Digital workflows save time and money–and they also create better experiences for students and staff. And if COVID has proven anything, it’s that digital processes are a must-have when in-person workflows aren’t possible.
During the great pivot to virtual learning–and in the return to hybrid and in-person learning last fall–administrators realized just how valuable digital workflows are.
“There are many administrative processes that we have just taken for granted in K-12 education,” says Chitra Mittha, director of marketing to educational institutions for Adobe, speaking during a webinar series from eSchool News and Adobe. “The silver lining in the pandemic was that it gave us an opportunity to think about how we could do things differently.”
The process works like this: An administrator uses an automated solution to upload and send a document that needs to be signed. The signer clicks on the link they receive, reviews the document, and signs it electronically from a web browser, a computer, or a mobile device.
When can you use digital workflows?
The short answer: Whenever you need to.
Signing contracts is one occasion. With nearly 22,000 students across 37 schools, Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island handles many contracts with service providers. Getting these contracts signed and approved used to involve a lot of faxes and mailings between various schools and departments, and this process could take several days. These delays meant that services weren’t being delivered to staff and students as promptly as they could be.
“Being able to do this work digitally creates an efficiency model for us,” says Matthew X. Joseph, executive director of learning for the district.
Approving IEPs is another opportunity to digitize a paper-based process, because the IEP process requires multiple signatures from educators, parents, and medical professionals.
Hiring and onboarding new district employees is another great opportunity to go digital. The paperwork that’s required when school systems hire a new employee can be overwhelming. New hires must fill out and/or sign their offer letter or contract, federal and state tax withholding forms, a direct deposit authorization form, health insurance forms, and other benefits information. E-signatures and automation can streamline this process while helping HR departments track and manage compliance. That’s especially critical at a time when staffing shortages are hindering schools’ ability to deliver exceptional service to students and their families.
Major benefits of digital workflows
Here are four benefits K-12 leaders will realize with a shift to secure digital workflows and processes:
1. They’ll save time. With secure digital workflows, parents, students, employees, new hires, and others no longer have to schedule time to meet in person with administrators to sign and/or drop off forms and documents—and administrators no longer have to wait to obtain signatures. Instead, all of this activity happens instantly online. What’s more, administrators don’t have to comb through filing cabinets or desk drawers to find the documents they’re looking for; a simple keyword search can pull up the required forms on a computer or handheld device in seconds.
2. They’ll save money. With manual processes and paper-based forms and documents, school systems spend a significant amount of money on paper and shipping costs each year. The Forrester Consulting analysis revealed an average cost savings of $6 per transaction in switching to digital workflows.
3. Digital workflows make life that much easier. Stakeholders can complete and sign forms from any internet-connected device, including a smart phone. This makes the process more convenient for faculty and staff who are on the go, especially those who aren’t tethered to a desk all day. It also makes the process more equitable for parents who might not have access to a computer at home.
4. More mobility helps student safety. “Think about all those medical release forms,” says Shad McGaha, chief technology officer for the Wichita Falls Independent School District in north central Texas. “If a student gets hurt, (administrators) have the ability to search right there and have all that information in their hand, up to date and
current.” This quick access to information could help save lives.
A common concern about signing and submitting documents electronically is that it’s not as secure as obtaining a manual signature. In reality, it’s even more secure.
Data privacy and security are top-of-mind issues for K-12 leaders, as they should be. Many forms and documents within K-12 education contain the Social Security Numbers and other personally identifiable information for students or employees. If stakeholders aren’t confident in the security of digital workflows, they won’t be inclined to adopt these processes.
Digital workflows meet rigorous security standards, including those widely used in the banking and credit card industries. In addition, role-based permissions are built into many platforms. Users can specify who has access to certain documents, and only authorized users can view them. Contrast this with paper documents–if a document is left out in the open, anyone, regardless of their role or viewing permission, has access to that sensitive information.
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