Electronic signatures make their mark

The adoption of e-signatures is on the rise – and finding their niche in the HR department.

Johannesburg, 11 Jul 2019
Read time 5min 30sec
Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit, Datafinity
Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit, Datafinity

Companies are digitally transforming, their documents and processes are moving to digital, yet documents are still having to be printed out in order for people to sign them. Enter the next phase in the digital revolution: electronic signatures.

One of the first concerns that businesses generally raise around electronic signatures is whether they’re legally binding. As long ago as 2002, electronic signatures were signed into South African law by President Thabo Mbeki, using an electronic signature pad.

Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit at Datafinity, says: “Electronic signatures are fast becoming the new normal in the digital age, and an essential tool to keeping digital processes that require signatures, digital. Businesses are constantly looking to technology to provide more efficient and secure ways of doing things, and electronic signature pads provide just that.”

Research by P&S Market Research says the global e-signature market is set to reach $9 073.1 million by 2023, achieving a compound annual growth rate of 34.7% between 2017 and 2023. Electronic signatures and electronic signature pads are being increasingly used both to help eliminate fraud as well as support the business’s digital transformation initiatives.

Pascoe says: “Electronic signature pads provide the ability to capture hand-written signatures in a paperless way. You can sign Word, Excel, PDF and HTML-based documents, which can then be instantly filed digitally, without needing to be scanned.”

Electronic signature pads have applications in most industries and are proving particularly beneficial to the human resources (HR) department. They can be used to expedite the signing of performance appraisals, signing contracts when onboarding new employees, in fact, whenever staff are required to sign a document. “There are plenty of reasons for staff having to sign paperwork, and a signature is still considered the most valid method of confirmation, despite advances in technology, that the individual has read and accepted the document contents,” says Pascoe.

“The use of electronic signature pads allows us to do that in a very efficient cost-effective manner.”  He refers to the ease with which electronic signature pads can be implemented: “You’re looking at an incredibly quick speed to market, around 10 minutes to install and start using. There’s no re-engineering process required, integration with existing hardware and software is instantaneous and it even augments existing technology.”

In areas where people don’t speak English or are illiterate, one can have a fingerprint reader instead of a signature pad. However, this raises the interesting question of whether a fingerprint is a sufficient show of intent? While a handwritten signature is pretty much the same thing, it’s more generally accepted than a fingerprint. When it comes to electronic formats, electronic signature pad technology is smart enough to measure the pressure points of the signature as well as the speed and consistency with which the signature is written, providing a greater degree of authentication and reducing the ability to forge a signature.

E-signature benefits

What is the thinking behind putting an electronic signature pad on the HR manager’s desk? If you consider the HR space, staff are being asked to sign documents all of the time. Throughout the employee life cycle, from their first day at work and onboarding to their last day and the exit interview, there are many touchpoints at which they are required to sign, change or update documents.

Having an electronic signature pad means that instead of scanning the signed document after the fact, you can enter the document at source, and then have it signed electronically there and then. This saves time and effort and also reduces the likelihood that the paper document will go missing before the signed version can be scanned in – or be misfiled after scanning. All too often a document is printed just because it requires a signature, which is wasteful. Now, the document can be created electronically, signed electronically and filed electronically. Not only is this far more efficient, there’s more authenticity around a signature on an electronic pad because of the audit trail.

Over and above the benefits of technology, capability, efficiency, return on investment (paper and ink saving) security and greater authentication, using electronic signature pads also speaks to the whole data privacy conversation. Electronic signatures ensure accountability can be easily identified in the event of a breach.

It’s far more efficient to create a document electronically; if changes are required, those can be made and the document signed, without the document having to be printed out every time. If the signee reads the document electronically, you can make changes there and then and sign it.

Another benefit of electronic signatures is that sometimes a hand-written signature on a paper document is not in good order for some reason or another, whereas an electronic document won’t allow you to close the document unless it’s signed properly. This has big implications for contracts, which aren’t legally binding if they aren’t signed correctly and initialled where required. It also means there’s no need to call the person back in to sign the paragraph s/he missed.

Take that first step

There are several questions that a business should ask itself prior to deciding on an electronic signature pad, as the answers will guide the choice of technology:

  • Will the units need to be linked to any existing business applications that you use?
  • What type of documents are being signed (ie, contracts, letters, etc)?
  • What format are the documents created in, such as PDF or Word?
  • What type of environment will the electronic signature pads be used in (retail, back office, insurance, mobile)?
  • Are the documents signed by internal people or external people?
  • Is branding and marketing an important factor in your business?
  • What happens to the documents once they are signed? Do they simply get stored or would they go into some sort of a workflow process?
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