Business Processes Built For Speed Require Digital Signatures

How a fifty-year progression of the execution of signatures has shaped businesses


As more and more organizations automate their business processes the imperative to evolve from wet to electronic and digital signatures has become increasingly critical. Wet signatures tend to slow processes down because they are dependent on the signatory’s presence and the exchange of paper.

Illustrating the case, in the 'Digital Signatures-Making the Business Case' Survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) cites that, 'for 44% of organizations more than half of their processes are interrupted by the need to collect physical signatures.' The survey expounds on this with 'on average, 3.1 days are added to most processes in order to collect physical signatures.'

Since many document-based business processes require signatures, such as contract and invoice approvals, we’ve seen many of our clients adopt electronic and digital signatures. Organizations operate at maximum efficiency when these signatures are incorporated into business processes. For example, if a manager forgets to sign an expense report — M-Files can send an email reminder to keep the process on track.

It is commonly accepted that there are three different types of signatures: wet, electronic and digital. These three classifications represent a fifty-year progression of the execution of signatures and how they are defined.

Wet signatures are all wet

Probably the most distinctive and memorable of signatures are those of the founding fathers of the United States on the Declaration of Independence. In particular, John Handcock’s bold flourish springs to mind. His signature reminds me of Merriam-Webster’s definition of signature: 'A person’s name written in a distinctive way as a form of identification in authorising a check, document or concluding a letter.' The prefix 'wet' refers to time spent waiting for the ink or wax to dry.

Electronic signatures — the next step

This type of signature provides the same legal standing as a handwritten signature. This term generally refers to the acknowledgement of an electronic message, transaction or document. Examples of this range from a handwritten, digitally captured signature made on a tablet, to a typed name at the end of an email or a change in a template field value. Generally, organizations move from wet signatures to electronic signatures as a natural progression of automating business processes.

Digital signatures ensure security

A digital signature is a type of electronic signature that demonstrates the authenticity of the message or documents. A valid digital signature means the message was authenticated (created by a known sender), cannot be repudiated (sender cannot deny having sent) and has integrity (was not altered in transit). Digital signatures are considered the most secure type of electronic signature as it includes a certificate of authority to ensure the validity of the signatory.

Digital and electronic signatures are often used synonymously but I caution against this. Most types of electronic signatures do not have the security features of true digital signatures. We see digital signatures used (but not limited to) in highly regulated environments and processes.

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