Sonoma State University streamlines processes, reduces costs, and supports sustainability efforts with Adobe Acrobat Sign

Sonoma State University

Located in beautiful Sonoma County, California, Sonoma State University (SSU) is surrounded by rich agricultural land and stunning outdoor spaces. It is no surprise that sustainability is a core part of the university’s mission.

When Mike Ogg became the Director of Continuous Improvement at SSU, he was tasked with two primary goals: improve efficiency and enhance sustainability. Replacing paper-based processes with digital ones would address both concerns at once. By adopting Adobe Acrobat Sign for electronic signatures, departments across SSU can reduce mountains of paperwork and introduce digital workflows that are simpler, faster, and more secure.

“When we compared leading products, the security features offered by Adobe Acrobat Sign far outweighed those from competitors,” says Ogg. “Dual authentication, audit trails, and certification were all built in, requiring no additional investment. We never looked back after choosing Adobe Acrobat Sign.”

While many departments had started adopting electronic workflows using Acrobat Sign under Ogg’s direction, the benefits of Acrobat Sign suddenly came to the forefront in early 2020, when SSU faced two major challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic followed by raging California wildfires. With students and faculty forced to leave campus and work remotely, virtual workflows powered by Acrobat Sign became critical to keeping the campus running.

“COVID-19 forced campuses to rethink how we do business when we were required to move to a remote working format in less than a week,” says Joyce Lopes, Vice President of Administration and Finance at SSU. “We found we could use Adobe Acrobat Sign to streamline the distribution and signing of everything from performance evaluations to financial documents. This has allowed us to be more sustainable in the process. Our digital transformation with Adobe Acrobat Sign has been one of the silver linings of 2020.”

Sonoma State University clocktower.

Sonoma State University clocktower.

HR supports work-from-home with 1,000 agreements delivered in two hours

While most departments at SSU relied heavily upon paper-based processes and wet signatures before the adoption of Acrobat Sign, the HR department was ahead of the curve in creating digital workflows. It started digitizing paperwork such as onboarding documentation using DocuSign for electronic signatures, but found challenges with the product’s security and ease of use.

SSU onboarded Acrobat Sign as part of a larger digital transformation initiative. Switching to Acrobat Sign instantly improved security, with certified digital signatures and strong identity authentication over both desktop and mobile devices. Single sign-on support adds to the security while improving ease of use. Around 250 new employees are onboarded every year, including student employees, staff, faculty, and consultants, and Acrobat Sign makes it easy for anyone to view and sign onboarding documents without guidance.

The pandemic and wildfires crises further solidified the HR department’s support of Acrobat Sign. The HR department needed to get telecommuting agreements signed by 1,000 employees. It seemed like a monumental task, as emailing, and collecting individual forms from all employees would take hundreds of hours. Using Giga Sign, the bulk signature feature in Acrobat Sign, the HR department created a simple batch workflow that allowed them to prepare and send all agreements in a total of two hours.

HR exported all relevant employee data, including names and email addresses, into a CSV file. This data is uploaded to Acrobat Sign where it prepopulates mandatory fields in the telecommuting agreement and sends it to signers in bulk. Giga Sign allows for multiple signers, creating a seamless workflow where the agreement is automatically routed from the employee to supervisor back to HR.

Working with prepopulated fields dramatically reduced errors while making it much faster and easier for employees to fill out forms. Agreements were returned in less time because recipients could sign documents from anywhere, even mobile devices, and did not need to worry about downloading and emailing files for the next signer. The Acrobat Sign dashboard provided the HR department a single location to view the completion status of all forms, allowing them to easily identify incomplete forms and send reminders with a few clicks. While Acrobat Sign saved the day during these emergency situations, HR staff see how bulk signing, increased visibility, and faster workflows will improve operations even when campuses open again and are working to implement electronic signatures for other HR-related documents that need signing.

“Adobe Acrobat Sign allowed us to quickly transition and maintain business continuity in a largely virtual telecommuting environment,” says Jeff Banks, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at SSU. “With Adobe Acrobat Sign, our department can demonstrate its continued commitment to sustainability and offer students, staff, faculty, and new hires a user-friendly and highly secure way to complete paperwork virtually.”

Biology department eliminates weeks of work while improving student experiences

Every semester, more than 200 biology students leave the classroom to experience biology in the real world. These field trips require numerous agreements and approvals from students.

“We had a massive 12-page packet for students to sign,” says Liz Kettmann, Administrative Analyst, Department of Biology, SSU. “It was expensive to print and very difficult to keep organized. Adobe Acrobat Sign changed everything. What used to take weeks now takes five minutes. The savings have been notable — environmental, budget, and time.”

Using the Mega Sign feature in Acrobat Sign, administrators now pull a spreadsheet of student information from PeopleSoft and push it into Acrobat Sign. All biology students receive a digital packet of pre-populated waivers delivered directly to their email inboxes. Students can review and sign the packet at any time, even from their mobile phones.

With pre-populated information and required fields, the biology department sees fewer errors and incomplete forms. Administrators no longer spend weeks printing, collating, reviewing, and filing hundreds of field trip forms every semester. They can spend more time focusing on other aspects of their jobs, such as balancing budgets, working with faculty and students, and updating the website. The California Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) awarded SSU for its achievement using Acrobat Sign to dramatically improve experiences for students and staff alike.

Expanding digital workflows across campus

Acrobat Sign has become a go-to tool for administrative and academic teams alike at SSU. Employee evaluations are normally conducted in person — not a possibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now employees meet virtually and evaluations are routed to multiple signers, including the employee and their supervisors, through Adobe Sign.

The recreation center also started using Acrobat Sign. Students who want to work out at the rec center now sign digital waivers on a tablet, eliminating the need for the rec center to store and maintain thousands of pieces of paper. The waiver has seen high usage, with 3,000 transactions in the first two weeks after the workflow was implemented.

Dozens of other departments use Acrobat Sign as well. The chemistry and geology departments eagerly adopted the field trip form used by the biology department. The registrar’s office is currently working to turn all forms into digital forms with Acrobat Sign. Waivers for sports clubs, financial aid forms, grants and contracts are just a few other examples of forms and documents planning to go digital with Acrobat Sign.

“We initially implemented Adobe Acrobat Sign for efficiency and sustainability, but it set us ahead of the curve when the wildfires and pandemic forced our hand,” says Ogg. “Departments were forced to adopt Adobe Acrobat Sign quickly, but I don’t think anyone would go back. It’s set a strong precedent for how we can do things better and much more efficiently in the future.”

SSU uses Acrobat Sign to transform paper-based processes into streamlined digital experiences. Learn more.