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What is an electronic signature?

This article aims to clarify and provide a brief overview of what is meant by the term electronic signature. Although this term is becoming more and more common, there is a wide divergence of ideas as to what is meant by it.

However, it often happens that many people do not even know what an electronic signature actually is. This article is intended to remedy this situation. It also looks at what such a signature, PDF documents, companies, contracts, regulations and certificates have in common and whether digital signatures are a sensible solution. So let's start with the basics:

What is meant by an electronic signature?

An electronic signature is a digital code used to authenticate electronic documents. This signature can be used to verify the identity of the sender as well as the integrity of the document. Unlike a handwritten signature, an electronic signature can be easily verified and authenticated. That is, anywhere in industries where there are use cases for analog signatures, they can be replaced with an e-signature solution. These include, for example, contracts of all kinds, administrative documents and approvals. This is contrasted with the digital signature. The differences between the two signatures are discussed in more detail in the article "Difference between electronic and digital signature". Here, the focus continues to be on the principles of electronic signatures. Now that we have clarified the definitional aspects, we will move on to the functional aspect:

How does an electronic signature actually work?

Signatures are required to sign contracts. In the past, these were always done in writing, which is now considered outdated.

Many documents, contracts and certificates are now sent by e-mail and/or can be retrieved as PDF documents. So business processes are subject to further digitization and thus offer good framework conditions for integrating electronic signatures. In order to continue digitization and not interrupt the workflow for the team, electronic signatures offer themselves as part of the solution. These are based on a specific software, or tool, that simplifies the signing of the various documents. For this purpose, the documents are uploaded and the digital signature is signed on the document by the business partners. In this way, the status of the signatures of the partners involved in the document can be practically overviewed without further assistance, which also simplifies navigation through the pages of the document.

Technically, the data is subject to encryption to protect the data-related information and make it inaccessible to third parties. Nevertheless, no login is necessary for the signers, only for the exhibitor, for which at least one e-mail address is required. This makes signing easy for all partners. Only there are different processes and authorizations that can initiate or confirm a signature, each requiring different security aspects again. This automatically leads to the following question:

Are there different types of electronic signature?

To make a long story short: Yes, they exist. So there are different types of electronic signatures, including the simple electronic signature, the "advanced electronic signature" (FES) and finally the "qualified electronic signature" (QES). Each of these has a certain level of authentication and definition of security by legal regulations. Different industries and documents therefore require different electronic signatures. But more on this topic in an upcoming article. This by no means exhausts the possibilities of electronic signatures, so:

What potential do electronic signatures still offer?

In addition to signing, other solutions are also emerging for companies that cover other topics as a side effect. This form of signing thus makes communication much easier, but it also requires trust and thus trust services to make all transactions secure for all partners. Processes can thus be further simplified. Likewise, the flow of information improves, which is of course also valuable for employees and thus for time management.

This means that the time saved by employees can be better used for other tasks, such as service and support. The possibilities are therefore very versatile and far from exhausted, as electronic signatures are still in their infancy. However, it will still be some time before they can exploit their full potential.

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