As students, teachers and administrators return to physical school environments this year, many are bringing their remote workflows with them. Over the past two years, we’ve grown to appreciate the reliability of digital documents, and the simplicity of cloud-based collaboration — in fact, a September 2021 Hotwire survey reports that more than 70 percent of education leaders consider digital transformation a critical priority for their institutions’ success.
But even as 25 percent of educators at both the K-12 and higher-education levels have switched from “wet” paper signatures to e-signatures, and 32 percent are investing in digital student information systems — citing “easier access to information” as the main reason for these upgrades.
What does it take to build a digital document ecosystem? Converting paper forms and worksheets to digital documents is a great first step. Secondly, you’ll also want to replace “wet” signatures with digital ones, using an electronic signing application — and, third, use cloud-based collaboration applications to enable real-time teamwork. Cloud storage applications serve as a crucial fourth component, providing secure organisational access for your digital documents. And finally, APIs (Application Programming Interface) and application integrations can help you automate entire paperless workflows — completing your institution’s transition from going digital to truly being digital.
So let’s take a closer look at each of the five key components of a digital document ecosystem — and see how easily your school can implement each of them as you progress toward a sustainable paperless future.
Component 1: Digital documents, converted from paper via a mobile scanner application
If teachers and administrators at your institution scan paper worksheets into digital files, then you’ve already taken the first step toward creating a digital document ecosystem. Applications like Adobe Scan can make this process a snap, by turning any iOS or Android device into a mobile high-resolution scanner. Scan uses a device’s onboard camera to capture a photo of any document, such as a handwritten homework assignment or job contract, and convert it into a shareable PDF file.
Component 2: Electronic signatures, added to documents with a digital signing application
Once you’ve converted your school’s forms into PDF format, Adobe Acrobat Sign can help you take the next step, and integrate electronic document signing functionality directly into those PDFs. Acrobat Sign plugs seamlessly into Acrobat, enabling you to send forms out for digital signatures simply by entering recipients’ contact information into the PDF itself — without any need for email attachments.
Each time a recipient opens a fillable PDF form, Acrobat Sign guides them through the entire signing process, automatically scrolling to each location where they need to apply their signature. This streamlined signing flow reduces processing times for consent slips and liability waivers from weeks to mere minutes.
Component 3: Real-time collaboration inside cloud-based documents
As time-saving as e-signatures are, they’re just one component of cloud-based document collaboration. Acrobat’s Sensei AI technology can simplify your form-filling processes even further, by automatically sending where each PDF’s response fields are located, and intelligently populating those fields with dynamic text boxes, drop-down fields, and multi-selection menus — and allowing you to add your own custom fields, along with a “Submit” button that lets recipients return the form to you with a single click.
Recipients save even more time through Sensei, automatically skipping to each fillable field on the form, prompting the recipient to fill in the blank, or pre-filling the blank with information they’ve already entered — then skipping to the next field until the form is completed. Adobe Acrobat even tracks which recipients have received your invitation to fill out a form, which ones have actually opened the PDF, and which ones have finished filling and signing it.
Component 4: A cloud-based digital cabinet to secure and organise files
Nobody likes digging through dusty old cabinets for hard-to-find paper files — so it’s easy to see why 32 percent of institutions are replacing yesteryear’s file folders with digital student information systems. In fact, many of us already use digital filing cabinets like Microsoft OneDrive on an individual or departmental basis and know first-hand how helpful they are for organising and finding digital documents.
As your digital ecosystem grows to the scale of thousands of files, though, you’ll want to scale up to a professional solution like Microsoft SharePoint or Adobe Creative Cloud, which provides much more powerful search and indexing capabilities. Cloud storage systems like these protect every document with best-in-class security, and even provide identity management services that’ll enable you to assign authorisation levels to specific employees and devices, so you can make sure each document only gets opened by the people who are supposed to see it.
Component 5: Automated digital workflows using APIs and application integrations
As you continue to organise your digital forms and worksheets into a professional cloud storage system, you’ll discover that many repetitive tasks (like collecting signatures) can be automated from end to end using APIs and application integrations. You can plug Adobe Document Services and Microsoft Power Automate into your digital filing cabinet, enabling you to automatically create thousands of personalised PDF forms with a single click — then automatically extract data from each form when it’s completed, and populate a secure departmental database with that information.
Automating just one document workflow in this way can massively simplify your job — but on a larger scale, the results can be truly transformative. To discover more about how a digital document ecosystem can fuel your school’s journey toward successful digital transformation, contact the expert team at Dax Data.