Portland State University innovates and centralizes workflows with Adobe Acrobat Sign

Photograph of the area surrounding Portland State University.

At Portland State University (PSU), students get the educational experiences they need to become the leaders and game-changers of tomorrow. Ranked among U.S. News and World Reports Best Colleges 2022, PSU was noted as Oregon’s Most Innovative Campus specifically for its approaches to distance learning, financial support, and service learning.

Supporting these award-winning, life-changing programs isn’t only about moments in the classroom, it also requires a coordinated, streamlined administrative approach supported by the right technology. The Infrastructure and Cloud Applications team at PSU works with stakeholders across the university to identify technology solutions that will meet their operational and business needs.

One of PSU’s ongoing challenges involved paper-based workflows that required delivering documents across a massive campus. Many internal stakeholders wanted the ease of using an e-signature solution — going so far as to purchase their own solutions, which risked different departments across a large university being out of sync.

The Infrastructure and Cloud Applications team saw a critical need to align the university to a single, enterprise e-signature solution. After surveying stakeholders, the team evaluated solutions including Adobe Acrobat Sign, DocuSign, Hello Sign, Panda Doc, and Sign Now against roughly 35 data points, including maximum number of recipients, single sign-on, audit trail, and strong digital accessibility.

“At the end of a comprehensive search, we saw that Adobe Acrobat Sign was clearly cost-effective, highly scalable, and effective enough to get buy-in from diverse stakeholders,” says Justin Moore, manager of Digital Workplace and Infrastructure Applications.

Portland State University campus.

Centralizing e-signatures by building trust

The team’s search for a centralized e-signature solution assumed greater urgency because of its timing in May 2020. Just as COVID-19 lockdowns forced faculty to adjust to digital classrooms, administrative and operations staff had to shift to remote work.

Quickly launching a centralized e-signature solution to help ensure the quality and consistency of service was paramount. The team started the Acrobat Sign rollout by incorporating larger departments and business units into a three-month pilot program that generated roughly 2,300 transactions before going live across the university. With input from these “power users,” such as Sponsored Projects Administration, College of Education, and the PSU Library, the team maximized the Acrobat Sign implementation for widespread benefits that would’ve been difficult for individual departments to tackle, like user sync and additional document back-ups, while sharpening focus on individual department needs such as web forms. The web form function proved especially valuable for the Financial Aid department once lockdowns forced a move away from printed PDF templates with wet signatures to digital forms with e-signatures. Rapidly deploying these digital forms allowed the department to safely serve students throughout the pandemic.

Though many of the power users originally relied on DocuSign for e-signatures, many have found the switch to Acrobat Sign easy and have appreciated the streamlined, sophisticated workflows available in Acrobat Sign, which aided in the centralization effort. With features such as Workflow Designer, users can automate even the most complex or repetitive tasks, like pulling together duplicate documents or submitting to multiple signers based on whether their signatures are optional or mandatory. This function also lets individuals create and manage workflow templates that simplify assembling documents in any agreement.

“Students’ need for an education didn’t slow down with the pandemic, and neither could our administrative teams’ ability to provide vital resources,” says Moore. “The ease of using Adobe Acrobat Sign won consensus even among departments originally committed to other solutions, which made bringing Adobe Acrobat Sign to stakeholders with such varying needs much faster and easier.”

Once the Infrastructure and Cloud Applications team set up training about basic and advanced features in Acrobat Sign, as well as more detailed training for administrators, they started launching Acrobat Sign campus wide in January 2021 — only a few short months after the first pilot group. For the first few months after Acrobat Sign became broadly available, the team held “office hours” where new users could ask questions and share their solutions. The team made self-serve training and documentation readily accessible for these users as well. Through the Acrobat Sign onboarding program, the university also recorded basic, advanced, and administrator-level trainings.

Students on the Portland State University campus.

Faster workflows to meet diverse needs

As soon as Acrobat Sign was available across PSU, it became widely popular, with more departments than initially expected signing up to use it. The university expected maybe one or two users across various groups to express interest — instead, they saw 50 departments and 500 users join up.

Administrative staff saw immediate acceleration from the original paper-based processes: Using Acrobat Sign capabilities, documents can be assembled, submitted for signature, and returned faster. Users get the added assurance that their important documents won’t get lost. Workflow Designer enables the Grants and Agreements team within the Sponsored Projects Administration department to speed up and efficiently track the process of obtaining upwards of six signatures per agreement.

For current power users including the PSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Acrobat Sign has reduced staff time and effort for many administrative tasks, specifically around workflow management. “With Adobe Acrobat Sign, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences developed workflows for all documents that move through the college,” says Melissa Scholl, Employee and Labor Relations Specialist. “Administrators know where their document is with the click of a button.”

Working within templates also enhances accuracy and reduces errors that might require starting the whole process over again. Acrobat Sign capabilities also allow people to create their own templates and workflows based on their unique needs.

The cost and time savings of Acrobat Sign appeals to departments of all sizes, especially smaller groups whose budgets didn’t permit them to consider e-signature solutions. So far, PSU users turning to Adobe Sign mostly for administrative purposes across HR, grants, finance, and other areas have completed 15,000 transactions.

“Adobe Acrobat Sign is now a widely used and highly valued resource on campus in part because it’s so scalable and responsive to many business needs,” says Moore. “Our users respond to the enhanced efficiencies and autonomy of working with Adobe Acrobat Sign. We anticipate that demand will only grow.”

Students on the Portland State University campus.

Expanding a culture of innovation

Bringing Acrobat Sign to PSU gives departments a powerful new resource to work smarter and faster well into the future. This isn’t just good business: It also aligns with PSU’s reputation as an innovative campus.

As PSU continues exploring everything people can achieve with Acrobat Sign, the Infrastructure and Cloud Applications team is especially enthusiastic about bringing more advanced features directly to individuals and group administrators. The team’s goal is to invest in training and consulting around those features for power users relying on workflows for process improvements.

Adopting easy-to-use applications that don’t require extensive involvement from IT empowers each department to promote a culture of digital transformation. That culture, like everything the university does, is in service to the students who will bring the spirit of innovation out into the world.

“With the time and labor that Adobe Acrobat Sign saves on essential administrative and operational work, the dynamic teams across our university have the freedom to pursue more student-facing initiatives,” says Moore. “Adobe Acrobat Sign does more than change the way we do business — it can change the way we engage minds.”