City of Seattle relies on Adobe and Microsoft to help with operational continuity During COVID-19

Adobe Sign opened on a tablet

Seattle is one of the nation’s fastest growing tech hubs. With the offices of Microsoft, Adobe, Amazon, and Google in the area, the city is no stranger to progress and innovation. A few years ago, like many other local governments, the City of Seattle was struggling to keep pace with the private sector’s digital transformation.

The government decided to modernize its operations and began gradually shifting to the cloud. With the goal of improving productivity, they first adopted Microsoft Office 365, then added electronic signature processes with Adobe Acrobat Sign.

The timing worked to their advantage. When COVID-19 hit, the government was well-positioned to adapt to their new digital challenge.

In a recent webinar – Preparedness Through Digitization: Practical Lessons from Seattle’s COVID-19 Response – leaders from the city’s digital workplace division within the Seattle Information Technology Department shared insights on their modernization journey. They discussed how previous events like scheduled traffic disruptions helped them evolve their capabilities—enabling them to continue providing services to citizens and businesses effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the City of Seattle’s success is becoming a model for other governments. Here’s their story.

Chapter 1: Creating a modern digital workplace for employees

In 2017, the City of Seattle began modernizing. With the goal of migrating to the cloud, the city established a small Microsoft Office 365 team, focusing mainly on cloud-based document storage. In the spring of 2019, they ramped up their efforts to focus on workforce productivity. They took the game-changing step of evolving the Microsoft Office 365 team into a full division dedicated to digital transformation.

Dan Lewis, Digital Workplace creator and interim director, had an “aha!” moment when he noticed employees walking around the building for 15 minutes just to deliver a piece of paper that needed a signature. He saw how the city could drive efficiency simply by empowering employees with technologies similar to what they were using outside of work.

“Why walk that paper form you printed, in an interoffice envelope, 44 floors from your desk and wait an indefinite amount of days for a signature” Lewis explained, “when it can be done in 2 minutes digitally on your phone while you pick up your contactless mobile order at Starbucks. Work, in the digital world we live.”

Chapter 2: Creating a culture of learning and employee empowerment

The digital workplace division knew if it wanted this initiative to succeed, they needed to get people excited about the available digital tools and technologies. As such, a central piece of the strategy was to establish a culture of learning.

As it turns out, employees were eager to learn about the available tools. The digital workplace team cites three resources central to their success:

Chapter 3: Putting it to the test

Four million people live in Seattle’s metropolitan area. The city is surrounded by water and access through downtown is limited; traffic is a challenge even on the best of days. But in early 2019, two back-to-back events—one planned and one unexpected—created a commuter nightmare.

The first was a massive redevelopment project known as the “Seattle Squeeze,” which required the closure of a vital highway through downtown for three weeks in January. On the tail of that came “Snowmageddon.” Record-breaking snowfall created disastrous road conditions and widespread power outages that brought the city to a standstill.

During both the highway closure and Snowmageddon, the City of Seattle’s digital workplace division decided to stay home and work remotely. It was the perfect opportunity to test its program.

“The great thing about the trial run is that it really helped to prepare us,” said Chris Smith, Digital Workplace digital signature administrator. “When this crisis hit, I know that our entire team was already prepared, ready to work at home, ready to do our jobs and pitch in and help other departments.”

Chapter 4: Acting fast when the Pandemic hit

When the COVID-19 pandemic landed in the United States, the City of Seattle was one of the first city governments to navigate the situation. The timeline of events took everyone by surprise.

In just a few weeks, Seattle residents went from being considered low-risk—to learning that the first confirmed COVID-19 death in the U.S. was reported in their county—to the Mayor of Seattle’s announcement that an official stay-at-home mandate could be implemented soon.

With each passing day, it became evident that people would need to start working remotely. That day came quickly—and the City of Seattle had to pivot immediately to a telework environment.

Most of the city’s departments were still heavily reliant on manual, paper-based processes. Employees were concerned about their ability to track communications and serve their constituents from a work-from-home environment.

“The COVID-19 crisis forced an immediate change, and our digital workplace team quickly scaled our rollout plan,” said Ram Biyani, Digital Workplace Integration Lead.

The leadership team took a number of strategic actions. For example, they facilitated the deployment of more than 1,000 laptops and procured more than 2,000 headsets to support employees. Over the course of three months, the team quickly licensed over 3,000 Acrobat sign users. Their plan is to provide licenses to all 14,000 employees in the city.

Finance and Accounting departments, with their very detailed invoicing and purchase orders processes, were also a priority. “Our city’s finance teams were suddenly working from home, but no longer had access to their paper. They started running invoices through Acrobat sign and saved time, money, and effort,” said Kimberly Flin, Digital Workplace senior business analyst. “We digitized so many departments overnight—it was really exciting.”

In fact, within the first three months of 2020, the City of Seattle had increased their Acrobat sign-led transactions by 300%.

Using Outlook and other Office 365 tools, city employees also worked with the Office of the Mayor to deliver timely, transparent, and secure communications.

“It was really a positive and easy transition for us, despite the trying circumstances that we are all going through across the nation and across the world,” said Smith.

Prologue: Looking to the future

Seattle CTO Saad Bashir believes the hard work government agencies are doing in the face of this critical situation will transform the way government agencies work in the future:

“The ‌nationwide shutdowns‌ ‌created‌ ‌by‌ ‌the coronavirus pandemic ‌will‌ ‌mark‌ ‌a‌ ‌historic‌ ‌point‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌government. This‌ ‌catastrophe‌ ‌will‌ change‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌we‌ ‌work‌ ‌and‌ ‌innovate‌ ‌going‌ ‌forward.”

Across departments, City of Seattle employees have shown remarkable resolve to keep the government functioning—while simultaneously adapting to remote tools, technologies, and at-home distractions. Smith agrees with Bashir that the changes implemented today will have a positive, lasting impact:

“I am very excited about what is happening in our workforce,” said Smith. “As people experience the ease and power of digital tools, I do not believe we will go back to the top-heavy paper processes we used to use. I am really excited to see how that moves forward.”

Adobe’s commitment – helping government with rapid response

Adobe is committed to helping government agencies rise to the challenge of urgent events, stay productive, and continue to provide uninterrupted digital services to constituents from any location.

Watch the webinar: Preparedness Through Digitization: Practical Lessons from Seattle’s COVID-19 Response.

Learn about Adobe’s Document Cloud Rapid Response Program: Read the blog,.

Read about other rapid response leaders in government: The State of Utah Uses Acrobat sign to Accelerate Telework During Crisis

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