Thanks to electronic signatures, homeworking is becoming the new norm

January 2021 – The final stages of a process are where success becomes evident – the cost-cutting dream of paper-free working is increasingly coming true.

Is homeworking a right? German politicians aren’t the only ones discussing this question at present. During the coronavirus pandemic, those who can arrange it and whose work and employer allow it prefer the security of their own four walls to the COVID-19 danger lurking in open-plan offices. But the return of many employees to their home offices also poses many practical questions, including: How can it be ensured that processes and services continue when physical signatures are no longer possible due to social distancing?

Electronic signatures are the ideal solution. Yet in practice they are challenging and full of potential pitfalls, as Jan Sojka, Head of the Digital Excellence Center (DEC) at Hamburg Commercial Bank, is all too aware: “During the digital transformation, the processes forming the backdrop to the customer experience have to be considered in their entirety. In traditional organizations, they usually extend horizontally across multiple silos. The result is frequent media breaks, manual tasks, and above all, waiting periods for clients.”

One of the final stages in a digital process is often the provision of a legally binding signature for a product or service. Here it is determined whether the required documents can be quickly and conveniently processed digitally, without the need for a hard copy, and whether the process can be completed – or not.

Pen and note

Legally binding digital signatures

On the basis of the European eIDAS regulation, electronic signatures have been recognized and standardized in Europe since July 2016. eIDAS stands for “electronic Identification And Trust Services.”

The eIDAS regulation applies throughout Europe and without implementation in national law. It distinguishes between three different types of electronic signature that differ above all in terms of security and legal effect: simple, advanced and qualified signatures. Qualified signatures are the most secure solution with the highest legal value as evidence. They can even be used for the legally effective signing of sensitive documents, such as credit agreements.

Falling costs, but increasing speed and customer experience

During the pandemic, the need for electronically signed documents has risen significantly due to increased homeworking. “In the Digital Excellence Center, we were looking for a solution that could be integrated into our cloud-based Modern Workplace. In addition, it had to be possible to have documents efficiently signed with an advanced electronic signature for purely internal use and with a qualified electronic signature for communication with external stakeholders,” says Sojka. Following the completion of a proof-of-concept phase, a solution was selected in association with a German trust service provider. The following benefits are expected from the implementation of this solution:

Cost savings

Through the reduction of worktime, logistics costs for printers, toner, and paper, and mailing and transportation costs, as well as the elimination of hardware infrastructure (signature cards and reading devices), the costs for signature processes will be considerably reduced – by up to 60 percent. Moreover, Sojka is anticipating an amortization period of less than a year.

Process efficiency and improvement in customer experience

Thanks to the elimination of media breaks and waiting periods, existing signature processes will be accelerated at least tenfold.

Increased security

The system replaces paper-based signature processes with authentic, electronically signed documents developed in a process characterized by integrity.

Scalability

The system can be expanded with minimal additional work to several hundred users.

Step by step toward the best solution

The implementation of the signature solution is split into several phases of an innovation process giving rise to various discoveries and challenges:

Ideation

Idea qualification

The idea of an electronic signature solution is evaluated based on different dimensions, and initial success hypotheses and possible challenges are listed.

Business discovery

The objective of business discovery is to create a business case that leads to commitment at management level.

The important thing here is to identify relevant signature processes (use cases) that can be employed to demonstrate the business potential of the solution. For business discovery in the DEC at Hamburg Commercial Bank, five use cases were selected with more than 100,000 printed pages per year. For signature processes, this resulted in overall cost savings of around 60 percent as well as an acceleration in throughput time that was at least tenfold.

Even though business discovery is associated with increased costs, this phase is worthwhile as it gives rise to discoveries relating to technical requirements, and important supportive change processes can be initiated among employees.

Tech assessment

During this phase, a shortlist is created of the providers of signature solutions. A structured process using defined assessment criteria is important. In addition, IT specifications are defined for the system.

Prototyping

Solution design

Based on the specialized and technical requirements, a solution architecture and a digital signature process are designed. It is important to analyze these two components carefully, as they have direct impact on customer experience. For instance, a fundamental decision should be made as to whether external customers should also have the chance to use the system for the signing of documents.

Proof of concept

For a well-founded provider decision, it is recommended that two to three signature systems be tested on a small scale. Differences with respect to functionality will quickly become evident, and initial technical obstacles can be identified before subsequent rollout.

Business planning

During this very time-consuming phase, all preparations are completed for the successful implementation of the signature solution. These include the conclusion of contracts, for which legal, regulatory, and internal compliance must be guaranteed in particular. In this context, aspects such as regulatory specifications for outsourcing, eIDAS, GDPR, export control law, and internal compliance or security requirements must be evaluated.

DevOps (ongoing)

Pilot

The pilot phase is implemented for several months in a small user group. It enables experience to be gained and discoveries to be made. “For the pilot phase, the testing of change measures and expectation management among pilot users are particularly important. The digital signature process changes lots of processes fundamentally, which may meet with resistance from users. Moreover, additional technical adjustments are usually possible during this phase. Expectations cannot be communicated to users often enough,” says Sojka.

Roll-out

For the roll-out of the signature solution, a staggered process should be used in terms of user numbers. In this way, the solution can be scaled according to requirements and change measures can be realized effectively. In this context, change agents should be employed, primarily to take care of continuous communication with users.

Operation

This phase provides for the transfer of operation (including the handling of support inquiries) to the line organization.

men sitting at a desk in front of three computers

To make full use of the benefits of electronic signatures, they must be integrated into company processes. Electronic signatures enable processes to be made considerably more convenient for both clients and employees. It is important to use their launch for the redesigning of processes. In particular, this includes a continuous change process, which brings about a change in behavior among employees.