For the past five months, I've been trying to sell a house in the Washington DC area. Sure, there are so many other things I could say about that in a blog post - but that's for a different blog and a different time.
In that time, we've signed and initialed more documents than I care to remember. One set of documents was 65 pages. And it required my wife and I to sign and/or initial all of them. My real estate agent sent them as a PDF. We printed them out, signed and initialed and faxed them back. Of course, it never really quite worked out the first time. Inevitably, the fax would cut off 10 pages into the send. And then, there was the time we forgot to initial in one place and that page had to be faxed, initialed and faxed back. We tried to scan the signed documents into a PDF, too, but that came with its own set of nightmares.
So, when I received the news that Ariba - a company that offers spending and contract management services to companies - had partnered with Docusign, which offers digital signature technology, I was intrigued.
In business, contracts are signed everyday - purchase orders, vendor agreements, financial documents. Many of them require multiple signatures - which means that they're handled by many different people, from mailroom employees to admin assistants to executives and even the Fed-Ex driver. And then, when they get back to original sender, pages might be missing or, even worse, some pages come back missing a signature.
The Ariba-Docusign technology allows the sender to highlight the areas that need signatures and blocks the document from being sent back if there are signature lines that were accidentally overlooked. It allows the sender to track where the document is at any given moment, including who's signed it and who hasn't.
Still, I had concerns about how they could authenticate that it was actually me that's doing the signing. Executives said there are many ways to authenticate - some that are as simple as the sender giving the recipient a verbal code for use when the document is received. Basically, the sender has the flexibility to automate the service in a way that fits the company's needs.
And there's no need to worry about the file getting lost or accidentally deleted. The document lives in the cloud and appears as a PDF document within the Web browser. There's nothing to delete. Ariba was quick to address the security issue, as well, noting that the system was built for "a very strict enterprise class rigor."
One of the biggest selling points - a biggie in a business environment - is that, in some cases, turnaround time for document signing has gone from 24 days to 24 hours. When documents need to signed before checks can be cut, that can make a pretty big difference.
A year ago, I might have had some reservations about Web-based documents and digital signatures. But having been through the hassle of trying to sign long legal contracts, I would have welcomed the chance to take this document-signing process online.
The folks at DocuSign said they've been attracting about 600 realtors per month. When it comes time for me to buy a house down the road, I'll be sure to ask my agent if he or she is using electronic signatures.
If not, I might just look for another agent.