E-signatures at the core of government innovation

By John Landwehr

Posted 11-24-2020

In 1999, when Adobe launched the fourth release of Acrobat and its first release of digital signature technology, we weren’t looking ahead and predicting a worldwide pandemic that would halt in-person interactions. But here we all are. Government agencies have been forced to rethink and replace in-person processes, and they have launched some innovative online experiences that rely on e-signature and online identity authentication cloud technology to keep government processes running. Agencies are taking this technology we’ve been evolving and investing in for decades and building innovative solutions around it in response to this crisis.

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In the initial months of the pandemic, agencies were overwhelmed with constituents trying to engage with the government online, exposing the weaknesses of outdated technology. For example, one state overrun with unemployment applications directed people to only apply on certain days. Even then, applicants still faced website delays and performance challenges that limited access. Now imagine that this online experience is the primary way to secure financial assistance during a crisis. The frustration and fear of constituents – as well as the pressure on government employees – was immense.

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But these conditions, where failure is not an option, are rapidly driving innovation in the government. Underscoring the ingenuity is a critical reliance on e-signatures and identity authentication to secure transactions in the cloud. A great example is the state of Utah. The state experienced simultaneous disasters (an earthquake and a pandemic) that required an emergency response plan. Using e-signatures, multiple departments were able to rapidly sign off and put the plan into action.

Another example is a large county in the southern U.S. that took just five days to build a contactless warrant process. Police officers can fill out an online warrant application, meet with the judge over a video call to discuss it, and get it officially and securely signed.

We’ve talked about these time savings and productivity benefits for a long time with the understanding that “digital transformation” was an evolving process for government agencies. Now, the pandemic has moved evolution to revolution. While still cautious, the urgency of the crisis has loosened some funding streams and prioritized updates that previously weren’t scheduled to happen. Take, for example, the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), which built an online web form for small businesses to apply to the Iowa Small Business Relief Grant program. Building the actual form only took two days, and they were able to provide relief checks within three to four days of receiving an application.

That kind of service turn around is powerful, especially in a crisis. What other processes can benefit from secure, identity authenticated e-signatures? There’s a lot of opportunity. From improving interaction with the DMV, to applying for benefits, to requesting permits, these shifts we’re seeing have implications across all lines of constituent services.

But it’s not just constituent services that will see long-term changes. The internal workings of government agencies that require a lot of paper and paper-based internal processes are also rapidly transforming to digital workflows that result in time and money saved.

For example, procurement is the lifeblood of government services. When the pandemic hit and employees were forced to work from home, processes that relied heavily on paper approval simply broke. Departments responded by getting their teams set up with cloud software solutions that let them immediately log in and get back to work. Contracts and RFPs could move forward with secure, all-digital workflows using e-signatures and identity authentication to stay in compliance.

The California Department of Technology (CDT) Office of Statewide Technology Procurement, for example, built an online workflow to replace their outdated paper process. Rooted in e-signature with identity authentication in Adobe Sign, it’s secure and includes built-in audit trails and encryption that sends documents directly to signers’ computers. Contracts get shared, approved, and signed in hours instead of weeks. The encryption keeps documents more secure than a paper printout.

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While government agencies are rapidly increasing the pace to hit these modernization goals, we in the private sector must step up, too. Agencies by necessity have layers of complexity that the private sector does not. Being a good partner in the government space takes more than amazing technology. Agencies today need partners with experience, flexibility, and a commitment to supporting and evolving their technology as the world changes and needs change with it.

More people than ever before are relying on government agencies at all levels. Meanwhile, government employees and contractors continue to face challenges from remote work to delivering those constituent services. But the innovation I’m seeing – grounded in mature e-signature and identity authentication technology – is exciting. Digital signature technology from Adobe turned 21 years old last May! As the technology continues to evolve, the new solutions our government customers are building around it can serve as a model to reassure the hesitant and pave the way for fellow agencies.

Topics: Customer Stories, Productivity, Future of Work, Insights & Inspiration, Government, Corporate Alignment, Document Cloud, Digital Foundation, no-interlinks, Forms and electronic signatures for government

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