Men signing contracts -- one digitally, one with ink on paper

Nevada's DOT taking the paper out of paperwork

When the Nevada Transportation Department issues a highway construction contract, the process typically requires printing 300 pages of documents and collecting 60 signatures. Shipping the contract back and forth among contracting offices to collect 60 wet-ink signatures took an average of 25 days.

The contracts went from the DOT contract services office to the contractor, from the contractor to the surety company for bonding, back to contractor, then back to the DOT, and on and on and on.

“In that 25 days there was a lot of wasted movement and time,” said Teresa Schlaffer, the department’s business process analyst.

Since the department’s adoption of DocuSign’s cloud-based Digital Transaction Management (DTM) platform, that process has been cut down to 4.8 days. “We were able to take out all of the back and forth,” Schlaffer said. “Contract Services sees it once at the beginning of the process and once at the end.”

Taking the paper out of paperwork has been a dream in government since the signing (electronically) of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-Sign) Act in 2000. Adoption has been slow, but advances in technology – including mobile and cloud computing – and a growing comfort with online commerce have begun speeding up the process.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Children and Families is saving $70,000 a year by digitizing contract paperwork, and Butte County, Colo., shaves precious time off the process of obtaining search warrants by having them signed electronically, said DocuSign’s director of public sector Sharon Hayes.

State and local government still is only “a little past the beginner stage” in cloud adoption, Hayes said. But more activities are going online, and government cannot afford to create its own infrastructure for every need. Competition for qualified workers to maintain these services also is becoming more intense. These pressures are forcing governments to the cloud, and some states are establishing master service contracts for the services. “That shows that they recognize the value of it.”

Through DTM, the DOT can upload documents to the platform in MS Word, PDF or other common formats from a computer or file-sharing service. A workflow is designated, with the email addresses of required recipients, including those who must sign and the order of signing. Tags are added showing location for each signature.

Signers are notified by email, and the document is downloaded from a link in the email. The system generates a facsimile handwritten signature of the signer’s name, linked to a secure alphanumeric code, which can be applied to the document for signing. Users also can write their own signatures using a mouse or touchscreen to have it linked to the code and applied. The signed document then is uploaded for the next step in the workflow.

When DOT uploaded the first document for signing in September, “we were excited and nervous,” Schlaffer said. It was uploaded at 5:30 p.m. and by 1 p.m. the next day it had been signed and returned. “We were thrilled. And we still are.”

DTM supports any type of Web-enabled device, from desktop to smartphone, without client software, and flexible licensing options made implementing a pilot program within the DOT inexpensive. This lowered the barrier of entry to electronic signing and was a major reason it was selected, Schlaffer said. “Low cost for us, no cost for our signers.”

Nevada’s move to electronic signatures began in February 2013 when DOT Director Rudy Malfabon received a DocuSign document for his signature. “He said, ‘let’s see if we can do this in our department’,” Schlaffer said.

DocuSign was selected from among three bidders for its functionality, security, ease of use and support for mobile devices, and a pilot program began in September. The pilot included procurement and contract processing, project management and funding as well as construction and change orders. “We were thrilled with the results,” and a department-wide rollout began in January.

The most difficult part of the process was convincing department lawyers that the process was legal. Once that barrier was passed, implementation was simple. Because the system is cloud-based, department administrators were able to quickly take it over. “We hijacked it from IT,” Schlaffer said. “We didn’t need a lot of IT support, and there aren’t a lot of IT resources to go around.”

About half of the department’s contracts now are being signed through the system, and it is expected to be fully implemented throughout the department by year’s end.

Savings from electronic signatures are difficult to determine because money saved in one area is spent in another, Schlaffer said. But, “we have been able to reallocate resources,” and additional people have been hired.

Building on DOT’s experience, the DTM platform is being adopted in other Nevada state offices, including the Treasurer and the Comptroller. “There is pain in being first,” Schlaffer said. “But also a lot of satisfaction.”

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