Connecting rural England.
Norfolk County puts digital transformation into high-gear with Microsoft and Adobe Acrobat Sign.
Drive digital transformation to become the best-connected county in the UK
Eliminate paper and printing costs by switching to paperless workflows
Keep county operations and services running during the COVID-19 pandemic
Reduced time to prepare legal documents for sealing from 45 to 12 minutes
Saved 4.5 days a month by automating signing and sealing workflow
Automated requests and paperwork with tight integration between Adobe Acrobat Sign and Microsoft Power Platform
Strengthened compliance with audit trails and real-time visibility into document status
Gerry Baker spent the first part of his career flying high, travelling across the world first as a member of the Royal Air Force and then as an air crash investigator. When he decided to hang up his wings, he wanted to take his family somewhere that could offer friendly, small-town life while embracing innovation. Like many before him, Baker and his family decided to settle in the county of Norfolk.
“I’ve always been interested in technology and the ways that it can be used for change,” says Baker, now Digital Transformation and Print Projects Manager for Norfolk County Council. “It’s been exciting to work with such an innovative technology team and see what we can do for residents.”
Under the direction of the Information Management & Technology (IMT) team for Norfolk County Council, Norfolk is on the path to becoming the best-connected rural county in the United Kingdom. From helping farmers monitor crop moisture levels to delivering digital services that help populations stay in their houses and live independent lives longer, Norfolk County Council views digital technology as a foundation that will improve opportunities for residents and encourage businesses to move to Norfolk.
“I’ve worked in both public sector and commercial organisations, but what I love about working for Norfolk County Council is seeing the difference that every project can make in peoples’ lives,” says Kurt Frary, CTO and Deputy Director of Information Management & Technology. “I’m passionate about innovation and change and that means helping the Council to understand everything that is possible through technology.”
One innovative Internet of things (IoT) initiative involved low-cost sensors embedded in roads to help teams know when icy roads are in need of grit. By spreading grit only where and when needed, the county saves £8,000 per grit run. These types of strategies helped Norfolk County Council to win the 2020 Connected Britain Digital Council of the Year award.
Part of the IT roadmap for Norfolk County Council included electronic signatures. By working with e-signatures, Norfolk County Council could become a truly paperless organisation with zero paper and print costs. Early attempts at implementing e-signatures struggled due to low adoption. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the UK, Norfolk County Council needed to digitise paperwork and keep the county running with minimal physical contact.
“E-signatures were always a part of our plans, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we needed to move much faster than expected,” says Frary. “Adobe Acrobat Sign stood out for its integrations, ease of use and fantastic support. With help from Adobe, we went from nothing to fully operational digital signatures integrated with Microsoft solutions in just under four weeks.”
“The pilot was key because we showed how our most senior executives were using Adobe Acrobat Sign and were comfortable with it, even in situations involving legal agreements and millions of pounds.”
CTO and Deputy Director of Information Management & Technology, Norfolk County Council
Digitising high-profile legal agreements
The IMT team started with a pilot that would demonstrate the benefits of Adobe Acrobat Sign, even under complex and high-profile use cases. The pilot focused on legal agreements such as Deeds of Covenant, Transfers of Legal Titles and Legal Charges against Property. These agreements involve the purchase or sale of parcels of land worth millions of pounds, thus requiring corporate approval and sealing from the Council.
Working with the Adobe team, IMT designed and delivered the sealing workflow in less than four weeks. It takes just 12 minutes to prepare documents for sealing with Acrobat Sign; before, it took 45 minutes. When handling an average of 60 sealing transactions per month, that adds up to 4.5 working days of labour saved monthly.
The sealing process itself is also much faster and less costly. Norfolk County Council no longer needs to mail documents to each signatory on a list. Instead, Acrobat Sign forwards signed documents to each signatory automatically.
Integration with Microsoft SharePoint gives the legal team a live dashboard showing the status of the agreements. The team can check whether documents have been received, opened or signed, without needing to spend time following up with people over the phone or email.
“The pilot was key because we showed how our most senior executives were using Adobe Acrobat Sign and were comfortable with it, even in situations involving legal agreements and millions of pounds,” says Frary. “Buy-in from leadership made the rest of the organisation much more comfortable to use Adobe Acrobat Sign for their own use cases.”
“We’re working with both Microsoft and Adobe to experiment and find new ways to build integrated workflows that improve productivity for staff and positively affect the community.”
Digital Transformation and Print Projects Manager, Norfolk County Council
Building integrated workflows with Microsoft
Acrobat Sign is rolling out quickly across Norfolk County Council thanks to strong support from leaders and ease of use. Single sign-on improves the user experience, as the team don’t need to create and remember new usernames and passwords which has helped to accelerate adoption.
Smart Microsoft integrations streamline workflows even further. Norfolk County Council maintains an archive of sensitive information that can only be obtained through special request. Previously, when someone wanted to request information from the archives, staff would spend a great deal of time emailing each other to gather necessary approvals and information required for compliance.
Now, all requests run through Baker. In just a few minutes, he can generate a request form using an app built with Microsoft Power Apps. The form is sent through Acrobat Sign to gather information needed for compliance, including an explanation of why the requester needs the information and signed approval for access. The completed approval form is fed back into Microsoft Power Automate, which generates job requests for the appropriate person to find and pull information. Finally, the information is delivered to the requester through Microsoft Teams.
“Adobe Acrobat Sign adds a fully traceable audit trail to our archive request process so that we know we are fulfill compliance requirements for information,” says Baker. “But people don’t even realise that Adobe Acrobat Sign is in the middle of these requests. The Microsoft integrations are so seamless that people think they’re just working with familiar Microsoft workflows.”
Norfolk County Council uses the Microsoft integrations in a similar fashion to streamline many other workflows. It took just four days to roll out an integrated workflow to sign agreements with organisations that wanted to roll-out company-wide COVID-19 testing for their employees.
The Health and Social Care Programme uses Microsoft and Acrobat Sign to generate and sign Deprivation of Liberty documents. These documents must be signed by caregivers every year and the ability to process these electronically makes the forms much faster and easier to work with. The department is also working to digitise digital enrolment forms that will allow up to 18,000 health and social care trainees to apply for additional training funds from the government.
The Coroner’s Service plans to start using the Acrobat Sign and Microsoft Automate integration to take witness statements and sign non-disclosure agreements as needed. Generating the documents electronically allows coroners to continue their investigations while minimising physical contact during the pandemic.
“While we can use Adobe Acrobat Sign as a stand-alone tool, we’re really interested in how we can transform business process using Adobe Acrobat Sign together with the Microsoft Power Platform,” says Baker. “We’re working with both Microsoft and Adobe to experiment and find new ways to build integrated workflows that improve productivity for staff and positively affect the community.”
“Adobe Acrobat Sign is just one more solution that we can offer to teams across our county to streamline services and continue to drive digital transformation.”
CTO and Deputy Director of Information Management & Technology, Norfolk County Council
Transforming rural England
While Norfolk County Council accelerated Acrobat Sign adoption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, benefits such as increased productivity, faster response times and lower costs will continue to have a positive impact on the council for years to come. The IMT team hopes that more teams will continue to adopt Acrobat Sign as part of the council’s digital transformation.
“Connectivity and technology are the underlying foundation to improving services across the county of Norfolk,” says Frary. “We’re proud to say that we’re at 95% broadband coverage and even higher on mobile — excellent results for such a large rural county. Adobe Acrobat Sign is just one more solution that we can offer to teams across our county to streamline services and continue to drive digital transformation.”