Organizations around the world invest millions of dollars every year in automating their operations and business processes. And yet, despite the great strides we have achieved in automation, the “print > sign > scan” problem persists everywhere. Many organizations across industries still print a hard copy whenever signature authorization is required – in workstreams across HR, procurement and workforce or customer management to name a few – adding time-consuming steps to what can and should be a completely paperless process. Not only does the introduction of paper into the workflow increase costs due to printing, scanning, sending, filing and other manual tasks, it also adds considerable delays and keeps companies from realizing the true benefits of a fully electronic workflow.
Digital signatures enable organizations that have invested in business automaton and electronic content management systems to cover “the last mile” by eliminating the need to reintroduce paper into the workflow for signature approvals. These organizations can gain the full benefit from their investment in automation by seamlessly integrating a digital signature solution with their existing processes and applications.
Digital signature technology enables people to electronically sign documents, approvals and agreements on any device, in any time zone. This is about more than e-signatures. These platforms build end-to-end online processes for a fully digital workflow that saves money, increases efficiency and accelerates the pace of business.
What Are Digital Signatures?
Digital signatures, which are often referred to as advanced or standard electronic signatures, take the concept of traditional paper-based signatures and turn them into electronic “fingerprints” or coded messages. They are unique to both the document and the signer and bind the two together. Digital signatures seal documents signed by one or more people, provide evidence of user identity, guarantee data integrity and ensure the non-repudiation of documents. International standards guarantee secure implementation. The technology allows organizations to ensure signer authenticity, accountability, data integrity and the verifiability of signed electronic documents and forms. Any changes made after the document has been signed invalidate the signature, thereby protecting against signature forgery and information tampering.
Digital signatures are based on public key infrastructure (PKI) technology, the only signature standard published, maintained and accepted by governments around the world, including the U.S. and the European Union, and by independent bodies such as ISO, OASIS, IETF and W3C. Since they are based on international PKI standards, digital signatures can be easily validated.
For organizations requiring an even higher level of security, some digital signature solutions offer systems that have been certified at FIPS 140-2 Level 3 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and/or at the EAL4+ level based on the Common Criteria standard.
Why Are Organizations Using Digital Signatures?
Digital signatures are used by millions of people every day at commercial enterprises and government organizations around the world. Digital signatures offer these important economic, regulatory and technical benefits:
- Doing more with less: Automating signature-dependent processes can quickly reduce the number of people required to handle a document and significantly decrease paper processing costs and turnaround times.
- Transparency: Digital signatures ensure long-term accountability by maintaining documents that are completely transparent, easily auditable and fully compliant with the relevant laws and regulations. In fact, once a document is digitally signed, it cannot be modified without alerting the reviewer. It also can provide irrevocable proof of authenticity when required.
- Ease of use: Some electronic signature solutions on the market today are proprietary by nature with signature validation remaining dependent on the vendor’s software. Proper digital signature technology should be based on international standards and enables anyone inside or outside the organization to validate the signed documents independent of any particular software vendor.
- Security: PKI technology has been available since 1976 and remains both highly secure and impenetrable to hacking. Because digital signatures are based on international standards, anyone can validate them using widely available applications such as Adobe Reader for PDF files and Microsoft Office for Word and Excel files.
- Enterprise-wide efficiency: Since all departments have at least one, and typically many more signature-dependent processes, a single, easy-to-use solution that can meet the requirements of all departments and appeals to executives as they quickly realize that digital signature solutions can improve their operations while benefiting their employees, customers and partners. A single technology solution across all departments will ease IT management and user acceptance.
- Going green: Going paperless increases efficiency, reduces costs and takes environmental considerations into account. One of the fastest and most effective ways to achieve this goal is by deploying digital signatures to eliminate expensive and cumbersome paper-based processes.
Businesses around the globe and across industries are using digital signature technology not only to expedite approval processes securely and compliantly but also to enhance collaboration, reduce costs, improve efficiency and legal compliance, expedite paper-intensive business processes and support digital transformation initiatives.
ISG helps companies select solutions that are right for them. Contact us to find out how we can help.
About the author
Reshma Menon is a Manager in ISG Managed Services.