As the world turns more and more to digital technology, businesses need to be able to securely send, receive, track, and sign all sorts of digital documents – ideally and increasingly without ever having to print them. Doing so involves having a trusted electronic signature capability that ensures a document is authentic, unchanged, and legally binding.
The good news is that electronic signatures have evolved in both technology and perception such that the all-digital workflow is entirely possible. What’s more, with the appropriate tools and processes in place, an e-signature today can be even more secure than an old fashioned pen and ink John Hancock.
Common document creation and reading tools such as Adobe Acrobat DC (the latest version of Acrobat) and Acrobat Reader DC support electronic signature capabilities. The degree to which these signatures will be legally binding and provide assurances that documents have not been tampered with depends on how, exactly, the technology is implemented.
Using Acrobat or Acrobat Reader, it's possible to fill in a PDF form and sign it by typing or drawing your signature - or inserting a picture of your handwritten signature. That signature becomes a permanent part of the file. While this method is perfect for handling simple forms like school permission slips, it's not the same as an electronic signature collected through a secure signing process that produces an audit trail. For businesses, the secure signing process is a better choice because it provides compliance with e-sign laws like the US ESIGN Act.
Digital certificates are essentially electronic IDs issued by a trusted third party service provider.
Adobe offers a case study on how its legal team implemented Adobe eSign services to streamline workflows involved in managing some 10,000 contracts per quarter. Using Acrobat DC, the legal team created a series of contract templates with signature fields tagged for eSign services. With the service, users can not only password protect documents, but route them to whomever needs to see and approve them. From just about any device – computer, tablet, or smartphone – signers can view and electronically sign the contracts with just a few clicks.
What’s more, from the eSign services dashboard, users can see where contracts are in the workflow, including who has viewed them and whether they’ve been signed. No more waiting for a document that’s lingering in someone’s in-box. When the document is complete, the system notifies everyone concerned and sends each party a copy of the signed contract. An audit trail is also filed, logging every step in the signing process, including the steps used to authenticate the identity of each signer. One group, the Adobe procurement team, reduced the time needed to complete a contract by 73% by consolidating workflows and implementing eSign services.
All of the electronically signed documents are protected with a tamper-evident seal, so all parties can also be assured that documents haven’t changed since they’ve been signed. That enables the legal team to create documents such as pre-signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), because there’s no risk of the document being changed after the fact.
“Using a pre-signed NDA not only makes it easier and faster for employees to send an NDA, but it also encourages third parties to efficiently sign without trying to change terms and conditions,” says Lisa Konie, Senior Director Operations, Legal at Adobe.
It’s easy to see how those kind of productivity gains can be replicated at just about any company, for groups involved in everything from sales to supply chain.