As Australia continues to battle the physical and organisational challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies big and small are reflecting on how they rapidly transformed their organisations to a digital footing – and how to bank the benefits.
After pivoting hard and making things work with what they had – think the ironing board that became a stand-up desk or the reactivation of a dusty VGA monitor to get that much needed second screen – public sector leaders are necessarily reflecting what worked and what can be improved.
After the pivot
The biggest win, by far, has been the big boost in self-confidence to go ‘digital first’ on processes and projects that might otherwise have been held up by analogue era legacy systems and governance tools.
And while we routinely accept that the role of government in many cases is to act as an authority, the action that literally enables this power is often, quite literally, a signature by a person.
After a year of snapping printed forms on phones, or struggling with the temperamental home printer that supposedly has a scanner (and optical character recognition) the value of secure, convenient and immutable electronic signatures has come into sharp focus.
As the name suggests, DocuSign has been the world leader in terms of field of enabling digital and electronic authority to be seamlessly integrated with workflows, process and the files, documents and records that underpin them.
Now, after years of creating demonstrable efficiencies in the corporate sector, DocuSign is dedicating substantial support and product resources to help the public sector transform processes quickly, effectively and efficiently for the public good at a critical time.
Signing-up to excellence
One of the biggest opportunities federal and state government agencies now have is the momentum and will to finally consign inefficient, expensive and environmentally unsound paper-based operations to history.
The proliferation and fast adoption of powerful collaboration tools and technologies over the past year means that meetings that would often feature a deck, a decision and then some next steps emailed out to authorise an action can now be done on the spot.
Meeting software like Zoom and Teams alongside messaging platforms such as Slack have proven invaluable in keeping operational wheels turning, especially in terms of sharing documents.
But when coupled with tools like DocuSign’s eSignature – which already easily integrates with major and specialist software platforms and applications – there is a big multiplier effect on productivity and efficiency that lets government move and flex quickly and easily.
It could be a ministerial brief, a search warrant or an authority to emergency release funds or grants that needs multiple sign-offs, sometimes in sequence.
Strong evidence, better policy
The evidence of the tangible public value of electronic signatures like DocuSign’s is strong and persuasive.
An Australian study by consulting firm AlphaBeta in September 2020 found that organisations have implemented as much new technology in one year as they did in the previous 10. The adoption of e-signatures has soared – up 31 per cent compared with 2019, meaning that 27 per cent of Australian organisations have now ditched the wet ink to go digital.
The concept is simple; the world has moved to work almost entirely digitally, yet many have clung on to the analogue era reliance on a signature written on paper to seal a deal, authorise transactions and even prove identity.
E-signatures remove the obvious inefficiencies, and means that signatures can be instantly brought inside the interconnected enterprise systems that run the wider organisation.
Instead of having piles of signed documents to scan into systems, or photographs of signatures taken on phones emailed in for use on government forms and commercial contracts, e-signatures mean citizens and suppliers can send and sign agreements digitally, with a complete audit trail of activity on each document.
This empowers agencies to achieve better transparency, security and compliance with governance requirements, not just at a ‘tick-box’ level but as an embedded, productivity enhancing capability.
Importantly, for agencies with security classification requirements for their cloud and applications, DocuSign’s eSignature has already cleared the Australian Signals Directorate’s IRAP assessment bar.
This means sensitive and urgent authorisations – think security operations or emergency relief – can move in real-time, potentially saving lives and restoring trust in government’s capacity to respond swiftly and effectively.
Adapting to permanent change
During the COVID-19 pandemic the need to move away from physical signing and handing around paper documents is obvious, but it seems certain that this will become a permanent shift once restrictions ease.
Australian research firm Adapt conducted an extensive survey of senior technology executives, about their expectations for the post COVID-era and predicted that 43 per cent of an organisation’s staff will be working away from their offices at any given time. Trusted platforms that let staff and external users conduct secure transactions from wherever they are, will quickly become a non-negotiable, essential enterprise tool.
DocuSign’s eSignature is the most widely-used product in the world in the field, with over 560,000 customers and hundreds of millions of users in over 180 countries and its well-rounded suite software solutions can be harnessed at all levels of government.
Digital efficiency dividend
Since computers first entered government, a major target has been billions of dollars expended each year on paper-intensive, manual processes that often have nothing to do with an agency’s core mission.
These include employee on boarding and movement, financial management, procurement, telework request forms and telemedicine patient consent forms. It means internal agency business can be conducted more efficiently and securely, as well as improving the ability of agencies to offer citizen services digitally.
Examples from the private sector show the business case for adopting e-signatures is clear for any agency that requires its customers to fill out forms.
The UK arm of Spanish financial services giant Santander deployed DocuSign to digitise the paper-based form-filling required to open business bank accounts. It reduced a potential 39 separate forms into one dynamic online form and reduced the average time taken for new customers to open an account from 12 days to just two.
Mandate for improvement
While it may seem that government has been digitally transforming for years, the message has clearly got through to the very highest levels that electronic documentation is a core part of a better run public sector.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg called out a need to remove a reliance on paper invoices during his 2020 Budget Speech, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an $800 million package aimed at backing the uptake of technology across the economy.
He said it was vital to make it easier for people and businesses to do business and deal with government.
“This saves time and it saves money and that is good for our economy and it’s an important part of the change program we need to see Australia’s economy build for the future,” he said.
A significant Australian public sector example comes from Victoria’s Yarra Ranges Council, which has digitally transformed agreement workflows across both its Procurement and People and Culture teams with DocuSign.
Before DocuSign, procurement contracts were printed in triplicate, couriered to each party, and then couriered back with any changes.
Changes were then manually implemented for the process to start again, until signing was completed. Considering contracts can be up to 2,500 pages, this meant the process could take weeks, incurred substantial avoidable costs in courier fees and had a heavy environmental footprint in terms of resource and energy consumption.
A digital solution also offered more flexibility than a paper-based solution.
“We were working on a contract that had a hard deadline. The parties that needed to sign were overseas and if we were using the old paper-based system, we just wouldn’t have been able to get that done and the total contract value would have been lost,” says Danielle Watts, Executive Officer, Strategic Procurement at Yarra Ranges Council.
“The risk of not having a digital solution like DocuSign in place is just too great,”
If the difficult year of 2020 has taught the public sector one thing, its that a pivot to digital is not just desirable and readily achievable, it’s also crucial resilience and continuity while boosting productivity efficiency and transparency.
That’s a win for good government, and a win for the public good.