Schools Go Green With E-Signatures

By Jason Lemkin, vice president of Web services business at Adobe

Paper contracts have long presented a frustrating, expensive, time-consuming problem for businesses. The ecological implications of all that paper are significant, as are the monetary implications. For both of these reasons, there is a shift afoot in many industries toward better options for getting contracts signed and stored. Web-based contracts have emerged as the alternative of choice, offering a sustainable business practice that gets more deals signed in less time, with less hassle and significant cost savings. The California Community Colleges (CCC) Technology Center began using e-signatures in February 2010. Since then, the nation’s largest community college system has experienced tremendous cost savings, increased its sustainability and cut down on wasted time.

About California Community Colleges

Comprised of 72 districts, 112 colleges and more than 2.9 million students, California Community Colleges is the largest higher education system in the country. Headquartered just north of Sacramento at Butte College, the CCC Technology Center and the California Virtual Campus work on statewide CCC technology projects. For the group, managing numerous contracts, technical services agreements and intricate memorandums proved to be a tedious, time-consuming process, especially because each typically required more than one signature from people across the state. The technology center and the virtual campus received grant funding from the CCC chancellor’s office to find budget-friendly ways to complete their contracting needs. Pursuing that goal has yielded both monetary and sustainability results.

Exploring and adopting e-signatures

Among the first technologies CCC explored were web-based e-signature services. Electronic signatures are so ubiquitous in today’s environment, it’s a rare consumer or businessperson who has not completed at least one contract by “signing” online. The widespread adoption of digital contract completion gained speed after 2000. That was the year Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. ESIGN, as it became known, made electronic signatures as binding as ink ones on paper, and the law opened the door for greater efficiencies and sustainability practices.

Getting a paper contract signed is a tedious process for the signer and the document owner. Documents must be faxed, couriered or mailed. They often languish in ignored inboxes on recipients’ desks, so workers must follow up multiple times to get contracts completed, then wait for them to be returned via the same slow routes by which they were delivered. During all of those steps in which professionals spend their time chasing paper, organizations could be devoting resources to other, more valuable tasks.

E-signing eliminates most of those hurdles. With a web-based digital contracting solution, organizations can drastically decrease their paper usage and resulting waste. They can also automate reminders regarding signature deadlines and store contracts for easy retrieval later. Most significantly, they can complete contracts in a fraction of the time required by paper-based procedures.

Business processes that save time, money and natural resources

For many of the above reasons, the CCC Technology Center adopted e-signatures on an internal basis to help streamline its invoicing system. However, when faced with a project requiring the California Virtual Campus and CCC Technology Center to get signatures from more than 60 state colleges, the office expanded its use of e-signatures.

In February of 2010, the CCC Technology Center began collecting signatures on a memorandum of understanding related to Internet services. The organization needed to get contracts signed from colleges in opposite corners of the state. Without an e-signature solution, the task would have required the printing, processing and mailing of thousands of contracts, which likely would have taken an average of three weeks to come back signed. By moving to a digital contracting option, CCC Technology Center cut its average distribution and return time down to less than a day, with one document getting signed and completed in about 45 minutes, a record for the office. In the meantime, California Community Colleges gained a cost-effective solution that set the bar for more efficient and environmentally friendly business practices.

Sustainability leads to better results

During the 2010 fiscal year, CCC Technology Center and the California Virtual Campus processed more than 11,000 contracts, and reduced contract completion time by 25 to 50 percent. The success of the initiative is measured in the time, money and resources saved, as well as in the reaction from the rest of the organization’s community. Today, Butte College (a California Community College) and CCC’s human resources department have embraced e-signatures. That is good news for the colleges, and lowers the strain on their staffs. It is good news for CCC’s constituents, who now have an easier path to completing required contracts with the schools. And it is good news for the communities surrounding California Community Colleges, since the reduced reliance on paper contracts creates a parallel reduction in waste (including paper, envelopes and print cartridges) and in fuel that would have been burned in the transportation of documents.

E-signatures are now at the core of a larger effort at the CCC Technology Center to embrace green practices and increase the sustainability of business processes. With such efforts, the schools not only advance in their environmental efforts, they also save time and money, both of which can be reinvested in the organization’s core pursuits.


Jason Lemkin is vice president of Web business services at Adobe and former CEO of EchoSign. His operational experience spans the business development, sales, legal, human resource and finance fields, and he is an acknowledged expert in the field of electronic signature and electronic contracting.

image: pjsherman via Flickr cc

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