Today, many organisations enforce corporate policy that insists on ‘wet ink’ signatures for major contracts and important business documents. In this day and age of multiple time zones, 24/7 work environments, and an ever-growing need for business efficiency and security, wet ink signatures practically fall down on all these fronts.
The end-to-end process for sending a document with a digital signature via email takes minutes, but to send the physical copy of same through post requires scanning the numerous pages, printing, wet inking, and then posting/couriering. On receiving the document, the individual at the other end likely follows the same process to send a signed copy back.
There’s a clear business rationale behind adoption of digital signatures, or e-signatures as they are sometimes called.
What are digital signatures?
Perhaps most important is that digital signatures are legally admissible. In the UK, the Electronics Communication Act came into effect in 2000 and makes electronic signatures admissible in legal proceedings. Similarly, they are legally admissible and enforceable in the European Union and even in the rest of the world, barring two industries – i.e. purchase and sale of maritime equipment and land.
Digital signatures are secure. Digital signature technology is developed based on industry security certification standards such as ISO 27001, the highest level of global information security assurance currently available. Privacy of data is ensured as digitally signed documents are fully encrypted at all times. Also, digitally signed documents carry a ‘tamper seal’, which ensures that they are not tampered with in any way after they have been downloaded. Organisations can also put in place multiple layers of authentication options that are commensurate with their corporate policy to ensure that signers prove their identity before they access documents. To the challengers of digital signatures: is there is any way of knowing if a handwritten signature has indeed been signed by the designated individual?
Signing anytime, anywhere
Often, senior executives and signatories work out of the office and the ability to conclude business transactions anytime, from anywhere, and from any mobile device is truly valuable. Digital signature technology allows users to sign via their smartphone or tablet – supported by all the security and compliance processes just as would be applied on a desktop. Similarly, digital signature mobile apps allow users to prepare and send documents for signatures from their devices too. With digital signatures, the typical scenario where often a major transaction may be held up because the key signatory is out of the office is easily eliminated. It’s work as usual regardless.
With compliance regulations becoming more and more demanding, the ability to provide an audit trail is increasingly becoming essential. Digital signature technology allows users to track documents through every step of the process until they are securely stored. Also, there is complete visibility of the touch points to documents including who signed it, did anyone decline to sign the contract, who has viewed the document, who printed it, and so on. Also, proof of the signing process can be made to all parties of a transaction as every signed document is eventually assigned a ‘certification of completion’.
Given that in a typical organisation, signed documents and contracts can run into the hundreds, allocating physical space for their storage is costly and unnecessary. A hard copy of a document tucked away in a storage facility inside the office or externally in a warehouse isn’t as easily accessible as it would be if it sat in the organisation’s document management system. One frequently hears stories of how certain contracts weren’t adhered to because they simply couldn’t be located for review!
A wet ink signature approach to documentation is now archaic. In the 21st Century, where organisations are considering major technology initiatives such as digital transformation, cloud adoption, business process improvements and such, digital signatures are a no brainer. They are most definitely a quick win for efficiency and productivity and help enforce policies with regards to custody, retention and destruction of documents too.
Jon Wainwright, Sales Director, Ascertus Limited
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