June 11, 2012 By Noelle Knell
Roughly 240 vendor contracts are circulated for signatures each month in the Vermont Department of Information and Innovation (DII). This route can include legal staff, business employees and executive level decision-makers, and their counterparts in the private sector.
Vermont’s Chief Information Security Officer Kris Rowley explained to Government Technology that contracts typically require an average of four signatures total, but that number can climb to as many as 10 signatures depending on the scope and contents of the contract.
Until a couple of years ago, completing the contract approval process could be time-consuming, taking as much as four weeks. Printing these often-lengthy documents and routing them to all necessary parties also brought expensive courier and mailing fees.
A new solution for finalizing contracts is making its way through state agencies and departments in Vermont. Beginning with a few receptive outside vendors, Rowley said, the DII introduced e-signatures using e-SignLive, which has shortened its contract approval process by at least 75 percent. In some cases, contracts are finalized within two business days.
According to e-SignLive, the cloud-based service has made significant inroads in the government market, with several hundred public-sector entities using the technology to expedite their business processes. The U.S. Army employs e-signatures to process munitions requests, personnel actions and more. The Social Security Administration recently began using e-signature technology to process disclosure forms required for the disabled to receive their benefits.
The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), signed into federal law in 2000, led to the widespread acceptance of e-signatures as a legally binding alternative to handwritten, or “wet” signatures.
More than just pasting an image of a handwritten signature into an electronic document, an e-signature attaches a signature to a specific document. Sophisticated tools can detect any alteration to an electronically signed file after the fact, arguably more easily than alterations to a hard-copy signature can be detected.
In Vermont, e-signatures with E-SignLive started in the DII, and are slowly making their way to other areas of the state government. And the benefits are being realized on more than just contracts, Rowley said. State courts are now expediting paperwork between various court officials using e-signatures.
In another example, the state now issues fishing licenses online, using e-signatures. Using the technology simplifies the licensing process, improving customer service for applicants and saving the department time and money.
“More and more people are seeing its value, and more and more departments and agencies are starting to use it,” Rowley said.
Despite the prevalence of e-signatures across so many modern enterprises, concerns about security persist, especially since the data lives in the cloud. Given Rowley’s responsibility as the state’s foremost IT security official, she needed to be sure these concerns were put to rest.
“It’s probably even more secure than sending something in an envelope for somebody to sign — you don't know who signed it on the other end. This way we have a fair degree of certainty as to who signed it because we can track it electronically,” she said.
Vermont’s DII takes advantage of the sequenced workflow offered by e-SignLive. Contracts often have an ordered sequence for signatures. The solution ensures that interested parties review and sign the document in the proper order.
Rowley explains that despite some initial challenges that were quickly resolved, she would definitely suggest an e-signature solution to other large agencies interested in saving time and resources. She recommends starting small with some willing participants and external partners to maximize the potential for success.
“If you're trying to be green and you're trying to be digital, this is definitely the way to go. And it is certainly efficient.”
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