E-signature rollout... what could go wrong?

Kofax Australia Pty Ltd

By Andy Mellor, Regional Vice President, ANZ at Kofax
Wednesday, 27 October, 2021

E-signature rollout... what could go wrong?

The pandemic changed e-signatures forever, now it’s time to adapt.

When COVID-19 hit, the federal government introduced temporary amendments to the requirements around signing documentation which allowed many aspects of organisational life to continue. Given the success of those measures, it’s unlikely we’ll wind back the clock.

The digital performance of activities usually requiring in-person attendance or wet ink signatures have been extended until 31 March next year. And with the federal government’s announcement this September that its Deregulation Taskforce was considering how we modernise document execution for the long term, it looks promising some of these measures are here to stay. Especially when industry bodies like the Australian Bank Association are throwing their weight behind the move.

This is an important shift in the amount of attention we put on e-signatures. Companies are now able to perform a range of functions usually requiring face-to-face or paper-based actions. This includes the electronic execution of company documents, or no longer requiring signatories to sign the same copy of a document.

Obviously, when it comes to ‘solemn documents’ such as statutory declarations and deeds, you need e-signatures that can provide the same — or even greater — level of evidential significance as paper signatures. Firstly, you need to authenticate the signer is who they claim to be and prove the terms and conditions are the ones they signed. You need confidence the legal system and regulators will recognise the document. (You also need to ensure the document is signed properly, without blank spaces or information added after the fact, an area where e-signatures beat their wet ink counterparts.)

In the past the 25 years, much of the focus on the development of e-signatures has quite rightly focused on the integrity and security of the signature. But there’s one more consideration to add to the mix — you need to think how your e-signature solutions fit into your wider organisation.

All e-signature solutions aren’t created equal

After all, the shift to e-signature is one piece of the larger digitisation and automation puzzle. According to a recent Forrester study, 48% of Asia–Pacific enterprises were automating fulfilment and verification processes, such as digital signature. However, they were also undergoing other automation initiatives, including digitising information, front-desk interactions, rules-based tasks, business spend management, back-office tasks, workflow orchestration and AP automation.

Against this backdrop and given the gravity of the documentation e-signatures need to verify, it doesn’t make sense to treat it as a standalone application any longer. An e-signature solution should integrate into existing core systems, such as CRMs and ERPs. This means your organisation can create documents so contact details are populated from the CRM, and the form is generated and shared with the customer for signing — all in a single environment.

It’s the same once the document is signed. Systems working in conjunction with robotic process automation and document intelligence mean organisations can orchestrate entire business processes digitally, reducing the need for manual entry where potentially expensive errors can be introduced.

With great power comes great responsibility

As the importance of the documents being processed digitally increases, so do compliance and regulatory needs. When e-signatures are used to sign form letters, hosting may not be much of a consideration. But with more sensitive documents, complying with local data hosting regulations is paramount. For that reason, it may need to be an on-premises e-signature solution or one supporting this and cloud deployment depending on the need.

An e-signature solution must provide audit trail capabilities and meet technical guidelines governing the use of e-signature around the world. The technology should also deliver substantial evidence of approval and adoption of a document’s contents and its binding, conclusive, non-repudiable character.

Unless you’re in the granary business, the last thing you want to be building for your organisations are more silos. Ensuring your e-signature solutions fit into your broader digitisation efforts puts you in a stronger position ahead of a reliance on digital authentication in Australia.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Kaspars Grinvalds

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