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Sealed with a click

As Vodafone's largest retailer chooses a New Zealand solution for electronic signing of contracts, NBR looks at hits and myths surrounding digital signatures.

Tue, 03 Jul 2012

It’s human nature to want to sign a piece of paper to seal a contract.

It feels “proper” and psychologically satisfying.

This is a phenomena that has probably kept many a fax machine alive way beyond its technological use-by date, and that’s responsible for many a laborious scan (many companies still ask me to physically sign then fax back a loan agreement for hardware, as if it’s 1986), courier fee or car trip.

Beyond psychology, many are simply unaware the law now recognises digital signatures for almost all contracts.

"Online signature systems are perfectly valid for almost all situations, including those involving witnesses, unless the law specifically requires a physical signature – wills being just about the only example of that in New Zealand," Lowndes Jordan partner Rick Shera told NBR.

Adobe has entered the e-signature market, beefing up its offering with its July 2011 purchase of EchoSign, which at the time had around three million customers worldwide.

But as with all things Adobe – especially in this part of the world – it is on the expensive side, especially if you shell out for the full-featured version with industrial-strength PKI (public key infrastructure) encryption.

Enter Auckland company Secured Signing, founded by Mike Eyal (Mr Shera is also a backer).

After a stint with the Israeli Air Force, Mr Eyal helped set up a tech start-up (which sold for $US86 million), eventually landing in the quieter climes of Auckland's North Shore and a business park in Mairangi Bay (or Little South Africa, for those unfamiliar with the Shore).

The ex-pat and a team of five created a cloud-based digital signature service that he says is more user-friendly and includes PKI standard at all its price points.

Secured Signing's monthly subscriptions are based on number of documents and number of users. They range from free (one person and three documents) to $49 a month (one person and 50 documents) to $296 a month (five users and 200 documents), with deals available for larger clients.

Eyal's product was good enough to recently get Digital Mobile onboard – the 100-outlet chain that is one Vodafone's two major retailers.

Digital Mobile is using Secured Signing’s technology to offer paper-less contracts for customers who sign up to Vodafone.

Secured Signing offers to turn your paper invoices into HTML. And as is the case with Digital Mobile, it can adapt its basic product to include company branding.

One centralised master copy of a document is stored in the cloud, locked for changes once it is signed.

You can store a copy locally or print it out.

And although it is not necessary with Secured Signing’s logon and password passed system, if it makes things more kosher you can add a graphic of your signature.

Through email, multiple parties can be invited to sign a document.

Because it is a cloud (internet-based) service, you don’t need any Secured Signing software on your computer, just a PC, iPad, smartphone or any device with a web browser (it’s HTML based rather than being an app).

There’s even a mechanism for accommodating a laggard who wants to sign a faxed copy.

It all looks good on paper – so to speak – but Mr Eyal is still hustling hard-to-win-over customers and is not making money yet.

Nevertheless, the three-year-old company is making progress.

It recently became a DX Mail partner.

Another early Secured Signing adopter is the Yarra Ranges Council in Victoria, which uses the technology for procurement contracts.

Mr Eyal hopes councils on this side of the Tasman will follow the Victorians’ lead.

He sees it reducing the time to get a signature on, say, a building consent reduced from hours or days to minutes.

Christchurch City Council is using Secured Signing to sign some supplier agreements.

With the Auckland and Wellington councils moving toward digital signatures, Mr Eyal hopes for a future where the technology is brought into the mainstream and used for an array of interactions with ratepayers.

All the technology is in place. For Mr Eyal, the key challenge is that most businesses remain unaware e-signatures are a legal, practical option.

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Sealed with a click