Are Electronic Signatures Valid and Safe for Business?

In a 2014 study done by the Association for Information and Image Management, 46% of over 400 respondents from varying industries and company sizes felt that removing paper from their companies would be the single biggest potential productivity improvement. The same study also found that business operations were still highly dependent on paper processes because of a perceived need for physical signatures on documents. – AIIM 2014, www.aiim.org

Are Ink Signatures Needed?

4From these findings, it is clear that most individuals from a variety of organizations understand that paper processes are inefficient and eliminating paper would be highly beneficial, but the perceived need for wet signatures (signed in ink on paper) is one deterrent to eliminating paper in the workplace. While other prominent reasons exist for companies not jumping at the chance to convert to paperless operations, such as a lack of management initiatives, the perception that wet signatures are needed on documents is not true in most cases.

A signature indicates identification, compliance, understanding, and authorization of a document but does not need to be a signature that is written in ink. Historically, signatures included stamps and seals, or distinctive marks that were not limited to a written name. Signatures are valuable not because of the physical markings on a piece of paper but because of the meaning behind the signature. As such, there are numerous forms that signatures can take that are valid, and electronic versions are becoming more common and are legally accepted forms of confirmation by the signatory.

There are, however, some applications where a “wet signature” is more suitable or even required. When signing a will or a prenuptial agreement, having the original document is preferred and recommended. Some government agencies require that original documents are signed in physical form as well.

Generally, it is up to an organization to come up with their own policies surrounding if and when wet signatures are required, and when these rules are in place then these regulations govern the legality and validity of signatures. Unless a statute specifically requires a particular method of making a signature, there are a number of ways that they can be made without compromising the legality of a document.

Impeding the Flow of Business

Electronic signatures are not only legally binding, but also carry many benefits over wet signatures. Electronic signatures do not impede the flow of business processes by requiring a physical touch to the document, nor do they require costly printing or a need to store physical documents.

For many and potentially most companies, the prospect of eventually going paperless is a probable yet overwhelming one; however, there are still reasons both real and perceived that organizations are not eliminating their paper processes. By making sure that reasons for hesitation, such as the perceived need for wet signatures, are understood and clarified, there is a higher likelihood of adoption, and will reduce pushback.

Electronic Signatures on Tablets and Smartphones

5Capturing signatures electronically is not limited to signing documents on the computer, but also can be done using smartphones and tablets to make the flow of safety, inspections, and maintenance procedures much smoother. In several instances where a signature is necessary to indicate that a task has been properly completed, it can be advantageous to be able to complete the task on a smartphone or tablet and then sign directly on the device, and then submit the recorded task to a secure cloud location. This process is the same as having an operator complete an inspection on a piece of paper, but the added steps of delivering, physically storing, or even losing the paper form are erased.

This method is more secure, easier, and saves much more time than attempting to capture ink signatures and filling the whole form out by hand. Regardless of the industry, it is becoming more and more apparent that businesses are no longer able to compete at the speed of paper. Electronic signatures provide and streamlined, safe way to complete processes within the business, and smartphone and tablet-based data collection in the field is an attractive option for any company wishing to rid itself of paper and improve its operations.

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