It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Governments must get comfortable with the knowledge that the future will be turbulent. While it’s hard to predict what will be, some change is certain: digital tools are now strongly embedded in our lives.

How are governments gearing up for what this will bring? Adobe’s Managing Director for Southeast Asia, Simon Dale and Chandra Sinnathamby, Head of Adobe Document Cloud, Asia Pacific explain.

Jobs disrupted

Jobs and economies have changed for the foreseeable future, says Sinnathamby. “Even after a vaccine arrives, it’ll take some time to distribute it across the planet. So how do we help these agencies drive business continuity for that medium term and enable this remote workforce?”

Covid-19 has upended banking, for instance. “Banking industry customers are relooking at how a branch works”, Dale adds. A recent survey by research group Autonomous found that many have invested to digitise client onboarding and contract closing.

Three-quarters of the banks polled said they can now offer mortgages or loans to small and medium companies digitally. And only 8 per cent still require customers to visit branches in person for these services.

Unforeseen events

To adapt to this new normal of service delivery, organisations need to digitise and speed up how they share documents. Electronic signatures are an important part of that, making sure that documents can be securely and quickly authenticated through every part of the process, says Sinnathamby.

The State of Utah, for instance, implemented Adobe Sign to allow officials to work remotely as part of its new workplace teleworking initiative. State officials couldn’t have foreseen how urgent this telework capability would become, just as no one could have predicted Utah getting hit simultaneously by a 5.7 Richter scale earthquake as it dealt with the growing threat of Covid-19.

Under normal circumstances, teams would meet in conference rooms or walk down a hallway to get sign offs on emergency response plans. In all, it took about two or three days to get a plan approved. Electronic signatures allowed them to do this in minutes, even when no one could meet in person. This accelerated the emergency response processes and kept the vital services running.

The state government has now expanded the e-signature programme to approve hundreds of procurement contracts, operational plans, budgets and grants. Its ambition is now to go 100 per cent paperless.

Switching to digital

Ditching paper for digital with e-signatures ensures that there’s an audit trail and agencies can continuously track compliance. “You want to know that it’s been sent to the right person, that person has signed it and it’s not been tampered with in between. It’s all of those aspects of trust,” Dale says.

Every user interaction with a document is also a valuable data point for agencies to improve their workflow and citizen experience. And this can be done securely with anonymous data that respects users’ privacy. “We have Adobe Analytics which can look at how people are interacting with your services and don’t contain any personally identifiable information,” he adds.

The switch from paper to digital doesn’t have to be invasive, he says. Adobe Sign integrates with other remote working tools and with national digital identities as it has done with India’s Aadhaar and GovTech’s Sign with SingPass in Singapore, says Sinnathamby.

In the EU, Adobe has worked with leading companies and authorities to develop an open standard for cloud signatures that meet the strict legal requirements for digital signatures, he says.

The most common way to meet these requirements is to use a personal PIN together with a smart card or USB that plugs into a laptop. The cloud-based signatures do away with that, and allow digital signatures on mobile or web. Its higher level of security means that it can be used for sensitive transactions like approving a mortgage loan or a medical prescription in the EU.

Covid-19 has taught nations serious lessons on what will work in the future, and what should be left behind. There are no more excuses to be unprepared for the year ahead.