How do you verify business documents have been read and accepted?  Chances are, you ask for a copy to be signed and returned.  Did you know that around 80% of UK businesses print documents just to get them signed*?

That’s a lot of paper… just for the sake of approvals and legal verifications.

There is a better way though.  As with most improved processes, this is digital.  Pen-to-paper signatures are rarely a legal requirement. To quote Doug Miles, head of AIIM’s Market Intelligence Unit explains “The laws on this have been standardised in most jurisdictions for ten if not 20 years.”

Digital signatures can easily replace ‘wet ink’ signatures, being legally valid, and arguably more secure through the fact that they can be made tamper-proof (invalidated if the content of the signed document is altered).

However, asking users to apply a digital signature themselves is often where this ideal fails.  Solutions, such as Netsend, which support the process from end to end (and store for years afterwards) are typically a more practical way for businesses to realise these benefits.

Digital Acceptance and Audit Trail

Netsend takes the concept of electronic document delivery even further than enabling digital signatures.  Documents are uploaded into Netsend and then stored in a secure, web-based portal where recipients are directed to access them.

When a user logs on to view the document, this can be seen (and recorded for an audit trail), and if they don’t log on, this can be used as a trigger to chase them automatically or via an alert for someone to call them directly.

Within the document, a button is embedded with ‘click to accept’, or words to that effect.  When clicked, the following happens:

  1. A graphic is applied to the document to reflect that it has been accepted/approved. This can take the form of a watermark (invisible), signature, stamp, seal or other marking.
  2. The document is tagged, so when viewed in a list it is visually apparent which documents are approved (e.g. a tick appears alongside each).
  3. An audit log is updated to include time, date, IP address, username, email or other identifier of who approved the document and when.
  4. Notifications can be sent to the business as and when documents are approved, or a list of those accepted/not accepted can be generated regularly.

Legally-binding proof of acceptance

In the modern litigious age, it is increasingly important to ensure documents are accepted or approved in a manner that is legally binding.  The more specific you can be that recipients are approving a document – for example, only displaying the acceptance button once they have scrolled to the bottom of the document – the more likely this acceptance is to be legally binding.

There are numerous cases where health and safety directions have been handed out, on paper, for a signature and yet the employee has been able to revoke the implied consent/commitment at a later date due to the fact that they simply signed and did not need to engage further with the document.  Eliciting more specific engagement and explicit approval from recipients can go some way to addressing this risk.

easyJet: an example of electronic document approval

easyJet use Netsend to provide their ground crew with an updated operations manual each year.  Through the Netsend portal, easyJet are able to identify who has confirmed that they have read and understood the latest manual.

If any ground crew do not confirm this, they are reminded automatically, and if needed followed up with directly to ensure they are familiar with the latest manual.  Given the critical nature of ground crew to the smooth and safe operation of an airline, this ability to ensure each and every member of the team is familiar with the latest instructions can save lives.

So, next time you are printing out a document to sign, scan and email (or file away)… ask yourself whether this could be done faster, more securely and with less paper.  We would be happy to show you how.


*According to a recent YouGov report.  Alarmingly, this rises to 90% in financial service and public sector businesses.

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