The Chancellor’s Office is the administrative arm of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, and is responsible for executing the Board’s policy initiatives, administering the financing of the community colleges, and supporting educational programming, professional development, and other system-wide functions for the system’s 116 educational institutions. The Chancellor’s Office of General Counsel finalizes several hundred agreements of different types every year—including grants valued at more than $120 million annually.
Prior to the pandemic, all of the Chancellor’s Office’s agreements were routed to appropriate parties for review and signature manually—up to five copies of each document might be in circulation during the approval process at any given moment. Updating this system was an urgent priority, but as COVID-19 forced Chancellor’s Office employees to a remote office environment, it became a necessity. Stakeholders used email and OneDrive shared folders to move them along to each other, a process that could be charitably categorized as inefficient, especially since many individuals could potentially have to ratify any given one.
A typical agreement usually involved at least three people within the division that had programmatic responsibility, plus other departments. It could get routed from the division’s creator to that person’s supervisor, HR, accounting, the vice chancellor, and back to the Office of General Counsel before being sent via PDF or USPS to a third party for a wet signature—just about every agreement required a private contractor, a school district, another state agency, a higher-education institution outside of the community college system, or some other external entity to sign on the dotted line.
Maintaining a manual tracking system was onerous and time-consuming, and very difficult to keep up to date. People often had to reach out to individuals in the review chain to locate documents, and process delays were too frequent.
“We needed a platform to accelerate our processes, facilitate communications around the agreements, and provide an audit trail to identify and fix the bottlenecks,” said Marc LeForestier, General Counsel, Chancellor’s Office.
Overall, it often took multiple months to get an agreement to the finish line.
The decision to digitize this process was a no-brainer. It was up to the Chancellor’s Office to determine how it would go about achieving its mission. The organization yearned for an intuitive solution that made it easy for employees outside of IT to customize the new process according to how they wanted it to function. Deep in the throes of the pandemic, it also needed the new digitized workflow up and running quickly. The Chancellor’s Office selected SimpliGov’s integrated Workflow Automation and SimpliSign electronic signature solution, the only no-code workflow in the marketplace built to comply with government’s exacting regulatory standards. It decided to initially apply the technology to approval processes for grants, vendor agreements, contracts, and memoranda of understanding (MOUs).
SimpliGov granted the Chancellor’s Office unmatched adaptability. In consultation with SimpliGov implementation specialists, employees from every department that had a hand in these agreements were able to finetune the initial outline of the new workflows to meet their needs. No change was too small. Reword a vendor description on the dashboard? Change the order of the executive review by department? Users could do it themselves with a few clicks of the mouse.
“We were able to remove the roadblocks that were holding documents up without having to discard the parts of the old process that worked for us,” said LeForestier.
The new process for the four document types went live in two and a half months.
Almost immediately upon cutting the ribbon on the new digitized process, the Chancellor’s Office reaped substantial benefits. It can now take a month to finalize an agreement after it is initially entered into the system—approximately a one-third reduction in approval time. In the first month alone, the organization ratified 57.
The organization now has the transparency and accountability it needs. Anyone with access to the platform can look up the status of a document by division, project monitor, or other variable, and ascertain where the agreement is in the approval process.
“We’re no longer in the dark about where something stands,” said LeForestier. “If we want to know where an agreement has stalled, we can find out immediately and rectify the situation.”
Each individual in the chain reviews and edits the document before moving it along through the SimpliGov platform. The next person in line is notified by email that it is ready for review. If any stakeholder needs a colleague to resolve an issue, they can send the agreement back to that person with additional questions and comments directly through the system.
“The new electronic version of the process afforded us newfound flexibility in terms of routing—and rerouting—agreements,” said LeForestier.
It has taken very little time for everyone involved in the review and approval process to get comfortable with the functionality. Now, the Chancellor’s Office is exploring additional uses of SimpliGov to digitize its RFP and other internal processes.