Box unveils unlimited e-signature capabilities

The feature release also gives enterprise users access to a set of APIs to modernize and digitize the process of managing signed documents.
Written by Zeus Kerravala, Contributor

Cloud content management provider Box has released its native e-signature feature, Box Sign, to business and enterprise customers. The company has included this as part of its overall lifecycle of managing content versus selling it as a standalone product. 

The technology that enables this came to Box through the February acquisition of SignRequest. The release on July 26 gives customers unlimited signatures plus access to a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) to modernize and digitize the process of managing signed documents. 

The service is available to a subset of customers now but will be rolled out to all users in the next few months. Box Sign includes the following features: 

  • documents now can be sent for signature from within the Box web application; 
  • ability to sign and request signatures with four standard fields: signature, date, checkbox, and text; 
  • templates for common and repeatable processes, such as NDAs;
  • email reminders and deadline notifications to keep projects on track; 
  • serial and parallel document processing, so users can sign documents at the same time or sequentially; 
  • real-time tracking; and 
  • security controls, such as signer authentication via email, tamper seal indicators, and the inclusion of electronic record and signature disclosures if required. 

Pandemic hastened use of e-signatures

The use of e-signatures saw a sharp rise during the stay-at-home period of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many processes that pre-pandemic required an actual wet signature that shifted to e-signatures due to the need for physical distancing. This includes real estate transactions, sales contracts, and even some legal documents, such as employee onboarding. Now that people have grown accustomed to the ease of e-signatures as businesses trust the process, the increased use of them is likely to stay and even grow.

While there are many standalone signature services, the use of them can cause some business challenges, particularly in large volumes. The first one is simply the additional cost of paying for a service. Some charge by the document, others by the user, some have capacity limits, etc. Also, there can be issues with version control when creating the document. 

For example, a salesperson may create a document in Word and then upload it into a standalone service to send to the customer. If the customer then asks for a change, the Word file is updated and re-uploaded, creating another copy--if the original isn't deleted. Then there is the process of protecting, archiving, and storing executed agreements. Typically, each e-signature service has its own file storage, and the user would need to remember to download the document from that service and then upload it into the corporate content management system.

This is where Box's approach is different, because it thinks about the lifecycle of the e-signature, which includes the actual signature but also the upstream and downstream processes. For example, consider a contract being created where the sales team and legal team would need to collaborate and send versions back and forth, make comments, assign tasks, and so on. This is made easy with the core Box platform when compared with something like email, because everyone is working with the same document. Instead of having to log into a separate tool, the e-signature process is done in Box natively, which means there's nothing to upload. Once the contract is signed, it stays in Box, and any kind of governance policies can be applied to it. This might include something such as ensuring only certain key people can access the document once it is signed.

Difference between e-signatures and digital signatures

Those new to this area should understand there is a difference between e-signatures and digital signatures. A digital signature is an e-signature with enhanced security. When a document goes through the signing process, the signature is authenticated to validate the person's identity. That information is stored in the document and will show if anyone tampers with the document after it has been signed. 

I asked Box about the service, and a spokesman explained that the company is starting with e-signatures but working on digital-signature verification capabilities for release later this year. This includes the ability to use SMS and/or passwords. In parallel, Box is working to integrate with a third-party trust provider to bring full digital-signature capabilities. Customers who require this today can work with a number of partners, such as DocuSign.

Box also launches Enterprise Plus suite of tools

Box also introduced its Enterprise Plus suite. This is a new plan that includes the following add-ons: Box Shield, Box Governance, Box Relay, Box Platform, and Box Sign. The suite also includes the ability to send documents for signature directly from Salesforce. Enterprise Plus is available now to Box customers. Businesses currently using Box Digital Suites can keep their current plan or upgrade to Enterprise Plus at no additional cost. 

Box has done a nice job with the evolution of its product to meet the constantly changing demands of an increasingly digitized world. When the term "collaboration" is used, many people think of products such as Webex and Zoom. While those are certainly important, workers collaborate by sharing, editing, securing, and now signing content; no one does that better than Box, and I look at this company as one of the vendors enabling businesses to shift to composable organizations. 

The pandemic had an interesting impact on society, because it forced us to try many things with which we may not have been comfortable previously, such as signing documents electronically. Now that people have been exposed to this and have experienced the benefits, the demand is likely to stay high. As businesses adopt e-signatures, it's important to think of this as part of the overall document management process, versus something done in isolation.

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