall service for the magnetic media with delivery and pick up designed to meet specific time windows at computer centres and the recording studios.

The Beckton archive also houses paper records in boxes from a range of clients including some of the advertising sets and props, as well as standard filing, of advertising agents, Saatchi & Saatchi.

Property records
It does appear that the market for archiving, which is currently valued at about £600m, has to cope with a wider range of client materials than the standard A4 paper format. This particularly so for scanning services. At TNT’s Document Services (formerly Cendris), 120 staff have been engaged on the scanning of back files for the Land Registry of England and Wales. Part of a programme to have all property and land records available to property owners online, the scanning is scheduled to take six years to complete. It includes 18million maps whose scanning has to be accurate since stretching of documents in the scanning process could move your neighbour’s boundary fence a foot or two! In addition, there were 90 million Register of Referred files – that’s all the paperwork related to every property, some very old and fragile, and some even sealed with wax seals.

As globalization gathers pace, scanning documents and using OCR (optical character recognition) for extracting data and tracking and electronically distributing of documents around an organization can enable sharing of documents across the world. Outsourcing of accounts departments, for examples, can generate significant costs savings when the process of scanning supplier invoices and accounts payable is automated.

Capturing data hand written on forms such as credit card applications or from voice recordings, for example from pledging of money by telephone for charities, is undertaken in Mauritius, where TNT and Accenture are both supporting the development of the region as an outsourcing centre at its New Science Park. Currently 320 Mauritians bilingual in French and English, are employed on TNT’s work.

Presented with the whole or part of a scanned image, the Mauritian operator keys up to 20,000 keystrokes per hour, that’s a staggering 20 million keystrokes a day on average. Accuracy is essential and samples of the captured data are checked both in Mauritius and in the UK.

It is clear that it is in the billing of customers that the automation of the process from data origination to print and delivery reaps the most rewards in terms of cost saving and process efficiency. For example, at the Basildon facility, T Mobile sends TNT customer data for its mobile phone bills and reminders in 17 cycles spread across the month. The data is streamed to the plant which prints the bills, inserts them in envelopes and delivers them into the Post Office system. It is all carefully timed to ensure the bills fall on the customer’s mat when the client’s call centre resources are available to answer their queries.

There are some signs that our addiction to paper is beginning to wane. While the preparation, printing, sending and archiving of vital information continues without sign of let up, electronic banking and e-retailing are beginning to challenge the ‘traditional’ methods of ‘business to customer’ and ‘business to business’ transactions. TNT and some of its customers have recognized that in future a more technology literate population will not require a paper bill. Instead, it will be possible to send an SMS message to the customer’s mobile phone to trigger them to visit to the client website to make an electronic payment online.

However, until then there is still tons of paper still be to managed and stored that has probably not seen the light of day for years.


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