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Electronic signatures: Time to accelerate adoption

Signing electronically offers more convenience, increased productivity, reduced costs, reduced risks and an improved customer experience.

Johannesburg, 29 Mar 2021
Read time 11min 10sec

Beyond COVID-19, e-signatures will bring efficiencies into every business

Electronic signatures are not new – they have been recognised as a valid way to sign most documents since the enactment in 2002 of South Africa’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Act. Yet adoption of this time- and money-saving technology has not been as quick as one might have expected, due to the lingering perception that a handwritten signature on paper has more legal weight.

That picture is changing fast as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which threw the country into a prolonged period of physical distancing in the first half of 2020. Electronic signatures became a lifeline to many industries, enabling businesses to be able to enter into and conclude transactions and agreements, even at a time when physical meetings were discouraged or forbidden.

Even with fewer lockdown restrictions in place, many people continue to prefer to avoid face-to-face meetings and exchanging physical items such as documents with others. In much the same way as many of the remote working and digital shopping habits of the lockdown may become permanent, we can expect electronic signatures to become part of the new normal.

People have, during this time, become used to signing off documents remotely and electronically without needing to meet in person or hand-deliver, fax or scan and e-mail them to the other party. They are asking why, in the 21st century, should it be necessary to print out reams of paper and sign them by hand to conclude a sales agreement, an offer to purchase or an acceptance of a job offer.

Most businesses need to process massive volumes of paper for the purposes of legal and regulatory compliance. Printing out every document and signing it with a pen, and then scanning and filing it, is cumbersome and expensive. As the world becomes increasingly digital, electronic documents will be the staple way of exchanging and verifying information. That’s why electronic signatures are a must for every business today.

Modern cloud systems provide a way to transfer sensitive documents to recipients, with a full audit trail and proof of delivery. Digital signing solutions vastly improve the speed of sending sensitive documents and ensure your business is never held up by complicated paper processes.

Electronic document signing technology offers many benefits, including convenience and ease of use, speed of document turnaround time, increased productivity, reduced costs, reduced risks, additional document security, accessibility from anywhere, and improved customer experience. With no printing of paperwork, it’s also environmentally friendly. Using electronic signatures where they are legally supported just makes business sense.

How it works

An electronic signature is a legally recognised means of conveying the signatory's consent to the contents of a document. It is data attached to, incorporated in, or logically associated with other data, and intended by the user to serve as their signature. It may take many forms: a name typed in an electronic format at the bottom of an e-mail; an ‘I accept’ tick box on a Web site; or an e-pen or finger signature on a tablet.

For the purposes of an enterprise, cloud-hosted software provides a convenient and easily deployed electronic signature platform for sending, viewing, signing and returning e-documents. These solutions enable a document owner to upload the file to a secure platform and identify who needs to sign it, and in which order.

These solutions can be integrated with a workflow solution. Each witness and signatory can sign the document, regardless of where they are in the world, and then pass it on to the next party electronically. The signed, legal documents are secure in the cloud and each party is in possession of an original.

Ten benefits of e-signatures

We are living in an increasingly digital world, and most businesses today realise that manually sending, printing, scanning or ink-signing physical documents is cumbersome and expensive. Moving towards electronic signatures is an important step towards building a more cost-efficient and streamlined business. Here are 10 of the key benefits enterprises can get from electronic signatures:

1. Digitisation of processes

Organisations are digitising more and more of their business processes for the sake of efficiency and control - from onboarding a new customer or employee, to generating project plans and invoices. In many of these processes, getting a signature on a piece of paper remains the last analogue gap – and an obstacle to reaping the full ROI from digital transformation. Electronic signatures enable this part of the process to also be paperless and online. Leading platforms will feature a Web services API for easy integration into business applications to streamline the document signing processes and record-keeping thereof.

2. Accelerated business processes

As many people and businesses discovered in the world of the lockdown, a delay in getting a signature can suspend the onset of a contract and prevent a company from beginning work on a project. With electronic signatures, everyone can sign from anywhere in the world and at their convenience, ensuring that deals and processes don’t get held up by admin requirements.

3. Cost-savings

Paying a few cents per page to print out a contract might not seem a big deal, but when one multiplies that by thousands or tens of thousands of pages a year, the expense can be significant. It’s not just the ink and paper used for printing and copying – it’s also the cost of faxing, couriering, storing, scanning and disposing of paper documents. Electronic signatures can strip a great deal of cost out of the business.

4. Improved control over processes

With an electronic signing solution, an enterprise has better visibility into processes and more control. The digital signature is implicitly secure and there is an audit trail. The document owner also knows who has reviewed and signed the document and when they did this and which users have yet to sign.

5. Better customer experiences

Most customers hate needing to drive to an office to sign a bunch of papers or having to scan and e-mail a long contract back to a supplier. Allowing them to sign electronically makes everything faster and more convenient from their perspective – and they have seamless electronic access to the document at any time.

