This article first appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of DOCUMENT Strategy magazine.

Digital signatures have been around for a few decades now and adoption, while steady, is still not as widespread as predicted. In a recent article written by Jesse Wilkins for AIIM titled “Digital Signatures 101 – Drivers, Barriers, and User Research,” Jesse points out that only 80% of his respondents are making use of digital signature technology. Given that the United States and other countries have recognized digital signatures as legal, you would think that businesses would move quickly to implement this technology to help streamline their operations. Yet, 20% have yet to transform this aspect of their business processes.

Factoring in the Human Element

Given legality is less of an issue today than it was decades ago, many people are still unaware that digital signatures are considered legal. When asked how this can be verified, I often point to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000, and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.

Additionally, I point to the fact that in our everyday lives, we are willing to sign a tablet using our finger for anything from retail purchases to confirmation of receiving a package. In one conversation, the person I was talking with indicated that it was OK in their personal life, but in their industry, the risk of fraud was too high and digital signatures was not a direction they were willing to take. What I see here is human reluctance which led me to discuss the technology, regulatory requirements for that industry and operational processes for that organization.

When we started to dive into the processes, we found many opportunities where digital signature would provide great benefit, and the current situation interrupted digital workflows by requiring one to print a document, sign it, then scan that document back into the system and process. (Why have a digital workflow if you are going to stay with analog activities?)

From a technology perspective, there are many ways to validate the signature, secure the transaction and maintain a record of the chain of custody during the process. There are ways to prevent documents from being altered post-signing or invalidate the authenticity should change occur. My point being that the digital signature provides a higher level of security than a physical signature. If you are using tablets to capture a signature, there are ways you can capture biometric characteristics like pen pressure, acceleration and deceleration when signing, and of course the geometry of the signature.

In My View

The greatest challenge for using digital signatures in business operations is primarily the human element — lack of awareness regarding legality, lack of understanding the available technologies causing reluctance to use them, poor insight into existing business processes and the fear of non-compliance in adhering to regulatory requirements.

For many situations, there is no clear reason preventing the use of digital signatures as part of daily business operations. Even within the banking community, loans, mortgages and many other transactions are being conducted remotely, using digital signatures. These organizations, while heavily regulated, took the time to research technology capabilities, identify areas of opportunity to implement digital signatures, refine their business processes, and align their efforts to meet regulatory requirements. This is not a one-day event, and it requires commitment to move the organization forward.

Digital signatures have and are being used by many organizations to lower operating costs, increase productivity, maintain secure information within digital workflows and improve the overall customer experience. If you are in the 80% bracket of those using digital signature today, congratulations, keep up the good work, and try to find new areas to expand its use. If you are in the 20% not currently using it, what are you waiting for? At minimum, you could assess where and how it can be used and do some research to see where this could take you.

Bob Larrivee is a recognized expert in the application of advanced technologies and process improvement to solve business problems and enhance business operations. In his career, Bob has led many projects and authored hundreds of e-books, industry reports, blogs, articles, and infographics. In addition, he has served as host and guest subject matter expert on a wide variety of webinars, podcasts, virtual events, and lectured at seminars and conferences around the globe.

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