Electronic Signature: A User Guide

Topics: SharePoint, e-signature, CMS

Written by Adarsh Dorai

An electronic signature is a replacement for handwritten signatures in the digital world. It can be used as a replacement in all types of digital documents or forms, it has the same legal standing as the handwritten signature. Most of the organizations are still using the paperwork for contract management and this would involve printing out the contracts, signing the documents physically, and scanning them to fax, all done manually. But by adopting a contract management software you can avoid all those massive roadblocks and ensure efficiency in your workflow. If you have E-signature capabilities, combined with the document handling capabilities of a contract management system, you can streamline your contract workflow. Here in this blog, we talk about how you can make the best out of E-signature capabilities. How can you create one? How to manage them etc.

How to create an E-Signature?

Before we get into creating E-signature, there is one thing you must understand, E-Signature and Digital signature are two different things, although both the words have the same schematic, they both differ in meanings. E-signatures, as we said before, are the digital substitute for physical signature, which businesses or related people can use to indicate their intention to approve or accept the contents of a document. Digital Signature on the other hand is a mathematical scheme for verifying the authenticity of digitally transmitted documents. Simply saying they are digital fingerprints unique to each document, identifying the person who has signed the document.

There are several solutions or applications available in the market where you can create an E-signature and use it in all your digital documents. For instance, “DocuSign” is a platform where you can create and manage your electronic signature. Many Contract management Systems are now equipped with electronic signature capabilities, which can be made use in the approval process of a document, electronic signature effectively reduces the need to make hard copies of documents for it to be signed and approved. Rather all the approval processes can be done via email.

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The Security and Legal status of an E-signature

Using an electronic signature might raise security concerns for at least some of you.  But the truth is, as long as you are working with a verified and secure e-signature provider, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. These verified providers have features to encrypt your data and store them securely in a server facility. Also, there are additional steps to authenticate users prior to signing a document and connecting that authentication to the e-signature and e-signed document. Also, it is advised to look for solutions that support multiple authentication methods. When looking for an e-signature service provider review their protocols to identify and prevent data breaches. Check their certifications, track records, security practices, and frequency of security audits.  It would be safe if you choose a provider that partners with a reliable cloud infrastructure provider like Amazon Web services or Microsoft Azure. Audit Trail is another important feature or service to look out for in an e-signature provider. When businesses undergo compliance audits, they might be expected to clarify the exact business process they followed in signing a contract, so the auditors might ask for a report on the access details of key documents like who accessed it and when was it accessed. So, it is important to look out for this while choosing a provider.

As for the legal status of the E-signature, it has the same legal standing as the hand-written signature. It is federally recognized, in the US the E-Sign Act(Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act) and eIDAS(Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services) Regulation in the E.U ensures the legal effect, validity or enforceability of an electronically signed document. Several other countries also have adopted laws and regulations that make electronic signatures legal and enforceable in a court of law. Make sure the provider you choose has designed processes and workflows that conform to the law in your respective country.

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Integrated E-signature Services

Most of the E-signature providers are now including features to easily integrate it with other applications like Outlook, Office 365, and more. Contract Management Systems would benefit the most out of an E-Signature integration. You can handle all the approvals of contract documents virtually eliminating the need for generating hard copies of the documents and reducing user accesses to the documents. By integrating E-signature providers like ‘DocuSign’ you can create an approval process workflow in the solution with listing the approvers and you can even mark the document with specifics about where should the approver sign and you can make required details like initials, date, company, etc with the signature, this helps in audit trials as mentioned before. In this process the document will be passed onto approvers as per the approval process you have created and once all the approvers have given their response you can view the progress. Integrated with a SharePoint based contract management system, you can save the approved signed document in a SharePoint Document Library automatically without any effort or manpower. By storing the documents in a SharePoint document library, you can ensure the safe storage of the contract documents.

Conclusion

By adopting an e-signature you can gain a lot of advantages in processing documents. Using e-signature users can sign or approve documents easily by the click of a mouse, users can even use their handwritten signature using a stylus or finger and track them efficiently. E-signature speeds up the process of paperwork and excludes the need for repeated emails, print outs, and hard copy filing. E-signature also reduces the social interaction which is a great advantage in the time of this pandemic, it is a safe and secure way for processing the documents in the virtual world. 

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