eSignature Software – a Tactical Point Solution or a Strategic Priority?Nick Scarff
Understanding the Context for eSignature Software
There is an audible sigh in many home-offices at present, as an email alert notifies the remote worker of a new message that has been received. It’s not the message itself, but the word or PDF attachment that is the source of consternation and frustration. It’s a contract, an NDA, t&cs or some other form of document that requires signing in order to complete that part of the process.
In the ‘old way of working’, back in the office, a quick print to the MFD, sign, and scan back yourself to return. Even if you were working from home on that day, you might save it until you were in the office or pass to an office-based colleague.
Now though, there is a rueful look at the home office printer and the painful task of slowly waiting for the printing to finish, before signing the document and attempting to scan back in.
Maybe it was a hastily assembled home office, that was a quick fix at the time and has never been revisited. Maybe the printer wobbles around on the table or shelf it precariously balances on, attempting to print out the 32 page document that needs to be signed. The printer visibly struggling, perhaps still bearing scars from the demands that home-schooling had put it under earlier in the year.
Maybe there is regret, that when the purchase decision was made, that the cheaper, flatbed scan option was selected rather than an automatic feeder – (with the unknowing rationale being – “how often will something need to be scanned anyway?”). Maybe its not easy to remember which orientation the paper needs to go on the flatbed, or a Teams chat breaks the concentration mid-scan, and the process needs to start again.
It could be that the work laptop never seemed to connect, so there is a convoluted process of using the home PC to scan, and then transfer across to a work device. A process that involves stitching together individual scanned images and emailing from a personal account.
Ok, maybe it’s an extreme example to imagine, but we are certainly seeing elements of this with a lot of organisations we talk to. It has been a case of ‘getting by’, in whatever way possible. Certainly not efficient in most cases, and probably not compliant in many. A hasty remedy, sticky-plaster solution, but potentially one to now revisit.
What is eSignature?
In simple terms an eSignature is a way to quickly authenticate an electronic document that doesn’t require a pen and paper.
Most people will have interacted with an eSignature software solution before. As an end consumer, life is made simple. A hyperlink in an email takes the user to an on screen document and a way to complete any details required before electronically signing. No printing, no scanning back in, all actions are on screen. The process for an eSignature vs a wet signature is much smoother.
Think about the before and after steps with eSignature
So, the solution is easy, right? Signup to a cloud-based eSignature software tool and get anyone sending documents out to use the platform.
However, there might be more to it than this. Yes, this will solve the problems associated with printing and scanning, potentially speeding up the process of signature itself, but often there is a significant case to think more about the overall process itself rather than solely the small part that eSignature plays.
The ‘NDA’ example
Consider engaging and onboarding a new supplier or contractor. During the initial discussions there might be an exchange of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to allow business confidential discussions to take place. What might seem a relatively simple use case for eSignature will often have a before and after process.
The NDA document template should have been generated and approved by someone in the organisation. It should be stored in accessible location, and its various versions managed through revision control.
So, a user should be able to go to an electronic location, a single source for contract type documents, and always presented with the right version for sending out for signature. If changes to the document are required, then these should be flowed through pre-set appropriate approvals, with an auditable trail of changes.
Once the document has been signed for by both parties, that document should be stored in an accessible and appropriate location, e.g. document management, CRM (customer relationship management) system or similar, that is easily searchable and accessible by appropriate staff.
The ‘Contract’ example
Now consider, further down the process, when it comes to actually contracting with the supplier or contractor. Again, there is an exchange of documents that require signature. Again, a good use case for an eSignature tool. However, the final contract can often be the result of weeks or months of ‘to and froing’ to get a final document agreed. It might involve multiple parties, with legal, compliance, commercial and subject matter experts agreeing on wording and signing off on specific clauses. In some cases pre-approved variations on paragraphs can be selected by a user depending on the contract type.
Once signed, again documents need to be stored appropriately, but a contract will often have ongoing activities that form parts of other business processes. Contractual commitments in terms of SLAs (service level agreements) that need to be measured and monitored, contract expiry dates that need action to renew or cancel. Ongoing processes that can be setup with electronic reminders and notifications, workflows and escalation with full auditability. In addition, ensuring that contractual documents are stored with appropriate regard to security, retention periods and access to meet GDPR requirements.
In the case of an individual contractor, in certain regulated industries, or an employment contract, there may also be a need to capture data from submitted forms and validate identity documents as part of the contracting or onboarding process. Again, users need an easy way to digitally upload from any device and ideally automate subsequent due diligence on submitted documents to confirm authenticity, identity and other forms of vetting e.g. KYC (Know Your Customer), AML (Anti-Money Laundering) etc. All made possible using cognitive capture technologies to ingest, extract and understand document content before managing the subsequent vetting process.
Not all eSignature software related processes may be this complex, but most do have before and after stages that relate to document composition (communications management), document ingestion, automatic data extraction / validation (cognitive capture), document and records management, due diligence and workflow process automation. Streamlining these ‘before and after’ stages are where the big wins are in terms of compliance and efficiency.
Coming back to the question posed in the title of this blog, should eSignature software be considered as a tactical point solution or a strategic priority? Well, the cop out answer is probably to say it depends. Now more than ever, businesses need to help employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders interact with them as easily as possible. So, an eSignature point solution, really can make a difference to those struggling with printing, signing and scanning. However, it often pays to be cognisant of the before and after process. To ensure that whatever eSignature solution is selected, it is easily consumed as part of a wider intelligent process automation platform so that the before and after processes can be addressed, either now or in the future.
The following points may help in determining whether your project or process may benefit from more than just eSignature.
5 Considerations before Embarking on an eSignature Software Project
- Are the documents being signed subject to multiple versions or variation and is this currently laborious to control or manual?
- Are multiple people involved in creating and managing contracts and does this lack easy tracking and traceability?
- Do signed documents need to accessible by people not involved in the process, is this access easy and do only appropriate people have it?
- Does the organisation manually control contract management, and can it be difficult to easily identify renewal dates, as well as performance criteria and measurement?
- Would a signing process, sometimes involve the submission of other documents such as forms or identity, that require a manual process to extract and validate data?