6. Remote work

As we move towards a world of work that is more virtual and less office-bound, electronic signatures enable remote and mobile workers to stay productive. They don’t need to come into an office to process paperwork – they can approve and sign off documents wherever they are from a PC or smartphone. The documents are accessible from anywhere, with a full audit trail.

7. Flexibility

A good electronic signature solution makes it easy to set up departments or role-based groups (sales or accounts), so that anyone from these groups can sign a document. Delegated signing should also be supported so that alternative authorised users can sign on behalf of the original signers – no need for a process to get held up because someone is unavailable.

8. Go green

Electronic signatures help the business to use far less paper, save some trees and bring down its carbon footprint. They are an environmentally-friendly alternative to printing reams of paper that have to be signed.

9. Tamper-resistant

A digital signature protects the integrity of the entire document. A change to a single character of the document content will render the signature invalid. As such, an electronically signed document can be even more secure than a paper-signed document.

10. Simplicity

A signed document can be verified by anyone using freely available PDF readers. There’s no need for hand-signature experts to verify if the signature is authentic.

What to look for in an e-signature solution

Legality

The starting point is that the electronic signature solution must identify each signer and be legally binding. Although all types of e-signatures have legal standing, more advanced types like AES give greater assurance of the signer’s identity and document authenticity. The solution should use unique digital certificates (X.509 digital identities) for each signer, so it’s easy to establish who signed a document.

It should also be configured to create long-term digital signatures. Signatures with timestamps or with full LTV capability should be supported, which allows verification many years into the future. LTV means that both a timestamp and the signer’s certificate status information (OCSP or CRLs) is embedded inside the signature.

To be legally binding, electronic signatures should:

  • Identify the signer of the document.
  • Take the form of a visible mark on the document that shows that it has been signed.
  • Prove the signer’s intent to sign.

Security

Given that organisations will be using electronic signatures across legally binding documents that may contain personally identifiable information, data security, data protection and data residency are of paramount importance. Organisations should ensure the solution complies with data privacy laws in all jurisdictions where they operate – for example, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) in South Africa and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. An enduring platform will tick boxes such as AES 256 bit encryption, a pluggable authentication architecture, and resilient cloud infrastructure.

Standards-based

A good electronic solution must make it simple to create advanced long-term signatures using any machine with any modern HTML5 browser and an Internet connection. Whether it’s contracts, invoices, purchase orders, NDAs, HR documents or anything else, the documents should be supported in standard formats like PDF/A format. This is an ISO standard (ISO19005). The same support for open standards should extend towards user authentication methods and registered Certificate Authority issuers.

End-user experience

The platform should be convenient and intuitive to use. It should make it simple to send, view, sign and return your e-documents. Integrations with electronic document management systems as well as with tools such as Outlook, SharePoint, Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, and Word can help end-users to be more productive. Equally, the solution should not place an extra administrative burden on the IT department – it should be simple to manage, maintain and add or remove users.

About the Kyocera Document Solutions e-Signature solution powered by LAWtrust

Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa has partnered with LAWtrust, an Etion company specialising in information security solutions, to provide customers with an easy way to get documents signed electronically through a mechanism that is recognised as authentic and legally binding.

The partnership brings together Kyocera Document Solutions’ strengths in professional document management with LAWtrust’s world-leading electronic document signing technology. LAWtrust’s SigningHub is integrated with Laserfiche’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system, a solution that Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa sells and implements in Southern Africa.

SigningHub is completely standards-based. Because the LAWtrust signing solution uses standard digital signatures (ISO 32000, ISO 19500, ETSI PAdES, XAdES & CAdES), all the digital signature evidence information is stored inside the document itself. This means anyone with a PDF reader can easily verify signatures.

The SigningHub solution is entirely Web-based and securely hosted in the cloud. LAWtrust can offer complete security when it comes to sending and receiving documents, as well as a workflow evidence report with a complete audit trail of the document and signers. The SigningHub interface is intuitive and easy-to-use without the need to download any proprietary software.

LAWtrust was the first accredited authentication service provider in South Africa, and remains the only private company accredited under the requirements of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 to provide AES solutions.

Kyocera and LAWtrust have deployed e-signing solutions in compliance-minded industries such as the public sector, financial services and telecoms. The technology ensures that electronic signatures are applied in the correct manner and can be used in most transactions that require a paper document trail, such as approvals, contracts and even certification of original documents.

Kyocera ECM and SigningHub combined improve workflows, speed up all processes relating to document management, and help to reduce costs. That added layer of integrity also creates and maintains trust in the underlying document management system – which is a vital element in today’s security and privacy-focused digital world.

Get in touch with us on info@dza.kyocera.com to find out how we can help you use electronic signatures to improve efficiencies in your business.

Editorial contacts
Marcom Department (+27) 11 595 2600 marcom@dza.kyocera.com
Ingrid Lotze (+27) 011 568 0709 kyocera@jtd.co.za
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