The world of paper is all but disappearing, to the point where receiving a request to print something out and sign it draws a reflexive internal response of, “Really?”
Indeed, the print-sign-scan triumvirate is quickly going the way of the copy machine and the fax machine. Now – it’s all about e-signatures. In fact it’s been all about e-signatures for quite a while.
The passage of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) in 2000 gave electronic signatures the same legal standing as handwritten signatures. In 2010, at the request of industry leaders, both houses of Congress passed a resolution to make June 30 "National ESIGN Day”.
And yet, many organizations are still stuck in the paper-signing world. Coming around to make an investment in whole new way of doing things can be extremely difficult, especially if you’re not entirely clear on the immediate benefits of the new process, and especially if switching to the new way of doing things entails a hefty migration project (as going from paper to electronic documentation/signing usually does).
If you’re waffling on getting e-signature software for your company, here are 4 very solid reasons to get off the fence and make the investment.
The most obvious and immediate advantage of e-signatures is speed. Think of how long it takes you to print out a document, sign it, and scan it back in. Probably at least 5 minutes. Compare this to the 5 seconds it takes to e-sign a document. Now, consider the myriad positive implications of a faster signing process:
- Invoices sent faster
- Bills paid faster
- Purchase orders sent/filled faster
- Employee contracts and agreements signed faster, leading to faster onboarding
Speed is efficiency, and efficiency saves money and time.
Think of all the places a printed document can reside: on your desk, in a drawer, in snail mail, in your car, in someone else’s car. Etcetera. E-signing significantly reduces risks of documents being intercepted, read, destroyed, copied, lost or altered while in transit or in non-transit. Electronically signed documents also automatically maintain a record of changes and alterations, providing you with a detailed look at the document’s entire lifecycle and allowing you to monitor and keep track of the document at a level impossible to achieve with paper. Also, tools such as multi-factor authentication and timestamping ensure signatures can be verified and qualified as coming from the correct person.
The difficulty of tracking paper documents can lead to compliance issues when audit season rolls around. If a paper document has been found to have been tampered with in some way, it could lead to HIPAA violations and fines. Essentially, the same things that make e-signing secure are also the things that give it an advantage over paper processes in terms of staying compliant with state and federal regulations.
The final key advantage of using e-signature software is money. Paper processes come with a bevy of overhead costs that, while not significantly large in and of themselves, add up to a pretty hefty monthly or annual bill. Think of how much you have to spend on paper, ink, printers, and printer maintenance. This is in addition to the indirect costs of time spent tracking down paper documents or verifying the signer or the date. It all adds up, and all contributes to your bottom line.
There are, of course, certain potential drawbacks of using e-signature software that should be considered. These include:
- Software updates and bugs: As with any type of software, e-signature programs need to be updated and are susceptible to bugs, viruses, and expiration, so a little extra labor is needed to make sure your software is always up to date.
- International or state laws: Certain states and countries don’t have extremely clear laws regarding the validity of certain types of e-signature processes, so some extra work may be required in the form of due diligence to confirm that the particular program you are using will be accepted by the client, employee or partner you are working with.
- Honesty: There has been some recent press regarding how people view e-signatures and how the e-signature process affects their commitment to the truth. While something like this is to be expected with any new technology, it’s good to consider any potential drawback and addressing this may require adding firmer wording on your contracts stressing the importance and finality of the electronic signature.
In the end, any relatively new process or technology is going to require time to adapt to, but when it comes to e-signature software, it’s becoming harder and harder to find sound reasons not to use it. The last thing you want to do is come off as antiquated or old-fashioned in your tech and/or protocols, so now is probably a good time to start giving e-signature software the attention it deserves.