Intellectually speaking, the idea of signing a contract or any other legally binding document digitally with an electronic signature (e-signature) makes plenty of sense — especially for small businesses, where every minute counts toward winning a deal against a bigger competitor.
But behaviorally speaking, may people still struggle with the idea that "signing" a document on a computer is the same as picking up a pen. There are also concerns with security and proving a signer's identity. As a result, it will take many years for e-signatures to become the de facto default.
Meanwhile, though, the underlying technology for making it happen continues to improve. The latest evidence comes from two software companies vying for marketshare in this application space — giant software developer Adobe and Y Combinator-backed upstart HelloFax, which is behind the HelloSign platform.
The big theme behind both emerging updates is integration: features that make it simpler to add e-signatures within applications or cloud services where many small businesses create and store documents.
With the May release of Adobe EchoSign, for example, the service is accessible to users of Adobe Reader, Adobe Acrobat, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft SharePoint 2013. The company has also released additional application programming interfaces (APIs) that are designed to help developers build integrations to the service.
"Today, Adobe EchoSign customers achieve an average of 85 percent reduction in contract signing times," notes the company in its release announcement.
Pricing for the EchoSign service starts at $14.95 per month for sole proprietors and $19.95 per user per month for two to nine users.
In addition, seamless integration is — and continues to be — a big focus for the developers of HelloSign, according to the company's CEO Joseph Walla.
One example is its integration with Google Docs, which enables users to edit and sign documents within the cloud archiving and file management service. When I spoke with Walla in late April, there had been more than 47,000-plus installations since the features launch. HelloSign also integrates with Gmail, Google Drive and Google Apps. (The company doesn't disclose its total number of users.)
In the future, additional APIs from HelloSign will make it simpler to integrate e-signatures into standard business processes at real estate companies, law firms, insurance agencies and other small businesses that are heavily dependent on contracts or applications that require legal signatures.
One example of how the HelloSign technology is already used: home grocery delivery company Instacart uses the service to onboard all of the independent contractors that fulfill its services, Walla said. "Through our API, they have automated the entire process," he said.
Small companies can try HelloSign for free, for up to three documents per month. After that, pricing for the service starts at $15 per user per month, for up to 10 users (You get a break for committing to an annual contract.)