Please sign on the dotted line. Electronically.

Businesses and their clients can benefit greatly from electronic signature software and services. The question is, why aren't they doing it? The technology isn't that new and it's way past time to step into the present.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

You’d think that in 2014 we’d be 100 percent free of dead tree trappings, but I see it isn’t so. A few days ago, I had a document sent to me via email that I promptly downloaded, printed, signed, scanned, converted to a PDF, and emailed back. That process took more than 30 minutes to complete. I pondered that scenario after the email finally chugged its way out of my outbox.

I’ve signed documents, including tax forms electronically, so why was this one so different? Did the sender just want to put me to the extra trouble of printing, signing, scanning, PDFing, and emailing the document back? I don’t think it was their intent, but that’s what happened. That four-page document used up my time, my paper (that my daughter could have drawn on), and ink from my "continuously running low on ink" printer.

Were they too cheap to spring for the $20 per month fee to use a secure document signing service? Or maybe they just don’t know that it’s 2014 and that it’s time for a technology refresh.

Even if you jumped into the Wayback Machine, you’d find that in 1869 the New Hampshire Supreme Court realized that the times were a-changin’ with the implications of communications perpetrated on that new-fangled telegraph machine in the famous Howley v. Whipple case:

It makes no difference whether [the telegraph] operator writes the offer or the acceptance in the presence of his principal and by his express direction, with a steel pen an inch long attached to an ordinary penholder, or whether his pen be a copper wire a thousand miles long. In either case the thought is communicated to the paper by the use of the finger resting upon the pen; nor does it make any difference that in one case common record ink is used, while in the other case a more subtle fluid, known as electricity, performs the same office.

Now I know why US Presidential campaigns begin in New Hampshire. Those people recognize what’s real and what’s right for the whole nation.

In that same vein, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider that it’s not necessary to handle physical documents, even for signatures. Contracts, tax forms, bank drafts, real estate negotiations, sales receipts, and all types of legal agreements to transact some form of business have one thing in common: You can sign them digitally. An electronic signature is a legal and binding intent to agree to or to approve the contents of a document.

Electronic signatures are legal in the United States and many other countries. Our digital world demands that we have some method of signing documents without printing, physically signing, scanning, and delivering them to the other party. Electronic signatures are safe, inexpensive, fast, easy, and 100 percent legal.

Think about it, if you’re out of the office with no computer access, you can still sign documents through any device that has internet access via wifi or cellular networks. You can also take advantage of such features as documents that require multiple signatures, multi-party routing, document and signing order, and sequential and parallel flow. Advanced service providers offer complex workflow requirements such as document insertion, proxy signing, and paper-based review.

Businesses that want to be agile would do well to adopt electronic signatures as a standard. Electronic signatures fully enable your business to be agile and virtual. In fact, the requirement to physically sign documents might be the last holdout in moving your business to the cloud, to a global presence, or to "green" status.

And to further ensure your document and signature security, look for multi-factor authentication capabilities that augment usernames and passwords such as question and answer challenges, knowledge-based authentication, SMS passcodes, self-signed certificates, and Common Access Cards (CAC).

The ability to use electronic signatures enables you to do business quicker and with more people around the world. You can integrate electronic signature capability into your own applications and web sites to enhance your online transactions. Electronic signatures are a part of doing business in the digital age. And the technology is available to you today. It’s secure, fast, easy, mature, and ready to take your business to the next level. Who doesn’t want to make the leap to that desirable next level?

An electronic signature isn’t a fad or a luxury; it’s a thing. It’s handy, it’s smart, and it’s what you want to use in your business. That is it's what you want to use unless you live in pre-1869 or not in New Hampshire. "Siri, where’s the nearest telegraph office?"

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