Hiding in plain sight, part 2: stop printing forms for signatures
In case you missed it, in part 1, we took a look at why paper is a bad user experience as well as some reasons why your organization is still relying on paper.
Now, we’ll discuss why not every electronic form needs to be signed, even though it seems like forms and signatures often go hand-in-hand. Obtaining a signature may be part of your processes, but adopting electronic signatures can be a major culture change that is difficult to initiate. Most signatures can be categorized as one of three signature types, and identifying the type that you need can help you move forward with your solution.
Let’s take a closer look at the three types and how they might be a good fit for your organization.
Signature type 1: acknowledgement
Sometimes you just need someone to sign off on a document or process. Their signature means “I saw this and it’s correct to the best of my knowledge” or “I saw this and it’s ok with me.” On a paper form, we would have them apply a pen-and-ink signature to indicate that they have viewed and/or agree with the document, but it’s not always a requirement to replicate this exactly once you’ve moved to electronic forms.
Often a simple checkbox will suffice for these types of signatures. Combining a checkbox with a very granular document history that shows the user name and time/date of the signature is a very powerful and simple solution. It’s very easy to implement this type of signature and usually doesn’t require any special hardware.
Another solution for acknowledgement-type signatures involves using a workflow management task to “mark” the document as signed. If someone presses a button to acknowledge the document, they can be prompted to re-enter their password, and they can add a note to the document with information about the signature event. The right solution will automatically save this information in the history of the document.
Signature type 2: signature capture
In other scenarios, you need to capture an image of the signature and apply it to a form. Fortunately, you can capture signatures via dedicated signature hardware (signature pads), touch screens, or even using mouse-driven devices like graphic tablets.
When this type of signature is required, it’s important to determine if the signature capture method will be convenient and accessible to users. For many users, filling out forms on an iPad is both convenient and intuitive, and signing them is a matter of using a stylus or their finger right on the screen. Other users may be filling out and signing forms at a desktop computer or even from their mobile phones.
Signature type 3: certificate-based signatures
There are also times when laws or regulations require that the forms must be signed using a certificate-based signature to ensure that the document remains unchanged. When this is required, the signature should be applied at the end of a process, as any subsequent changes to the form will invalidate the signature.
Whichever electronic signature type you wish to accommodate, your organization will see gains in turnaround time for signed documents and cost savings in both labor and hard materials used to sign paper forms. You’ll also minimize security concerns as your solution manages and tracks the entire lifecycle of the documents and guarantees they remain protected, instead of sitting in somebody’s in-tray waiting for them to process the documents. You can also make signed documents immediately available in a secure, central repository, speeding other processes that depend on them.
Adopting electronic signatures on forms is a large step with many factors to consider, but it is a project that will offer a quick return on your investment. And it offers speed and convenience to those signing the documents, as they don’t have to be onsite to sign.
Tune in to part 3, where we’ll take a look at why regulated or highly structured forms don’t always have to be paper-based.