By Avi Rose, Regional Business Manager: South Africa at ARX
As organisations move further into the digital age, many previously manual processes are being replaced with faster, more efficient electronic ones. However, creating a paperless office is still a challenge for the vast majority of enterprises. A large part of this is due to the need to physically sign documents, which remains the de facto standard for approvals and legally binding agreements. Without removing this final barrier, the paperless office will remain out of reach. Electronic signature solutions not only helps eliminate these paper-based processes, it also dramatically improves efficiency and security levels.
The physical signatory process is time consuming and often expensive, requiring documents to be printed, hand delivered, scanned, emailed and reprinted, often multiple times, in order to obtain all of the relevant signatures. This also increases risk as documents are not secure, as well as prone to being lost or misplaced, both of which can lead to their being viewed by unauthorised persons.
Given the importance of the signatory process, selecting the right electronic signature solution is of paramount importance. Here are ten considerations to bear in mind in order to ensure that your organisation will derive the maximum benefit from the electronic signature solution you end up choosing.
- Does it work with the applications and file types you already use?
An electronic signature solution that forces you to change the way you work is only going to add major complexity to the digitisation process. Instead, it should provide the same level of flexibility as paper documents, and should not constrain you to using only a single application or file type. The solution needs to work with the content authoring applications, document management systems and file types that you are already using, including Microsoft Office applications, PDF and TIFF files, AutoCad or Bentley, as well as SharePoint lists and InfoPath, and any other commonly utilised content system. In addition, the signing process should be the same across different applications, file formats and document types.
- Does it work with your existing content management and workflow solutions?
Most organisations have already invested in automation solutions such as content management and workflow. In order for your organisation to leverage these investments for maximum benefit, electronic signatures should integrate seamlessly into your existing processes. This improves efficiency by eliminating the need to reintroduce paper-based processes to workflows for the sole purpose of collecting signatures.
- Does it provide complete control over the implementation process?
Your organisation should not have to adapt to an electronic signature solution, as this will cause resistance and can negatively impact uptake of the tool. The solution should be able to adapt to your business processes and technologies, as well as all management and authentication requirements. This not only enables easier change management, but also ensures more effective management that is in line with internal regulations, governance policies and standard operating procedures. Electronic signature solutions must also easily integrate with your HR systems, as well as IT, security and user provisioning and management systems.
- Does it secure your sensitive documents without exposing the organisation for more risk?
For both security and compliance purposes, it is essential that your documents remain within your IT domain or your existing portal/cloud environment. There is no need to change that policy just because Electronic Signatures are being used, don’t send your documents all over the internet just for signing them, since this exposes documents to the risk of tampering and fraud.
- Does it comply with relevant regulations and legislation?
An electronic signature solution should be based on internationally accepted standards, as well as comply with any industry-specific and local regulations relevant to your organisation, such as the South African Electronics and Communications and Transactions (ECT) act.
- Does it allow the signature to be validated even without access to the system?
Electronic signature solutions should be based on standard Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology, which seals the document with a one-time ‘fingerprint’ that is unique to the signer and to the document. This ensures the identity of the signatory and the integrity of the document, while allowing people outside the organisation to use a PDF reader or Office application to verify who signed the document, why they signed it, and that it hasn’t been tampered with since then.
- Does it support mobility and multiple operating systems?
In a world where Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and mobility are increasingly common, it is essential to support a variety of different computer and mobile Operating Systems (OSs). Users need to be able to digitally sign documents anytime, anywhere, to ensure maximum efficiency, without requiring them to install software on their device.
- Does it meet your hosting requirements?
Organisations have unique requirements when it comes to business, IT, security and legal aspects, such as adherence to the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act. The right solution should be implemented according to your specific needs around regulations, flexibility, scalability and other parameters, by allowing you to choose between hosting it on-premise or utilising a managed, cloud-based system.
- Does it provide an easy to use system for IT and end-users?
A complicated, complex solution will only hinder adoption. Electronic signatures need to be as easy to use as physical ink-based ones, offering a fast, intuitive process that does not put users off. It should also provide the right features to meet the needs of your organisation, including graphical signatures, customisable signatures, multiple signatures on a single document, and batch signing processes.
- Does it provide cost-effective IT management?
The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is an important consideration for any technology solution. In the case of electronic signatures this includes product cost, deployment, renewal fees for digital certificates, training, support and more. These need to be offset against the benefits and cost savings of reducing paper-based processes, including printing, mailing, scanning, couriering and archiving. The solution should ensure quick installation and simple integration, as well as minimal maintenance and management costs, to provide maximum returns for minimum investment and a lower TCO.
Ultimately, the paperless office is a vision for the future state of organisations in a digital world. In order to ensure a smooth transition from paper-intensive to paper-free processes, it is essential to implement an electronic signature solution that supports business processes and ensures maximum adoption. Organisations will benefit from improved efficiency, reduced costs and the enablement of the last mile in the journey towards fully paperless business and IT environments.