Are E-Signatures the Missing Links in Paperless Offices?

The paperless office is still a dream.

While there are plenty of possible reasons, the most likely involve a combination of technology and management — and, some claim, the failure of even organizations with enterprise content management (ECM) in place to adopt an e-signature strategy.

The problem is not a lack of available e-signature solutions, but the failure of C-Suite executives, including Chief Information Officers, to deploy or develop IT strategies that include digital signatures because of security and legal concerns.

Fear of the New

Many enterprises still harbor fears that digitally signed documents are open to abuse by third-parties or lack legal standing in the case of later disputes between the signers of a document. And while there may have been some justification for this even five years ago, times have changed, according to new research from Adobe.

Adobe conducted an online survey of 1,658 managers and professionals, including many in the legal profession, between Sept. 22 and Oct. 7 for its e-signature business, EchoSign. The findings confirm much of the previously published AIIM Industry Watch research on ECM, which blames the slow evolution of the paperless office on resistant and disorganized leadership.

Mark Grilli, vice president of product marketing for Adobe EchoSign, told CMSWire that the e-signature market is growing slower than it should. “Despite the fact that e-signatures have been legal and enforceable in the United States since the passage of the E-Sign Act of 2000, there is still a lack of understanding among many potential users. We still have a lot of education to do,” he said.

Fortunately, he said, most companies are no longer asking about the technology itself. “They’re trying to figure out how can they deploy e-signatures within their business, often as part of a companywide digital transformation,” he said.

The adoption of both the federal E-Sign Act — officially the Electronic Signatures in Global and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) in most US states establish that electronic records and signatures carry the same weight and legal effect as traditional paper documents and handwritten signatures.

In fact, in 2010, on the 10th anniversary of the E-Sign Act, lawmakers designated June 30 as National E-Sign Day to reaffirm their commitment to “facilitating interstate and foreign commerce in an increasingly digital world.”

So What’s the Problem?

While many people have embraced digital behaviors at work and at home, the Adobe research found that digitally authenticating business documents is one of the remaining holdouts preventing the creation of a truly digital or paperless workplace.

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