Sonoma county transforms resident services with automated, highly secure digital workflows

Using Adobe Acrobat DC and Adobe Acrobat Sign, Sonoma County is replacing manual, paper-based processes with automated digital workflows.

Picture of a vineyard with mountains and Sonoma County California Logo placed on it

People expect more digital services than ever from their governments. They want to pay fees, apply for permits, and request information without leaving their home. Over the past several years, Sonoma County has undertaken a digital transformation aimed at improving government services for the half a million residents in this California county. Using Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Sign, Sonoma County is replacing manual, paper-based processes with automated digital workflows that are fast, convenient, and more secure.

“We made excellent strides to digitize individual documents with Adobe Acrobat DC, and Adobe Sign was the final piece to create end-to-end digital workflows that transform Sonoma County services,” says Jim McKenney, project manager for the Information Systems Department at Sonoma County. “Digital workflows make it easier to communicate with coworkers and the public — even during emergencies such as wildfires or pandemics. We’re averaging 1,900 documents signed per month across 22 departments, and that number is expected to grow as we encourage digital transformation across the county.”

The road to digital transformation

When McKenney first started looking at digital transformation, he had three concerns in mind: compliance, education, and adoption.

1. Compliance

Adobe Sign meets all requirements that Sonoma County needs to meet State of California guidelines around authenticating signatures, storing documents, and maintaining the integrity of signed documents.

“Adobe Sign has one of the most robust audit trails available, allowing us to demonstrate compliance with signature authentication, saved IP addresses, and a record showing that we are in control of documents at every stage of signing,” says McKenney. “Adobe Sign also locks down signed documents as highly secure PDF files, preventing alteration and further supporting compliance with state regulations.”

2. Education

McKenney took time to educate departments about the importance of standardizing on Adobe Sign. Unlike scanning forms, pasting images of signatures into PDF files, or using third-party electronic signatures, only Adobe Sign has the robust audit trails and authentications to address compliance and security concerns.

3. Adoption

While the Information Systems Department reached out to departments to promote Adobe Sign, the intuitive interfaces truly kickstarted adoption. Several users quickly discovered how they could use the e-signature solution through the Fill & Acrobat Sign tools in Adobe Acrobat DC. One person in the General Services department set up a workflow for Facility Work Orders — a form that requires multiple signatures — without needing any instruction or training.

“We want to empower people to create signature workflows on their own, so seeing this type of immediate adoption was exciting,” says McKenney. “We’re working on integrations with Microsoft 365, Hyland OnBase, and other tools that will make creating automated workflows even faster and easier for staff.”

Reducing workflow time by 70 percent with Adobe Sign pilots

When planning a pilot strategy for Adobe Sign, Carolyn Staats, director of innovation for the Information Systems Department, took an unusual tactic: ignore the low-hanging fruit.

“Generally, in IT, the game plan is to get quick and easy wins to prove a new technology,” says Staats. “But in the government sector, we face a lot of questions about where money is going and how new technologies will benefit the public. So, we decided to roll out pilots that would get us high exposure, introduce Adobe Sign to as many people as possible, and show what a difference it can make.”

One of the first Adobe Sign pilots focused on a program used by all county employees: staff development and wellness reimbursement. Sonoma County encourages personal development by reimbursing all employees for a set amount of money spent on wellness, technology, or education. The complex forms could take months to process, but with Adobe Sign, reimbursements are now processed in days.

The Adobe Sign form pulls information from databases and uses conditional logic to reduce errors. Forms are automatically forwarded to multiple approvers, streamlining turnaround time and cutting down on labor for the human resources team — savings that add up to $209,000 annually. Because the pilot reached so many employees, interest in Adobe Sign rose dramatically as people could see the success firsthand.

Another pilot demonstrated how Adobe Sign can streamline workflows with Sonoma County residents. The County Administrators Office (CAO) works with the public to distribute grants through the Community Investment Program. The process typically involved a great deal of back and forth to clarify points, sign forms, and finalize approvals. It could take months to process grants previously, but Adobe Sign helped accelerate that process to weeks. Applicants using the new Adobe Sign workflow praised its ease of use.

The final pilot targeted the biggest hurdles inside the government: legal and the county council. Staats introduced Adobe Sign as a replacement for wet signatures for pending or current litigation processes. When the council saw the speed, convenience, and legal compliance provided by Adobe Sign, they became strong advocates for Adobe Sign and the digital transformation initiative as a whole.

“We reduced the time needed for these three pilot workflows by more than 70 percent,” says Staats. “Visibility in the Adobe Sign dashboard was critical, not only to measure the results, but also to balance workloads for staff and reassigning processes to improve productivity beyond the pilot programs.”

Expanding Adobe Sign usage

Today, 22 departments across Sonoma County use Adobe Sign including the Sheriff’s Office, General Services, and Cal Cards.

Streamlining workflows with Adobe Acrobat

Many departments also eagerly anticipate productivity benefits from fillable PDF files created with Adobe Acrobat DC. McKenney is currently working with Transportation and Public Works to develop a complex PDF form for road crews. Road crews fill out paper forms every day in the field to track activities and materials for accounting. By creating a fillable PDF with drop-down lists and conditional logic, the department hopes to reduce errors and speed up the time that it takes to fill out forms and transform information into systems.

McKenney also created a stamp in Adobe Acrobat DC for use by the chief deputy clerk of the Board of Supervisors. Rather than using a physical stamp to record actions during meetings, the chief deputy clerk uses a digital stamp to record votes, apply the date, and lock the report to prevent changes.

“Adobe Acrobat DC and Adobe Sign are amazing tools. Departments are clamoring to set up more forms and integrations to accelerate workflows even further,” says McKenney. “Digital services are changing the way that we work with employees and the public, helping us become more responsive and accessible at all times.”