Apr 24 2023

How Higher Ed Institutions Can Complete Their Digital Transformation

Paperless workflow exploded during the pandemic. But three years later, many institutions cling to paper and pen.

If you’ve tried to print, scan or email documents over the past few years, you’ve probably felt like you’re in that old late-night infomercial: “There’s got to be a better way!”

The better way, of course, is a fully paperless workflow.

With remote work and learning exploding in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for paperless workflows is higher than ever. But even as adoption has accelerated, some trepidation remains.

A 2021 Adobe survey revealed that 77 percent of instructors in higher education felt digital transformation of their workflows was very important. However, the state of transformation completeness in the higher education sector was far lower, with respondents reporting their institutions were 37 percent finished "converting paper forms to digital" and just 38 percent of the way through implementing or improving student information systems.

Those numbers have increased since the survey was conducted. But according to Mike Prizament, Adobe's senior product marketing manager for education, there are still opportunities for digital transformation initiatives in higher education.

“What many higher education institutions prioritized was transforming their mission-critical forms that required signatures to e-signature workflows, eliminating the need for in-person printing and signing,” he says. “But there’s still significant room for further digital transformation around paper to digital workflows — not just those mission-critical forms.”

DISCOVER: How Adobe can help your institution adapt to a paperless workflow.

Familiar Adobe Tools Can Accelerate Digital Transformation

Adobe has been working with colleges and universities to adapt paperless workflows using a suite of tools including Adobe Acrobat.

Acrobat Pro, as most users know, has tools to view and edit PDFs and fill out and sign documents. With the Adobe Scan app, users also can create PDFs by snapping a picture of a document.

Converting from paper to PDF is just the first step in the full digitization process, Prizament says. Next, users can use Acrobat to collaborate and comment on a single PDF instead of tracking multiple files.

“Acrobat can automatically create a shared link where you can directly invite people to review and collaborate or directly share the URL. Now, everyone can add their comments and annotations to a single source, so everyone can see comments,” he says. “It’s much more collaborative and much more efficient.”

While the Fill and Sign feature of Acrobat is useful in acclimating people to the process of viewing, filling out and signing forms, organizations tend to require electronic signatures that can be authenticated and tracked. That’s where Adobe Acrobat Sign comes in.

LEARN MORE: How the latest digital technology is improving the student experience.

Mike Prizament
...There’s still significant room for further digital transformation around paper to digital workflows — not just those mission-critical forms.”

Mike Prizament Senior Product Marketing Manager for Education, Adobe

Adobe Acrobat Sign Securely Speeds Document Workflows

Acrobat Sign allows users to create documents that can:

  • Generate a unique link for everyone who needs to sign
  • Collect signatures
  • Authenticate signer identities through methods like two-factor authentication
  • Store records of the documents

Acrobat Sign’s records can give users a quick view of who signed the document, including an audit report with information such as IP address, authentication method, date, time and location.

Tools such as these have been shown to save organizations the cost of paper and ink, and they offer efficiency gains by keeping information in one spot, whether it's collaborative notes, e-signatures or both. Acrobat Sign can save a document’s creator the time it would take to track down who signed what.

“There’s the physical time of me having to follow up versus being able to log in to Acrobat Sign quickly. At a glance, I can see the status of everything I sent out and see that, yes, this person reviewed it, this person signed it,” Prizament says. “And with a click, I can add a reminder without having to go and type up an email.”

EXPLORE: How to incorporate interactive displays and whiteboard cameras in hybrid learning.

If an organization wants to move further toward digital transformation, they can use Adobe Sensei. Adobe’s artificial intelligence engine can create form fields in a document and populate them with the type of information needed (including pull-down menus) instead of manually building each form field. Data entered in PDFs can be pulled for use in Software as a Service platforms, like Workday or Microsoft Power Automate.

According to Prizament, the biggest hurdle to helping departments adopt these digital workflow tools is simply a lack of awareness. He says buy-in becomes easier through demonstrating the time savings gained when forms are fully digitized.

“A lot of times, we can help our customers overcome the resistance to change by just showing clear examples of the benefits on all sides. That’s both the person trying to get someone to sign off and also the better experience of the signers themselves,” he says. “It’s really just helping share that story.”

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