Nizar Ghannam didn't mind flying to Los Angeles for the Laserfiche Institute Conference last week. It's his next business trip the Beirut-based IT manager is dreading: it's his turn to visit the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of his clients.


Ghannam sells Laserfiche electronic document management systems in the Middle East and North Africa, but came to L.A. for a brief visit to the mother ship, Laserfiche.


Based in Long Beach, the software company designs and develops programs that can organize and search large amounts of data electronically. The idea is to scan forms, official documents and correspondence into a database that can be accessed from computers all over the world. Even in Baghdad.


"Iraq right now is very similar to a start-up company," said Brian LaPointe, director of strategic solutions for Laserfiche. "And the nice thing about being a start-up is they get to invest in the latest technology."


The Iraqi Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, and Labor are installing Laserfiche software as they develop the infrastructure to run a new government.


"When you don't have any infrastructure, the most important thing is to have a first layer a link from the government to its offices," said Ghannam, regional manager for Beirut-based systems integrator BmB Group. "It could house all the documents for the ministry."


Most of the Iraqi government offices emerged from the war without IT infrastructure, he explained, and many documents and records were destroyed. The ministry wants to scan all of its existing documents, and BmB is basically building a network from scratch.


As the Iraqi government re-opens embassies, it will need electronic access to visa records and forms for diplomats, students studying abroad, business travelers and citizens returning to Iraq.


"FedEx isn't exactly flying back and forth from Paris to Baghdad, getting the paperwork there next-day air," said LaPointe.


Hardly glamorous
In tech terms, Laserfiche has staked out an unglamorous niche in document retrieval and records management. Its bread-and-butter clients are city clerks' offices, police department records, and healthcare company archives.


Laserfiche's system allows companies to search and retrieve documents within their own organization. "Google built a super-repository for the universe, but I don't think that's always going to help you," explained founder and Chief Executive Nien-Ling Wacker. A former software engineer, Wacker took a narrower approach that just focused on a company's internal documents. And it seems to be paying off.

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