Signing Documents in the Paperless SharePoint Universe

In spite of IT's help, most organizations have yet to fulfill the vision of the paperless workplace. SharePoint plays a part in saving trees, but the stumbling block is often a simple thing that has nothing to do with SharePoint --such as the need for a "real," paper-based contract signature.

Signature-heavy industries such as insurance, financial services, real estate, and legal still tend to use paper copies, fax, or scanning. EchoSign, a company that offers on-demand, web-based, digital electronic signature solutions, aims to change that. Mangesh Bhandarkar, senior product manager for Adobe, which acquired EchoSign last year, walked me through a "then and now" picture of signing.

His "Then" picture goes like this: The user would print out the document to be signed and overnight it or send it via email and have the recipient print it out, sign it, and fax it back.

His "Now" picture goes like this: With EchoSign, the end user takes a document and selects who to send it to for signature, which is the trigger point for a workflow. After the user selects options, such as security, password protection, etc., then the document is sent for signature. The recipient gets an email with a link asking him or her to sign the document from the sender.

When the recipient clicks the link, it opens a web browser and the document is preloaded. A web-based interface then walks the user through the fields they need to fill out and sign. The signer creates a signature by typing his or her name, or can draw a signature using a mouse and web browser.

Once that's done, the sender gets an update within SharePoint and gets the PDF. It is stored within SharePoint and associated back with the agreement.

You can also take data from SharePoint in a list, and when a document is sent for signature, you can merge that data into the template that gets mailed out. And vice versa: When you sign and fill out some info about your data, after you sign the document you can take the information and map it back into fields within SharePoint.

EchoSign, Bhandarkar said, speeds up the process of signing contracts, noting that in the insurance industry, for example, the average time to sign has gone from months to hours.

The obvious question involves security. The simplest security measure, Bhandarkar said, is that when an email is sent to the signer, the link that's sent is unique, so the sender knows when the user clicks on the link, it came from that email.

"We can also overlay other security mechanisms. For example, in a sales scenario: they are on the phone with a client, and they send the client the email, and tell them the password while on the phone, and only the person who has that link and knows the password could sign."

Another security measure that can be set up is dynamic password sets, where the password is set to something only the signer would know. You can also set it up so that when the signer is trying to sign the document, it presents a series of questions in multiple-choice format, to establish the person's identity. An account can be configured to choose how forgiving the identity mechanism will be, whether all the questions need to be answered correctly with only one retry, or whether multiple retries will be allowed.

EchoSign has a variety of tiers in its licensing model, Bhandarkar said. "We don't charge by documents but by people. What we've found is that it works best for our customers, it's predictable." EchoSign is free for one user, with five signatures a month. The Pro version starts at $14.95 a month for one user, with unlimited signatures. There are also Team, Enterprise, and Global versions. To learn more, see the EchoSign site.

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