Electronic Signatures Enhance the Paperless Environment

Document Management
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With advances in technology, the operational benefits and laws have paved the way to support a more efficient process.


Increasingly, companies are discovering the countless benefits of a paperless office, and with the automation of documents comes significant savings. Achieving a truly paperless environment includes instituting solutions for the document workflow process from beginning to end. One of those components, which is often missed or not included, is that of capturing a signature.


The process of obtaining a signature involves printing a document; physically acquiring that signature in person; sending that document back to where it belongs; copying, faxing, scanning, or filing that document; and performing all of the data entry involved to make sure everything is recorded. The inefficiencies involved in manual processes like this cause significant wasted time and money.


And consider the problems if a document is misplaced. How much does a lost document really cost a company? How much time is spent looking for, processing, and delivering a document, and what is the loss for the company?


Studies indicate that employees spend 40% of their time managing non-essential paper documents. The average document gets copied 19 times, and it's estimated that 7.5% of all documents get lost and 3 percent of the remainder get misfiled.


Benefits of Signature Capture

So let's take a closer look at the benefits of signature capture.


When a document is electronically captured, it can be sent immediately to the vendor, customer, and/or home office to be processed. That in and of itself changes the way a company or organization does business. That signed document is received in real time, processed, and then sent to the appropriate person or archived for easy retrieval in the future…all without someone having to print a document.


No printed documents means less money spent on paper and ink, but it also means there is no expense involved in handling the paper document. This eliminates the time it takes to physically take that document and scan it for archival. Or the time it takes to enter the details of that document into a database and file it away. The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) estimates that processing a hand-signed page costs a company $6.50. The document that is signed digitally can be routed to the appropriate person for review and approval, for archival, and for confirmation of the transaction.


Those physical papers on your desk are costing your company money. The longer it takes to process an invoice, the longer it will take for you to receive that money. With mobile signature capture, a document is signed and you receive that detail immediately, allowing you to bill faster and receive that payment quicker.


Digital signatures provide improved customer service. With digital documents, you're able to answer customer or vendor questions immediately instead of sifting through a file cabinet or pile of papers at your desk. You're able to obtain their signature and send your customer a receipt in real time. In addition, digital documents reduce the chances of having lost documents. For every lost document, you have a customer-service headache as well as wasted time in trying to find the document and going through the process of retrieving another signature so that you have the signed document on file.


Documents that are signed electronically are more secure. You no longer have to be concerned with the chances of natural disaster or fire eliminating your important paper documents because they're all stored electronically. For regulatory compliance, an audit trail tracks all of the steps in the signature process, from the time stamp of the actual signature to the final signed document.


How Does It Work?

The process of obtaining a signature is quite simple. Using a web- or Java-capable mobile device, such as an iPad or a tablet, a signature can be captured on the spot and applied to any business-critical documentssuch as invoices, bills of lading, proof of delivery, HR documents, and patient recordsimproving end-to-end document management and workflow. Users can access electronically signed documents via point-n-click from any web browser, anytime, anywhere around the world. In addition, digitally signed documents can be retrieved from any green-screen ERP package by command so that access to the document is right at your fingertips. Documents can also easily be shared and distributed via fax or email anytime. Futhermore, that document can be stored digitally for archival for future retrieval, doing away with the need to scan, copy, file, or retrieve paper documents.


The process of digitally signing an IBM i document is the same. The document is electronically signed, merged with the spool file data, and secured on your IBM i. User-friendly menus are typically provided to design the form, locate the signature on the form, define the spool or database file to merge with, and provide a way to email, fax, or route the document appropriately. You can also utilize conditional instructions to merge signature with multiple documents.


Are Electronic Signatures Legally Binding?

The federal ESIGN Act, signed into law in 2000, authorizes the use of electronic signatures as legally binding and as valid as their paper equivalent, which provides companies the significant benefit of reducing the amount of paper they use and store. Signatures are 100% legal, ensuring that contracts entered into electronically will be legally effective and valid. Laws requiring retention of paper originals were pre-empted, allowing companies to now retain electronic copies of documents rather than a paper copy.


Other laws have passed since then, such as the Uniform Electronics Transaction Act (UETA), which has been implemented by most states for uniformity in use of electronic records and signatures, and the Digital Signature and Electronic Authentication Law (SEAL) for financial institutions. These laws have strengthened the market and have led to the increased adoption of electronic signatures.


Internationally, it has been recognized that signed paper documents provides a level of inefficiency that delivers a less than ideal document workflow. Now, digital signatures are valid and legally binding in a majority of countries around the world.


A Paperless Environment

A traditional handwritten signature has held back companies from obtaining a paperless office for years, but with advances in technology, the operational benefits and laws have paved the way to support a more efficient process. Adoption of electronic signatures is increasing and improving the document workflow process.