electronic signatures

The benefits and risks of electronic signatures in construction

Drive-thru:

  • Electronic signatures eliminate the need to print, route, scan, and physically archive documents.
  • An e-signature can be a typed name or a complex encrypted digital security token.
  • E-signatures are not entirely without risk. There is potential for fraudulent, or if the process is not deployed properly, a contract may become unenforceable.

As the shark tank known as the American construction industry swirls faster than ever, companies that can reduce the time it takes to obtain approvals leap ahead of the others in the water. Circulating documents for signature is not only slow but it is also expensive, susceptible to fraud, and creates exploding piles of paper.

Electronic signatures change all that. They eliminate the need to print, route, scan, and physically archive documents in an era where everything else is digital.

What is an electronic signature?

The ESIGN Act, signed into law in 2000 (with a digital signature, of course), describes an electronic signature (e-signature) as an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a contract or another record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record and be legally bound.

As long as an e-signature complies with any industry-specific laws, it is considered every bit as valid as a written signature.

An e-signature can be a typed name or a complex encrypted digital security token. As long as the signature complies with industry-specific laws for authentication, authorization, accountability, auditing, and security, it is considered every bit as valid as a written signature. It sustains the proof of the signatory’s identity, his or her intent to be bound by the signature, and the integrity of the document.

The benefits of e-signatures

The most obvious benefit of implementing e-signatures is the time saved throughout the documentation process. In the time it takes to print, sign, send, scan, and archive a typical construction contract, an e-signature process would see the contract filed and the work begun before the physical copy reached the final stage.

Building off that concept, consider the other resources required for the physical documentation process.

  • A hard copy is printed using paper and ink.
  • It is placed in an envelope that requires postage or shipping fees. If opting for expedited shipping, the price increases.
  • The copy is signed by a person and routed to the next in line via mail or fax.
  • The copy with signatures is scanned and filed.
  • All paper is archived and stored in perpetuity.

E-signatures easily comply with regulations regarding document security and audit trails. If a document is accessed and changed after an e-signature is attached, the signature not only becomes invalid, but the system also records who accessed the document, when it was accessed, and what changes were made.

If a document is changed after an e-signature is attached, the signature becomes invalid and the system records who accessed the document. Click To Tweet

Most e-signature solutions provide the ability to seamlessly embed professional engineer stamps within documentation in addition to accepting signatures. E-signatures streamline document exchange, collaboration, and management.

Finally, e-signature promotes green business processes by saving paper and reducing transportation needs.

Electronic signatures are not without risk

E-signatures are not entirely without risk.

  • There is potential for fraudulent signatures.
  • If the process is not deployed properly, a contract may become unenforceable.
  • It must be clear what represents a valid e-signature, including how and when it is to be applied.

Other risks include those accompanying any new software purchase:

  • A software vendor new to the industry may not have the required experience or longevity to support your needs.
  • The solution may not support all signing requirements, such as multiple signatories on PDFs with native Adobe support and interoperability with MS-Office products.
  • The vendor may offer no technical support.
  • The solution may not provide complete verification that includes identity, intent, and data integrity assurance.
  • You may be locked into a proprietary solution that does not allow integration with other systems or solutions.

Identify all your requirements before searching for a solution, including integration, interoperability, security, and regulatory compliance.

If you are not accepting e-signatures, you can bet your competitors are. E-signatures won’t make your office completely paperless, but they can certainly reduce the overstuffed files to a more manageable level while increasing access. Physical storage ceases to be a factor, and your documents are routed and signed at the speed of light.

Before diving back into the shark tank, consider this tool that can help you stay competitive while increasing the security of your documentation.

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