PBSA unveils new digital signature technology

itologoPosted by IT Online on 17 February 2016

Up to 80% paper resources reduction, an 80% decrease in power consumption, up to 90% time savings and a largely reduced usage of petroleum and diesel are all reasons PBSA (formerly Pitney Bowes SA) has launched digital signing and electronic workflow solution SignFlow.

This is according to PBSA business development manager and SignFlow co-founder Leon van der Merwe, who notes the software product – “a first in South Africa” – has now officially launched, following its BETA release in October.

This comes three years after PBSA introduced digital signatures into South Africa with its CoSign digital signature solutions. Van der Merwe says the advantage of the solution was immediately evident. “We saw the potential to drastically cut down on costs associated with printing.” He adds that about 80% of businesses’ printing is as a direct result of the need to archive and wet-ink sign documents.

But while the CoSign solution solved the problem of businesses having to print, sign, scan and email documents for signing, it did not solve the problem of documents having to be signed by multiple parties, notes Van der Merwe.

He says this is where SignFlow plugs the gap. “SignFlow was designed, using the latest X.509 cryptographic digital signature technology, to workflow documents to multiple parties that all need to sign or action a document.

“[This means] the document originator/owner can, by using SignFlow, automatically and sequentially distribute any document to multiple parties to legally sign a document through an intelligent workflow system or from any popular document management platform like Microsoft SharePoint Online or Office 365.

“By signing documents electronically with SignFlow, the electronic version of the document becomes the original,” explains Van der Merwe. “This has a huge impact on archiving of documents as it is not required at any stage to print these documents for long term archiving.

Extensive application

“The amount of money and time that businesses spend on getting documents approved and signed is staggering. Signflow bridges this gap by offering a secure digital signature workflow solution so powerful, it eliminates all the inefficient, costly processes relying on print, scan, fax, email and courier completely.”

PBSA’s SignFlow product is designed to benefit any business that signs documents or has others sign documents, contracts, mandates, agreements, etc, with the main verticals to have benefitted thus far being the financial, auditing, engineering, legal and government sectors.

While the solution has seen interest and “extremely positive” feedback primarily from the corporate world, consumers stand to benefit just as much, says Van der Merwe. “Every consumer in South Africa that has ever been asked to sign a document will benefit,” he says, citing the end of brick and mortar banks and the need to print, scan and email or fax documents as obvious advantages. He adds that there is no cost to the consumer to sign documents using SignFlow.

Ultimately, he says, PBSA would like to see every individual consumer, as well as business and government department in South Africa having access to this technology.

All-round impact

Should this goal be realised, Van der Merwe says, the implications would be immense.

According to The Paperless Project – a grassroots coalition of companies focused on transforming the way organisations work with paper and electronic content – the world produces over 300 million tons of paper each year.

“This will eradicate the need for anyone to print documents for signing ever again. [As far as the environment is concerned], this would mean paper usage in a business being cut down by up to 80%, while power consumption [will be reduced] by 80% on the devices (printers, copiers, scanning machines, etc.) that are being used to produce paper documents.”

On a macro scale, he adds, documents would be able to be electronically distributed anywhere in the world, so there would be no need for courier services – which in turn would mean reduced usage of petroleum and diesel.

On the IT infrastructure side, universal adoption of the technology would mean a significant reduction of file replication. “At present, a document in need of four signatures is typically printed and scanned four times, but it is also emailed eight times, which means there are eight different versions of the document. With SignFlow there is always just one instance of the document.

“In addition, not having to print, scan and courier documents would result in an estimated time reduction of up to 90%, noticeably increased business efficiency and an easy means of tracking progress.”

According to a survey by UK-based research company YouGov, the UK’s SMEs waste over £42,2-million per day in revenues just looking for documents.

Local tech

SignFlow comprises two core technologies, both of local origin. The cryptographic public key infrastructure was launched by PBSA in South Africa in 2014 and forms the core X.509 cryptographic infrastructure that allows users to sign digitally in SignFlow.

Secondly, the SignFlow platform itself was 100% developed in South Africa by South African developers in partnership with Jena Solutions using the latest Microsoft .Net technologies.

Speaking about the challenges of launching a new technology, Van der Merwe says – as with any new technology – the market takes time to get to understand the technology. “The technology has an impact on legal, infrastructure, security and business departments within a corporate environment, so all these departments need to be involved in the decision to implement the solution, which is something that takes time.

“We are a pinnacle point in South Africa, where the realisation of the benefits have become the new driving force, rather than just seeking latest tech.”

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