Procurement 2 February 2017

How e-signatures can boost productivity for a small business

E-signatures allow documents to become as secure and compliant, if not more, than the paper equivalent

Writing for Business Advice, Liaquat Khan, technical director at electronic validation firm Signing Hub, explains the benefits to small business owners of using e-signatures.

In any business, productivity and cost savings are important. In a small business, improving workflows and margins could be the difference between making a profit or loss for the year.

Employee time is precious, therefore any process that can be accelerated is beneficial to the business.

Document approval is one such example. Contracts need signing, sales need agreeing, and finances need approving.

The process can be very time consuming, especially when multiple parties are involved. We’ve all experienced documents becoming siloed when one party is yet to sign – this is especially frustrating if it prevents a sale or start date of an employee.

If documents are sensitive, things get more complicated. Documents require couriering back and forth to the signer – adding time and costs to the process. Keeping track of who is still to sign and scanning documents to send to the next party is arduous. There is also the added task of filing and storing everything once approval is complete.

Despite these pain points, AIIM research revealed that 56 per cent of organisations use paper for contracts and order forms. Some 40 per cent still file important documents by printing out details on paper. Paper consumption is costly, environmentally unfriendly and in most cases unnecessary.

With organisations more focused than ever on digital transformation and improving productivity, it seems strange how businesses can be wedded to paper for important documents.

Room for improvement

All aspects of the business depend on approval but there are a few departments where this is a large part of the workflow.

Finance is possibly the most paper heavy department with invoices, budget approval and customer contracts passing through on a daily basis. All documents require thorough review and need to adhere to compliant practices.

Multiple departments can be involved in approval and final sign-off can take some time. Every step of the process needs to be documented and archived for audit purposes.

Compliance is equally important with regards to HR responsibilities. With recruitment forms, performance management records, redundancy forms and many other documents to complete, the pressure to avoid delays is also high. Like finance, HR works with other business departments and the approval chain can include multiple signers.

Procurement is the final line of business. As documents move through the supply chain they need to be thoroughly read, policy-checked, administered, approved and filed. All documents must be legally binding and any delays can stall the entire process.

Compliance and efficiency across the business

All of these business departments cannot afford delays or endure poor compliance.

This is why many forward-thinking businesses are adopting e-signatures. In comparison to the paper equivalent, the process of signing with e-signatures accelerates the approval process rapidly by reducing the time required between signers. As the process is electronic, contracts can be sent and signed immediately before moving onto the next person in the approval chain.

Open, sign, send – it’s as simple as that, although it is important to bear in mind that there are various types of e-signatures. Not all are secure, so it is important to ensure documents signed electronically are compliant.

If documents contain sensitive data, digital signatures ensure documents cannot be altered and that they can remain verified long into the future (following the ETSI PAdES standards). This is especially useful for long-term contracts and is an essential requirement for most government related data. eIDAS – a regulatory measure by the European Commission – adds a further level of compliance to consider.

Very few documents require ink and paper signatures to prove their validity anymore. If businesses ensure they use the correct type of e-signature, documents become as secure and compliant, if not more, than the paper equivalent.

With other processes being moved online to save time and money, adopting e-signatures could be the last part of the puzzle to improve efficiencies.

Liaquat Khan is technical director at SigningHub

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