Digital signatures close the digital loop

Johannesburg, 24 Apr 2020
Read time 6min 10sec
Susan van Zyl, Consultant, JMR Software
Susan van Zyl, Consultant, JMR Software

The world we live and work in is shifting and advances in technology are changing how everything is done. Business has no option but to stay abreast of the latest technological developments to remain relevant.

It’s an ongoing evolution, although the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has just hastened the process. Overnight, remote working became a reality for many companies, and indications are that this trend is going to continue beyond the lockdown period, as companies – and the government – seek to protect individuals against coronavirus infection.

While the majority of companies are already geared to work remotely, using online meeting applications and e-mails to connect with one another and customers, there is a stumbling block when it comes to signing documents.

Susan van Zyl, a consultant at JMR Software, explains: “Certain documents still require human contact to receive final sign-off. Even while operating remotely, businesses need to sign off invoices to make payments, conclude deals, agree on contracts and for internal approval processes – all of these require the presence of a signatory.”

Organisations and teams are having to reinvent themselves further in the era of coronavirus, forcing their processes to go even more digital, but this has resulted in companies seeing shortfalls in their digital transformations. As paper documents have been replaced by digital versions, and paper-based processes have been digitised, the digital signature closing the loop in what is otherwise an end-to-end digital process.

Van Zyl says: “This pandemic has highlighted the need for digital signatures if we are going to truly be able to work remotely.”

As part of their digital transformation, companies from most sectors, including healthcare, public administration and banking and insurance, as well as procurement, HR and sales divisions within businesses across all sectors, have turned to digital signatures to facilitate document approvals like informed consents, contracts, payrolls, among others. The common thread running across financial services such as banking and lending, wealth, asset management and venture capital is that all of them deal with a plethora of documentation and clients, while operating through many agents and branches. These are highly competitive industries, where staying agile and offering the best customer experience is needed to set the groundwork for beating the competition. The digital customer demands that services be available anywhere and anytime at the click of a button, which has been one of the main drivers for digital transformation.

The digital signature assists companies across all sectors on their digital transformation journey by allowing them to sign documents anywhere and anytime. It means they can streamline workflows when multiple signatures are required as well as automate the signing of multiple documents, and finally, identify the signatories and protect the information contained in a document. Using outdated paper-based processes in a digital world leaves you out of step with the times – and the competition.

“Gone are the days when obtaining signatures from third parties or multiple signers was a complicated process,” she says. “Deals can be signed and documents shared using e-mail and remote signatures. A digital signature application can even be applied to support your customers’ procurement processes, whereby the document is not only sent to the approver for signature, but could trigger off the whole payment process once approved.”

Six benefits of digital signatures

1. Overall business efficiency
The cost involved in integrating digital signatures into work processes is relatively small, compared to the benefits, which include quicker contract turnaround time and shorter workflows. The traditional method of signing documents involves scanning, printing, sending via e-mail/post/couriers and possibly even delayed deliveries of signed business documents. Using digital signature solutions makes it possible for businesses of all sizes to improve the speed and efficiency of their business transactions.

With reduced turnaround times and no physical records to manage, sales and operation teams can focus on their respective core goals – getting in more customers and revenue and keeping the day-to-day operations smooth.

2. Document tracking
Digitally signed documents are easier to track, which means the business has more control over where they are at all times. In addition, using digital signature technology allows you to track all the sent documents, and monitor who signed them, when they were sent and who hasn’t signed them as required. The advantage of being able to track your documents within the shortest time possible enables you to send automatic reminders to all the recipients who have delayed the process to sign any particular document, while status tracking, helping to identify which stage the document is at. Fewer delays mean more efficient workflows.

3. Better customer experience
Digital signature technology can get paperwork processed faster, letting clients sign documents from anywhere, anytime and from their preferred device. It also makes it easier for customers to access the signed documents whenever needed, making documentation less burdensome.

4. Security
When it comes to signatures, authenticity and security is a priority. Security features incorporated into digital signatures reduce the risk of duplication or alteration of the document itself, ensuring that signatures are verified, authentic and legitimate. Signers are provided with PINs, password and codes that can authenticate and verify their identity and approve their signatures. Time stamping provides the date and time of the signature and thus enables tracking of the document, minimising any risk of tampering or fraud. The use of audit trails and digital encryption reduce the risks of documents being altered, intercepted or even destroyed. The audit trail can serve as a certificate and as legal evidence in a court of law. There is one master version of the document and the creator of that document can track any subsequent changes and who made those.

5. Legal validity
As per the point above, digital signatures provide authenticity and ensure the signature is verified. This can stand in any court of law like any other signed paper document. Time stamping and the ability to track and easily archive documents improves and simplifies auditing and compliance.

6. Saves time and reduces costs
Digital signatures ensure that businesses save time, with documents and contracts signed off with a click of a button. This is particularly efficient when the signatory is located in a geographically different area – no more driving around and waiting for someone to sign a document. Documents can be signed on tablet, phone or computer, which means the business spends less money on paper, pens, administrative staff salaries, servers, postal and courier services.

In closing, Van Zyl advises businesses looking to adopt digital signatures as part of their digital transformation journey to look for a locally built solution that can be easily customised and integrated with their existing business applications, as well as supported locally to address bugs, enhancements, customisation and system integration.