Over the past two years, educators discovered the benefits of digital document collaboration solutions firsthand. The realities of remote work accelerated the switch from paper forms and worksheets to electronic ones, along with broader adoption of cloud platforms like Dropbox and Google Drive — a shift that significantly streamlined educational workflows. Now, as students, teachers and administrators return to physical school environments, a full 70 percent of education leaders agree that digital transformation is critical to their institutions’ long-term success.

A September 2021 Hotwire survey reveals that 25 percent of educators at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels have switched from “wet” paper signatures to digital signatures, while 32 percent are investing in digital student information systems — citing “easier access to information” as the main reason for these changes. Plus, a school can also save $3,000 or more for every paper document they replace with a digital one, which means cost savings also represent a major driver of paperless evolution.

How do document collaboration apps streamline school administrative work? In a surprising range of ways. For example, Adobe electronic signatures are much easier to manage than hard-to-track paper forms. Real-time online collaboration tools eliminate the headaches of sending files back and forth. Searchable document databases are a whole lot simpler and more space-saving than dusty old filing cabinets. And by integrating paperless docs and e-signatures into fully automated workflows, admins are increasing transaction speeds, reducing errors, and increasing compliance — all with minimal manual effort.

Here, we’ll look at each of these enhancements in detail, and examine some specific use cases that’ll help you visualize how your school can make similar upgrades. Along the way, we’ll see how educational admins are leveraging digital document collaboration to accelerate their schools’ journeys toward full-fledged digital transformation.

Paperless e-signature workflows make it easy to track forms and get them signed.

Hotwire reports that 77 percent of U.S. education workflows still rely on time-consuming, error-prone pieces of paper, which create all kinds of administrative annoyances. For example, paper forms frequently get lost. Students, parents and vendors may misplace them, or forget to sign them, or return them wrinkled and illegible. In the meantime, you’ve got no way of tracking where a form is, or whether it’s been signed — and even when a signed form does make it back to your inbox in time, it can be tricky to verify who actually signed it.

Paperless documents and signatures eliminate all these headaches. Once you’ve used the Adobe Scan app to snap a picture of a paper document, Adobe Acrobat makes it easy to convert the resulting PDF file into a fillable form, which can even be pre-populated with the most likely responses. Acrobat automatically stores that PDF form in a secure cloud folder, which means it’ll never get lost — then lets you share it with others simply by entering their contact info, right within the file itself.

Once your selected contacts have received the file, Adobe Acrobat Sign helps them apply a verified electronic signature with just a few clicks. Adobe’s Sensei AI technology automatically scrolls to each point where a signer needs to add their signature, the date, or other details, and highlight the relevant field; then hops to the next field once the info has been entered. Throughout this process, Acrobat tracks who’s received the PDF, who’s opened it, who’s signed it, and who still needs to sign, so you can reach out to those contacts and offer assistance.

Document collaboration apps enable real-time teamwork within one single file.

A document signing process is just one of the many admin workflows that Acrobat can help streamline. Cloud-based PDFs really demonstrate their power when you use them for real-time collaboration. Say, for example, that you’re drafting an open letter to students’ parents. That would normally mean you’d have to email the doc to numerous staff members, collect their feedback from many separate emails, figure out where each bit of feedback applied, manually make every edit — and then send out the next draft for yet another round of time-consuming revisions.

With Adobat’s team collaboration software, on the other hand, you can share PDF files online, with as many people as you like, simply by typing their contact info into the “Share” file within the file itself. Every person with whom you share the PDF will get a notification in the free Acrobat mobile app, and can instantly open the file, drop in comments connected to specific images or text, respond to other users’ comments, and tag other colleagues for more feedback. It all happens in real time, within one single cloud-based PDF file — no email attachments or version control needed.

Digital cabinet solutions organize paperless docs into secure searchable databases.

If you’ve adopted a cloud-based “digital cabinet” like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive to manage your files, then you already know what an improvement these solutions represent over a physical filing system. Instead of having to dig through clunky old cabinets for paper files that take up a massive amount of space — and are organized according to some outdated scheme that no one fully understands — a digital cabinet lets you organize files according to your preferences, and find the docs you’re looking for with just a few keystrokes.

For the exact same reasons, a department-wide digital cabinet represents a major upgrade from yesteryear’s paper-based admin systems. However, as useful as self-service solutions like Google Drive can be, they still have their limits in terms of data storage and customizability. So as your school’s digital document collection soars into the thousands, you’ll want to consider a professional-level cloud cabinet like Microsoft SharePoint — which can augment the organization functionality you love with even more powerful file indexing and search capabilities.

APIs and integrations help admins automate entire electronic document workflows.

Beyond just going digital, your school can truly be digital by using APIs to integrate your digital docs into fully automated workflows. For example, you can connect Adobe Experience Manager with Adobe Acrobat Sign to make documents more accessible for specific staff members or entire departments, by hosting those digital docs on your institution’s website — then leveraging Adobe Document Services and Microsoft Power Automate to automatically extract data from signed docs, and automate batch creation of forms that can be shared with a single click.

You might even decide to follow the example of the University of New Mexico (UNM), which rolled out automated e-signatures across their human resources (HR), procurement and finance departments throughout 2020. As a result, UNM admins can now process outside vendor agreements in just days instead of weeks, track grant applications within a centralized app, and collect e-signed admission forms even during data center blackouts — inspiring admins to roll out e-signatures across all their school’s departments in the succeeding months.

Thanks to all these benefits, a growing number of admins are adopting Acrobat for a wide range of document types — from consent slips and liability waivers to individualized education program (IEP) forms, loan agreements, vendor contracts, and more. Research shows that automation integrations like these can increase transaction speeds by 30 percent, while improving compliance by 25 percent, and reducing errors by up to 85 percent —  significantly increasing the speed, security, consistency and convenience of your school’s document processes every step of the way.

Ready to take the next steps on your school’s digital transformation journey?

Check out the complete guide to digital document management for steps you can take in the education setting.

Document Collaboration