• 144

    Hours saved per contract
  • 4,000+

    Agreements per year
  • 80%

    Of agreements signed digitally

The sooner the administrative tasks of agreements, recruitment and funding are processed, the sooner academics can start their research. That is one of the core problems that the University of Sydney is working to solve.

Offering better technology is one solution that Thomas Jones, the Manager, Research Support Service Improvements at the University of Sydney, and his team have come up with.

“We want to give time back to researchers to carry out their core work. That’s what we are striving to do,” says Thomas. “DocuSign has played a significant part in helping us achieve this goal. The software has simplified and streamlined the signing and approval process.”

Thomas works in the Central Research Portfolio, which supports academics during their research. His role also involves looking for ways to improve technology systems.

“We partnered with DocuSign three years ago to streamline our contracts and agreements management and allow for quicker start times on research projects,” explains Thomas. “It has given us visibility and reduced the time to execute contracts.”

DocuSign eSignature was initially rolled out across contracts and agreements between the university and its partners or external parties. But as the portfolio expanded, so has its usage.

“Our clinical trials agreements are all done through DocuSign, along with some of our ethics approvals,” says Thomas. “We process around 4,000 contracts and agreements per year.”

The digital journey

The University of Sydney initially analysed how long it took to send, sign, and receive a contract— with some requiring around 20 different parties across the globe to sign.

“Back then, we would have to print and sign the document, then pass it on to the next person,” says Thomas.

The process could take up to three months. There was also zero visibility about where the agreement was in the process.

“We looked at a few different eSignature platforms at the time,” says Thomas. “But chose DocuSign because it met all of our regulatory requirements, including cyber safety and compliance.”

The department then ran a small trial to see its effectiveness and employees' reaction. 

“There were some challenges due to people’s mentality about wet signatures compared to eSignatures,” Thomas explains.

“But the pandemic fast-tracked the adoption. We went from people in the office printing off agreements and passing them to the next participant to suddenly everyone working at home.”

The staff quickly saw the benefits of eSignature. “They realised that this product wasn’t scary. Then they saw how easy it is and that they could get their work done quicker. Suddenly all those concerns were gone. And, the adoption went through the roof,” says Thomas. 

Inspiring further innovation

Thomas and his team have also recently integrated DocuSign with ServiceNow and built self-service contract templates. 

This allows a researcher to request a self-service contract template through ServiceNow. DocuSign then reviews the document and sends it to the necessary parties. “That’s been a real game-changer for us,” Thomas adds.

The integration has also cut out the labour of cutting and pasting or translating data from one system to the other, helping reduce the chance of human error.

“We can now automate the entire workflow. Previously, some of those agreements took between 10 to 20 business days. Now, it’s between two to three business days,” Thomas says.

The university is also in the early stage of introducing DocuSign CLM for greater automation for the contract initiation and negotiation stage. 

Moving towards 100% digitisation

The University of Sydney currently signs around 80% of its agreements through DocuSign.

“Having templates and the approval workflows for contract agreements in-built through DocuSign has helped us reduce risk and improve our compliance,” he says. “It adds significant value.”

The digitalisation of processes has also enhanced job satisfaction for contract officers, who work with academics for research projects and ensure that they’ve got the correct contracts.

“They are safeguarding both the academics and the university from a risk perspective,” Thomas explains. “The technology reduces the administrative tasks and gives them their time back to do their core jobs.”

Such innovation has helped the University of Sydney amplify its research processes. “DocuSign is able to help our academics start their research projects much faster than before,” Thomas says. “That has given us a significant advantage straight off the bat.”