The pitfalls and challenges of electronic signatures
Increasing numbers of companies are considering or have already introduced “electronic signatures”, which completely replace traditional signatures on paper business documents. What is biometrics, what is an electronic signature, and how does it differ from a digital signature? And what are the main challenges that can be expected when you introduce it?
Let’s start off with a little bit of theory and terminology. The digital signature concept has been around for a while in the IT sector. It is presently used mostly in cases involving cryptography and digital certificates. But in this article we will consider electronic signature, where, in addition to binary data, a traditional signature, written by the human hand, is appended to the document. In layman’s terms, this means an image of the signature.
In fact, each electronic signature, besides its visible component, also involves biometrics, which comprises features such as pressure and writing speed. If the option is included to link such a signature (both the visible and invisible part) with a PDF document, without changes and conclusively, we gain technology that meets legislative requirements, even where the classic signature on paper still reigns. And such technology will become of interest to us for business purposes!
Thus, if you are considering electronic signatures or planning to introduce them (the term “e-signing” is frequently used) at your company, we recommend that you consider the concept from a number of different perspectives.
The process-analytical perspective
Introducing e-signing is in most instances part of much wider changes in a company, which are often called the introduction of “paperless” processes. Of course, electronic forms and documents existed here before, but the importance of the traditional signature meant that paper was unavoidable (and any retrospective digitisation and archiving of a signed document was carried out later). With the introduction of electronic signatures of sufficient provability in legal terms, this weak point is no longer an issue, and a company can fully implement (and not only a sales) a new end-to-end process.
In most cases introducing e-signing brings about changes in other systems, including the new signature technology itself, not only in systems in IT, but often changes in approaches, methodology, and how people consider electronic signatures. Business and process analysts and certainly will have their work cut out…
User and “user experience” perspective
When adding a traditional signature to a document, customers think very carefully about what they are signing and the circumstances under which they are doing so. Electronic signing has not yet become routine, and often ordinary customers are experiencing it for the first time. They will be more cautious about it, and so their “user experience” should be made easier.
The signing process must be understood with regard to presenting the signed document, which the customers are acquainted with before they sign digitally. They must be able to read and “leaf through” the document without any difficulties. Of key importance is the impression created when taking the signature, where the technology chosen significantly influences whether the impression of the signature and the signature itself closely resembles the human signing process. If the virtual signature is different from its paper equivalent, the customer tends to be wary of the whole e-signing principle.
You should certainly involve those with UX/IX and user testing experience to your project team.. If you are not creating a self-service process, it is essential to thoroughly train your sales staff, who will lead the customer through the new signing system. You should not end up with a scenario where more people are refusing to sign your correctly built signature application than those who refused to sign the traditional paper version of the document!
The legislative and security perspective
In the introduction we mentioned that with today’s technology, electronically signed documents can match classic signatures. Unfortunately, technology is moving ahead and legislation is lagging behind legislation (in the Czech Republic). Although the law for digital signatures has been with us for some years now, variation in legal interpretations and specificities cannot be avoided.
It is true that today, as is the case in the telecommunications sector for example, electronic signatures are fully established, and in finance and are currently being introduced on a mass scale. Company lawyers will always be key stakeholders in a project, and without their blessing and expert opinion, the project will not get “go ahead”.
Besides verification of the legal viability of the project attention should be paid to the added security dimensions of the solution. Digital formats will no longer be restricted to the circulation of business data, but also valid, signed and retrievable documents. It will be necessary to secure both the process of adding signatures to documents and specimen signatures, and all paths and networks through which these documents pass through during their life cycles. It is also appropriate to independently audit the whole process.
E -signing is certainly “trendy”, but as they say, it is first and foremost all about money Implementation costs are substantial, and it is appropriate to identify specific business benefits. These naturally vary from company to company, but the most common are:
- cost savings resulting from getting rid of paper – whether printing or sending by post, and subsequent archiving;
- elimination of the work needed to transfer from paper to electronic format, and reverse digitisation for archiving;
- acceleration and automation of the entire process and the ability to provide end-user customer service earlier/faster, which can be a considerable competitive advantage;
- better “conversion” of the business process, when it is possible to introduce the binding signature at the customer decision stage. This option prevents a considerable percentage of lost or unfinished business in a “give it to me/send it to me and I will look at it tomorrow” scenario. That brings stronger weapon for your sales-force!
- Sometimes an even higher safety level compared to paper (cryptography to ensure the inviolability of the content).
I left this aspect deliberately until the end. To make the right choice, all of the above perspectives must be considered. It is only a tool, and there are a lot of options: from a standard ready-to-use package to a fully-integrated custom based solution.
There are solutions designed for static point of sales, typically based on special devices, known as signature pads. Such solutions generally have the highest quality signature capture and biometrics. There are also mobile solutions, where you can use ordinary mobile phones and especially tablets (with styluses and without). This option is particularly suitable where the signature can be run on a tablet “sales application”, which is used before signing. However, mobile (or fully web-based) solutions may not be the best in terms of safety requirements and legislation.
Lots can be written about manufacturers of signing technologies, their platforms and recommendations for specific situations where electronic signatures are involved. These issues will be the subject of another article, which you can look forward to in the coming weeks, about e-signing.