Within business, the volume and velocity at which content is generated can be terrifying, but few categories of content are as important as those documents requiring a signature, says Avi Rose, regional business manager: South Africa at ARX.

If poorly managed, signature-dependent documents can wreak havoc with content management systems (CMS) and business processes, impacting operations, organisational efficiency and client relationships, as well as becoming a potential security risk. Electronic signature solutions are emerging as an effective remedy.

Globally, as businesses become more digital and governments around the world put the necessary regulations in place, electronic signature solutions are increasingly being adopted by organisations of all sizes and from all industries.

The key goals are greater efficiency through the creation of all-digital environments. Unfortunately, this is rarely achievable if companies continue printing out documents in order to collect signatures from executives, staff, partners or customers.

A digital signature process can improve efficiency five-fold
When you print out a document, you introduce risk since the document is taken out of a secure digital environment and an additional business process is created. This ‘last mile’ can be treacherous since physical documents are often misplaced or can end up in the wrong hands. Normal workflows can be seriously impeded as critical documents languish at the bottom of a pile of paper on a busy executive’s desk.

Once signed, the documents have to be scanned and stored in the digital system again, and the paper documents have to be either destroyed or physically archived. The end result is that printing documents for signing creates a dual system with multiple potential failure points and high costs – the cost of paper, printing and storage, as well as the very high cost of lost opportunities.

In contrast, digitising signatures can improve process efficiency four- or five-fold, removing bottlenecks and ensuring that the signer is no longer tied to his or her desk.

Big adoption of electronic signatures in South Africa
In South Africa, we are seeing tremendous adoption of electronic signatures as government and financial institutions drive wide spread acceptance of digital signing processes. For example, we count the Department of Trade and Industry, the South African Post Office, Public Service Commission (PSC), PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Glencore among our clients.

Although digital signature systems have been in use since the late 1990’s, recent advances have made them more attractive to a wider audience:
* A bigger focus on features that help improve document security and meet governance requirements, as well as on ease of implementation and ease of use.
* More flexibility enabling ‘plug & play’ convenience, as well as Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) that allow easy integration into proprietary systems.
* Organisations can now capture signatures from external stakeholders (customers, partners, etc.) as well as those of their internal staff.
* Adherence to the local and international regulations governing electronic signatures,
such as South Africa’s Electronic Communication and Transactions (ECT) and Commercial Act of 2001.

Although cloud-hosted versions have been created in South Africa, specially designed to meet the functional and budget requirements of SMEs, enterprises that wish to can own and host their own appliance. These types of solutions are available on a subscription or per user basis, and the signature process – whether installed on a database, accessed via a Web application or mobile plan – is dictated by the organisation’s existing business applications, such as ECM and workflow systems.