How cloud-based e-signatures smooth workflow

Cloud-based e-signature systems are gaining traction at all levels of government. The U.S. Census Bureau recently implemented one to facilitate its complex performance review process, while the City of Sacramento, Calif., is applying digital signatures to legislative documents, solicitations and contracts.

In March, the Census Bureau announced that it has begun using eSignLive for SharePoint on a Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program-compliant cloud for its performance reviews management process.

The software-as-a-service-based system uses secure credentials such as personal identity verification cards and common access cards to authenticate users. To comply with requirements for identity management and access control, such as two-factor authentication and Homeland Security Presidential Directives, field employees carry laptops with derived credential chip technology.

“Once the PIN is confirmed, eSignLive generates a hash of the information at the time of signing (name, date, time, IP address, certificate used to sign the document), along with a unique hash of the document itself,” said Tommy Petrogiannis, president of eSignLive by VASCO. “The result is a secure, tamper-sealed e-signed PDF with a detailed audit trail embedded directly into the document.”

Additionally, eSignLive has a direct connector to SharePoint, a web-based workflow tool that integrates with Microsoft Office. As a result, it automatically inherits and interfaces with any rules or workflows created there and can handle multiple documents with unlimited page counts and sizes.

The Office of Personnel Management-mandated performance review process involves three reviews throughout the year, each of which requires two to three signatures. With more than 8,000 field employees nationwide, the manual signing process  was costing Census $5 per signature per cycle and taking as long as three months per cycle per employee.

When eSignLive, part of VASCO Data Security International, is fully implemented in October, the entire process will be automated, enabling workers to sign performance reviews electronically on any device. This will save the bureau $1.2 million annually in shipping costs and will cut turnaround time by 70 percent per employee. Field employees will get access to the system this spring, while the 7,000 headquarters and regional workers will begin using it in the fall.

Streamlining in Sacramento

In Sacramento, a partial digitization of the solicitation and contract management process left city officials duplicating work to accommodate the mix of electronic and paper processes.

The city could send out a digital solicitation, for example, “ but then we would receive the bids in a written form because they needed to have a signature on them,” said Dawn Bullwinkel, assistant city clerk-compliance officer. Staff would scan those paper documents and add them to the city repository, but when the contract was awarded, “we would have to get their wet signature on that document, and then the city would sign it, and then we would image that again into our repository. It was very cumbersome and not very efficient.”

Digital signatures were the missing link, and Sacramento contracted with eSignLive for help. The city applied the solution to Fair Political Practices Commission documentation in October 2016 and to legislative documents in January. When Sacramento’s new solicitation and contract management system goes live in September, digital signatures will part of that, too.

Besides saving on paper costs and increasing efficiency, end users like that they can access and sign documents from anywhere, as long as they have access to the cloud, Bullwinkel said.

“Our end users love, love, love, love the ease of signing these documents,” she said. “It’s definitely going to change our organization for the better.”

But eSignLive is about more than just signatures, Petrogiannis said. It’s also about the workflow.

“We call it process orchestration: Who sees what when, in what order, what data do people have to fill in? That whole process is not only controlled but manageable in the sense that you can inspect it in real time,” he said. “Paper, once it leaves your desk and it lands on someone else’s desk, it’s a black hole; you don’t know where it is. But if you’re digitizing these processes using eSignLive, either the administrator or the person starting the process has total visibility into where things are in the workflow.”

In the background, the system records who has looked at the pages, for how long, the actions they took and the processes they used --  a big help in proving compliance with federal, state or local laws.

Additionally, eSignLive virtually eliminates the need for quality assurance at the end of the signing process because it automatically ensures that all the documents’ fields are filled in. “That’s probably one of the biggest things people don’t get from the term ‘electronic signature,’” Petrogiannis said. “It really is about that digital transaction and making sure that it’s been done properly and follows all the guidelines.”

At Census and in Sacramento, expansion plans are underway even as rollouts continue. Census Bureau officials plan to make e-signatures an enterprise service, and Bullwinkel said Sacramento’s Community Development department is looking to use digital signatures on permit applications.

“It’s definitely going to change our organization for the better,” she said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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