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Signing documents the old-fashioned way has become difficult as COVID-19 keeps many organizations' doors closed to visitors. Adopting e-signature practices can help companies continue with business as usual.
Signatures are necessary on forms such as mortgage loans, credit card applications, medical consent and job contracts. Electronic signatures simplify and improve the turnaround time, reliability and robustness of the act of signing documents by using technology to capture a signature rather than traditional pen and ink -- eliminating the need to sign documents in an office setting.
The federal E-Sign Act passed in 2000 granted legal recognition to e-signature approaches -- provided all parties to the contract choose to use electronic documents and sign them electronically.
When considering how adopting electronic signatures will improve business process efficiency, it's important for businesses to understand that traditional paper signatures require a manual break in what is otherwise a system-driven process. And it is only one step of a multipart manual procedure. Other manual touchpoints in the process include printing the document to sign, scanning the document after signing and counter-signing, and attaching the document to an email or uploading the document to a content management system or other business system. This creates a manually intensive overhead and delays in what otherwise could be a more efficient electronic end-to-end process.
Electronic signature approaches -- especially when integrated with existing line-of-business applications such as ERP software, contracts and personnel systems such as HR and performance learning -- can produce greater efficiency.
Electronic signature best practices
Businesses should consider the following best practices when developing electronic signature processes:
1. Catalog candidate documents for e-signing
Create a catalog -- an index -- of everything that requires a signature, including:
- procurement agreements -- non-disclosures and statements of work;
- HR documents -- new-hire, recruitment and contractor service contracts;
- operations documents -- health and safety incident reporting and supplier agreements;
- sales forms -- purchase order and supply contracts; and
- finance forms -- invoice approval and expense reporting.
The catalog is important, as it shows the scale of potential improvement.
2. Define e-signing governance framework
Businesses should work with their legal teams to understand the risk associated with e-signing any documents in the catalog, and take the following into consideration:
- identify any industry, company, state and country restrictions;
- identify approved signers or signing authorities and in what order they should sign;
- determine types of e-signatures allowed or required -- i.e., typed name, scanned signature or written signature by mouse or finger on a touch screen; and
- determine candidate documents for pilot phase that are lower risk and may carry a smaller financial penalty if disputed.
3. Build user stories
Businesses should build user stories of how users interact with documents, especially those related to existing IT system and manual touchpoints. Manually intensive touchpoints and those where there are long turnaround times are high-priority areas to address.
User stories provide a consistent way of documenting and matching needs to the capabilities of the possible e-sign software options. They also identify any changes in IT systems, such as integration points or business processes.
4. Map document flow lifecycles
Documents are living. Mapping document flows enables businesses to gain a better understanding of how they manage documents and who is responsible for the integrity of the document content. Document flow steps include creation, changes, sharing, issuing them for signing, storing them for some period of time in a business system and archiving or deletion.
Signed documents are likely to begin with a template. This makes it important for businesses to catalog templates, including where to find them, how users change them, who changes them and how they are versioned. Templates can be baked into the system that generates the document -- including an ERP system for sales order processing or in a document tool itself, such as Microsoft Word.
5. Determine e-sign software criteria
Features to look for in electronic signature tools and technologies include:
- integration to line-of-business applications such as ERP systems and CRM systems;
- reporting and BI dashboards with statistics on the number of documents in the system for signing;
- where documents are in the process;
- how many signed documents are in queue, documents waiting to be signed and hold delay times;
- signature workflow to drive process and automation; and
- long-term storage, archiving and records management services.
There are many e-signature tools on the market, including Adobe Sign, Citrix RightSignature, DocuSign, OneSpan Sign, SignEasy and ZohoSign. Businesses that are unsure where to begin in their search might consider consulting with an industry analyst for a shortlist of e-signature platform options.
6. Organize a roadmap of prioritized digital signing candidates
Start small and think big. Enable early success with the e-signing process by tackling one or two low-risk documents that first ensure the processes and approach are sound. Once businesses have a framework and achieve a repeatable process, it is a rinse-and-repeat approach -- add more e-signing candidates to the process. This is an agile and iterative approach to driving value and managing risk.
7. Assemble stakeholder group to drive adoption
This group should contain subject matter experts and sponsors from across the business -- including a representation of people from the change management team -- to drive adoption. Adoption of any new tool or process is necessary for success. If no one uses a new tool or process and instead relies on old ways of working, businesses will not realize the value.
8. Measure success
Any project or initiative should have a way of measuring how successful it is. E-signature projects might have metrics including time saved in effort, reduced turnaround time, and reduced cost in paper consumption and storage. The most important measures are known as the critical success factors.