Seattle was one of the first US cities to face Covid-19. Within a few weeks, it went from being at low-risk to reporting the nation’s first cases, followed by a swift lockdown.

City officials began working from home and the government had to adapt the way it operated immediately. “Our digital workplace team quickly scaled our rollout plan,” said Ram Biyani, the city’s Digital Workplace Integration Lead.

The city worked with Adobe to provide departments remote working tools like e-signature apps, so they could continue serving citizens even in a telework environment. The company’s Managing Director for Southeast Asia, Simon Dale, discusses lessons from this experience, and more, for countries in the region.

Run a city remotely

“Most government services tend to involve some kind of form and signature transaction at the last mile, and not a lot of that has been consistently or easily digitised yet,” Dale says. Seattle, for instance, was still heavily reliant on manual paper processes when Covid-19 hit.

The city had to pivot immediately and deployed thousands of headsets and laptops for employees to work from their homes. It rolled out 3,000 Adobe Sign licences to its staff within three months, and planned to provide the software to all 14,000 employees of the city government.

The finance and accounting departments were a priority as they had detailed invoicing and purchase order processes. “Our city’s finance teams were suddenly working from home, but no longer had access to their paper. They started running invoices through Adobe Sign and saved time, money, and effort,” said Kimberly Flin, Digital Workplace senior business analyst. Today, the City of Seattle’s success in adapting remote tools and technologies is becoming a model for other governments.

Support students and trainees

The state of Queensland in Australia has been rolling out free education and training to businesses and employees affected by the pandemic. The courses are run by TAFE Queensland, which in a regular year offers apprenticeships and training for 120,000 students across 6 regional training arms – including those in major population centres as well as in far flung corners of the state. They spent about US$35,000 every year on paper-based induction for students.

Before the pandemic, the agency cut down on paper and switched to e-signatures for students, employers and parents. Adobe Sign helped them cut the time to onboard students massively – from two weeks to 10 minutes.

Staff who were previously dedicated to managing the paperwork have been redeployed and can focus on supporting the agency’s pivot to tackle the pandemic. “It’s allowed them to free up their staff to go and do much more important things in the business,” Dale says.

Understand user journeys

Once citizen services are running digitally, government agencies can be more responsive to users’ experiences, he adds. “You can use the analytics on this to really understand where demand is or where bottlenecks are.”

Agencies can track the performance of services and respond to surges or drops in demand. “Once they start engaging with your channels, you can start measuring that. If there’s an increase in a particular service, we need to use that data to move our resource allocation.” If users stop filling a form mid way, for instance, the analytics can pinpoint exactly which step is proving challenging.

This approach has underpinned the development and growth of Adobe’s own Creative Cloud business. Adobe.com receives 37 billion pageviews annually and the Creative Cloud business has expanded by 45 per cent. “We use the data informed by our customer interactions to understand where they are in the customer journey, and how we can help them move along the customer journey,” Dale says.

Digital forms and signatures offer governments the “quick wins” they need to rapidly adapt their services to the economic and health crises, he adds. They integrate easily with other remote working tools, as the City of Seattle found when they linked up Adobe Sign with Microsoft Office 365. “It’s not a major IT transformation to digitise your forms, documents and signatures. It’s a much more consumable activity.”

They offer the flexibility of being run completely on the cloud, on-premise or a hybrid of the two. “It may be the cloud service is providing the environment but the data actually flows somewhere else and it’s not stored in the cloud. You still get the benefits of having a cloud service that’s reliable and scalable.”

Pivoting to the new normal doesn’t have to involve massive organisational shifts. Small but effective changes, especially with a focus on citizen experience and convenience, like digital forms and e-signatures are proving transformational for residents and businesses.