Communications Service Businesses (Arvato, Bertelsmann Printing Group)
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Hundreds of refugees waiting for hours every day in the freezing cold or sweltering heat for appointments – these are the images that many people have recently come to associate with the LaGeSo, the State Office for Health and Social Affairs in Berlin. The LaGeSo is regarded by many as synonymous with chaos and administrative overload, due to the influx of refugees to Germany. Since January, Arvato Direct Services from Wilhelmshaven has brought order to the confusion. From mountains of unsorted files, the team organized a functional, effective system that provides case officers with the files they need within a few minutes. A great relief for the administration, and a task that the Arvato team performs out of conviction and with great dedication.
On this Monday morning in mid-May, it is relatively quiet at the LaGeSo Turmstrasse premises. Between the various brick buildings, men, women and many families walk, sit or stand in front of the waiting tents with beefy security men keeping order in various languages. The big rush is already past, explains Klaus-Peter Horstmann, Arvato Direct Services Document Management Sales Manager, from the second floor of the gray concrete structure called House A. "Most come here in the early hours of the morning." Only families with prams or staff with trolleys full of files take the elevators here, because with all the traffic it’s not unusual to have to wait ten minutes for the elevator.
It soon becomes clear that this not a posh workplace. The corridors smell in places, and the atmosphere of the rooms is at best functional. In the Arvato corridor, employees hurry back and forth between the document archive, the offices and the front desk. The staff have no direct contact with the refugees, but they see them a lot in the corridors, cafeteria or on the premises. "We’ve essentially been adopted by the LaGeSo. The clerks here regard us as their co-workers and colleagues," says Klaus-Peter Horstmann. Arvato has been the only external service provider operating in the Berlin office since the end of January.
"The call came in early January, and less than four weeks later we were sorting the first mail crates," says Horstmann. "This allowed us to demonstrate Arvato’ strengths: flexibility and speed." Within four weeks the concept was ready, the premises were established and a team had been put together. Help was desperately needed. "A lot of things went wrong at LaGeSo. I think the staff were just completely overwhelmed and never had the chance to take a step back and rethink the system." The refugees’ files were not organized systematically. It often took hours to even find an applicant’s file. Sometimes it was not found, and the person waiting had to go away disappointed. In the end, LaGeSo hired over 60 people to search through the mountains of files.
Things have become much easier now. First, the team sifted through the 17,000 initial registration files and arranged them in order in the new storage system. This was followed by 34,000 files from the Central Service Agency for Asylum Seekers. The files of 50,000 refugee families are now hung in the registry’s premises, packaged in beige cardboard. They get moved around a lot: Every few seconds, the Arvato team files receives requests from the clerks. The LaGeSo employees send an email form with the surname, first name and date of birth of the client, as the refugees are called here. The Arvato team searches the system for the file number, retrieves the file from the archive, scans the barcode, and places it for collection on the front desk. Arvato guarantees all this is done within eight minutes. 1,500 to 2,000 files move through the system like this each day. The employees walk up to 19 km a day traveling between the offices and the archives – Sandy Richter measured it on her pedometer.
This can only work with a highly motivated team. "It’s important that the atmosphere here is positive and everyone remains friendly," says Horstmann. Although the employees have no direct contact with the refugees, they witness a lot of the stories from the sidelines. "We are close to the people. A clerk called the other day and said he needed the files of a man as soon as possible so that he could seek medical treatment. He had a gunshot wound and the bullet was still in his hand," says Horstmann. "I really get the feeling that our services here definitely help people and alleviate the suffering a little."
The next step is the digitization of the files as PDF documents - then applications, notices and certificates can be processed even more quickly. This, too, is part of the Arvato Direct Services Document Management portfolio, besides file rescue, mail processing, invoice processing, technical design and consulting.
The LaGeSo management have good things to say about Arvato’s work. "An impressive achievement," as LaGeSo manager Sebastian Muschter recently told Klaus-Peter Horstmann, thanking him and the team.