Together, digital document workflows and e-signatures have helped businesses accelerate their processes, drive productivity, and speed and scale-up their operations. Yet one benefit we tend to hear less about is how they can be used by organizations in ways that support their compliance with relevant legal obligations, or help them manage the legal risk associated with paper-based processes.

Part of the reason may be that many firms still rely on workflows with paper-based or manual steps in areas critical for compliance. When a recent report by IDC for Adobe looked at how organizations were digitizing their documents and workflows, it found that 32% of documents used each day were still paper-based. The number one factor in this was that companies maintained their existing processes for regulatory and compliance reasons. However, what the market reveals is that it’s not only possible to switch to digital workflows and maintain compliance, but frequently preferable.

You can understand the comfort level with existing, paper-based workflows. They’re well-established and understood, with clearly-defined mechanisms for trust, authenticity, approval, and auditing. You can also understand why some businesses are wary of moving to digital workflows, when digital documents, left unprotected, may be easier to access, modify, copy, and share.

However, effective e-signature and document management solutions, like Adobe Acrobat Sign, provide the necessary tools and features that businesses need to manage their procedures in ways that comply with applicable legal requirements. Organizations that understand their compliance obligations can designate appropriate workflows, identity authentication, and access controls, and make sure that any requirements in terms of e-signatures, certificates, and auditing are in place.

The right approach and process will always depend on the organization’s specific regulatory environment, its risks, and its unique requirements. The key thing is that Acrobat Sign helps organizations automate their processes and put the right procedural controls in place. Documents are managed securely throughout, with each step logged, including when agreements are sent, opened, and signed. At every stage, it captures the identity of each party, their IP address or geolocation, and the specific forms of any authentication used. Once applied, signatures can’t be amended or removed, and changes can’t be made to a document without invalidating the signature.

What’s more, Acrobat Sign can use this information to generate comprehensive audit reports, with each entry date time-stamped and recorded chronologically. The result is secured, easily producible evidence to prove that organizations have met their obligations, certified with an Adobe-owned digital certificate.

Meanwhile, management features and automation help ensure that documents are managed throughout their whole life cycle. Retention schedules can be used for automatic document deletion, and where documents need to be signed by different parties, digital systems and workflows make it faster and less onerous to produce comprehensive reports.

The right approach and process will always depend on the organization’s specific regulatory environment, its risks, and its unique requirements.

What’s more, e-signature workflows make for a more secure, compliance-friendly process. With Adobe Acrobat Sign, you can use e-signatures based on an email address and a unique link, or enhanced e-signatures where the signer has to verify their identity before signing. Meanwhile, digital signatures carry the same legal weight as a paper-based signature, using a digital ID issued by a Trusted Service Provider.

Whatever the business needs to meet its regulatory requirements, digital workflows can support it. And with secure, compliance-enhancing features and processes available, individual employees are less likely to fall back on shadow IT. That means no print, sign, scan, and email, and no document sharing over unapproved public cloud services.

Existing paper-based approaches might be tried and tested, but the digital approach gives organizations real control. With Acrobat Sign, the features and controls needed for the most common UK, EU, and US regulations come integrated within the solution, and updated as the regulations change.

To find out more about how Acrobat Sign makes for a more secure, productive and compliant business, click here