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How e-signatures fix broken digitisation

A big barrier to the end-to-end digitisation of business processes is that certain steps require paper – but DocuSign plans to fix this

DocuSign, the company that many people will have used to sign legal documents or loan applications over email, is on a mission to embed its technology into the approval process behind many business transactions. The company’s acquisition of SpringCM, in September 2018, is part of its strategy to help organisations become more digital.

A Forrester Consulting total economic impact assessment for DocuSign, published in October 2018, found that the company’s e-signature software had a payback over three years of 117% of the licensing and implementation costs. The analyst company noted that, on average, organisations realised benefits of £327,653 over three years versus costs of £150,769.

For some application areas, optical character recognition can be used to read handwritten information. As companies move to electronic forms, where information is prepopulated and the customer is presented with a simple list of options for each entry in the form, the final area that needs to be addressed is authentication. 

Sometimes people are sent the prepopulated form electronically and asked to print it out and send it back. But if the only option is a physical signature, the business process – such as a mortgage application, pension, life insurance or a credit card application – grinds to a halt as the paper form is sent by post to the customer, who signs it and then posts it back.

As well as slowing down the business process, there are considerable costs associated with sending out and mailing back paper forms. Forrester’s model, based on the mailing out of two six-page forms per customer, put the total cost of completing the contract agreement at £6.62, of which £2.70 was for postage.

Forrester’s research found that operating costs could be slashed if paper is removed from the business process, which is why companies are increasingly making use of electronic signatures to verify contracts.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Kirsten Wolberg, DocuSign’s chief technology and operations officer, said there was growing demand for e-signatures. Wolberg, who previously worked for PayPal, Salesforce and Charles Schwab, said: “We are seeing a lot of paperless business transactions. When I started at Salesforce in 2008, I spent a lot of time explaining what the cloud is and I heard digital transformation a million times.” 

Customer-centric transformation

Wolberg, who was also a CIO at Charles Schwab, believes that for digital transformation to work, it must be customer-centric and frictionless – which means it has to be paperless.

Taking the example of an employment contract, Wolberg said DocuSign’s aim is to provide a so-called system of agreement, which comprises four key steps. First is the preparation of the document. Then this must be sent via an email notification to the successful job applicant, who subsequently signs it and returns it via the DocuSign system. Once signed, the job acceptance form is not simply filed away with human resources (HR). Instead, it should instigate the new joiner process.

The final step is the use of machine learning, said Wolberg. In a commercial contract, machine learning could enable a company to improve its processes or get better revenue from a particular commercial contract, she said.

Forrester estimated that a paper process requiring one internal stakeholder to approve the form would involve an average of 160 minutes to complete. It estimated that this could be cut to 64 minutes with DocuSign, and integration with third-party business software could streamline the approvals process even more.

In September 2018, DocuSign completed the acquisition of SpringCM, a company that helps it fill in the gaps in its system of agreement strategy, by providing links to popular business software.

Read more about e-signatures

SpringCM is designed to help companies combine document management and workflow for contract lifecycle management (CLM) applications. The company says its platform enables firms to become more productive by reducing the time spent managing critical business documents. “Intelligent, automated workflows enable document collaboration across an organisation from any desktop or mobile device,” said SpringCM.

Wolberg said DocuSign would release a product that integrates SpringCM in 2019. “We will integrate with Salesforce, ServiceNow, Workday and ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems to pull data into a template,” she said. “This ensures the data is the single source of the truth.”

Just as a mailshot pulls in name and address details from a customer database to create a personalised letter, DocuSign hopes to use SpringCM to provide similar functionality in commercial contracts.

For instance, data drawn in from the HR, ERP or CRM (customer relationship management) system could automatically populate a template form. This would need to be a two-way link, so that changes made to the form by its recipient can be authorised and then pushed back into the back-end system, maintaining a single version of the truth, such as the details of the terms agreed in a commercial contract.

At almost £100,000 for a 50-user, one-year subscription and a further £50,000 on implementation, according to Forrester’s figures, DocuSign requires a relatively modest upfront investment, promising a 117% return on investment over three years.

It may not have the headline-grabbing moniker of digital transformation, but e-signature products such as DocuSign offer CIOs an opportunity to cut out paper and so streamline digital business initiatives.

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