Electronic signatures, or eSignatures, have become indispensable in the modern tech-led workplace for businesses across a broad range of sectors.
Their benefits remain abundantly clear – with document storage secured in the cloud, they drastically speed up workflows, reduce the need for manual printing and scanning, and make businesses far more productive.
Digitisation has paved the way for cloud-based and automated documentation, redefining agreements and contracts, as well as how parties mutually codify trust. However, another broader game-changing technology that has gained significant traction – in recent years especially – is AI, or artificial intelligence, which could further influence the future of eSignatures and online documentation.
AI has already proven to be both an enabler and disrupter for many businesses and sectors, but given its propensity to automate many tasks, many are wondering how digital agreements and contracts can be further enhanced by AI. This short guide explores the growing role of AI in this terrain, and how it could further unlock more automation potential of digitised documentation.
The Rise of eSignatures
Firstly, it’s important to consider how eSignatures have grown to be the crucial, ever-present feature of many agreements in the modern age. These signatures validate and authenticate digital documents in the same way that manually signing a paper contract or agreement makes it legally or officially binding. It’s essentially the same as an inkless signature, assuring that parties understand and agree to stipulated terms.
The electronic signature market has undergone a recent boom, reaching a valuation of $3.9 billion in 2022, and is poised to reach $43.14 billion by 2030. The Covid-19 pandemic paused face-to-face interactions and reinforced the need for quick and decisive investment and availability of eSignatures to keep businesses ticking. The turbulence of lockdowns also dramatically accelerated digital transformation as a whole, with more businesses and workforces dispersed to remote locations. This then facilitated the need for tech-led solutions in place of paper contracts. As such, many governments and institutions have given eSignatures equal legal validity to physical, wet ink signatures.
The existing underlying technology of eSignatures is inherently rooted in keeping identities and agreements secure. Documents are protected by robust multi-factor authentication (MFA) and encryption, adhering to strict protocols and standards like PCI DSS, which is one of many standards that mandate businesses undertake periodic penetration testing of their networks and infrastructure to ensure stability and data protection. Not only this, but many companies have already waxed lyrical about the convenience, speed, and accuracy of eSignatures already in its relative infancy in the market. Therefore, it’s fair to say that digital signatures remain a go-to solution for many businesses.
However, 2023 has seen a profound increase in the amount and availability of AI solutions that streamline workflows and automate manual processes, so much so that it’s projected to reach a $241.8 billion valuation by year-end. It can be argued that AI cannot possibly take the already heavily automated capabilities of eSignatures to the next level, but it’s entirely possible that it could.
AI’s Transformative Potential
AI is revolutionising how organisations operate and interact with one another across all sectors. It is inherently programmed to aggregate, understand, and process gigantic volumes of data rapidly and without consistent interference, whether that’s figures or statistics from different data sets or generating realistic content at scale. It’s no wonder why AI-generated content has been in high demand, and why many people find it difficult to differentiate it from human content. We have already seen instances where AI can create highly convincing and personalised customer experiences due to its ability to understand and recognise behavioural patterns.
Given AI’s built-in machine-learning capabilities, one of its core benefits can be surmised as being innately programmed to continually improve without heavy human input. AI algorithms can automate routine and repetitive tasks such as administration, data entry or, in this case, contracts and agreements processing. Many businesses have already turned to AI solutions – not confined to these specialisms – to reduce costs and overheads, which is already causing dissension and ethical arguments about its misuse.
AI’s current lack of regulation means that it’s primed to continue being innovated and refined until governments and regulators intervene. So what does this mean for eSignatures in particular?
Enhancing eSignatures with AI
The good news is that plenty of exciting AI innovations lie in the core areas of eSignature security, accuracy, and intelligence. Let’s look at them in finer detail.
Advanced anomaly detection: Even with the strong security resilience of electronic signature agreements, some malicious actors slip through the cracks, and cases of fraud or misuse can materialise. However, with the help of AI, algorithms can identify anomalies, unusual signing activity, and forgery attempts. The deployment of this functionality in real time will drastically improve the validation and authentication processes.
Biometric authentication: AI can provide state-of-the-art facial, fingerprint, or voice recognition features to strengthen eSignature security. In turn, this will drastically reduce the risk exposure and attack surface of organisations.
Risk analysis: AI can process, analyse, and cross-reference data points to calculate suspicious activity, non-compliance or repudiation associated with specific documents, agreements, or parties. This will be useful during companies’ mandated KYC (Know Your Customer) and KYB (Know Your Business) checks.
Integration with emerging tech: AI can integrate seamlessly with other widely-used technologies like blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and more, to create more robust eSignature processes. This will prove useful for companies in highly regulated industries that are used to greater scrutiny on their cyber posture.
Enhancements in Accuracy
Many of the security improvements can apply to the realm of document accuracy, a constant necessity for companies trying to balance automated workflows and efficiency.
Superior data extraction functions: AI/ML programs can ‘read’, digest, and understand information stipulated in contracts, clauses, and agreements with razor-sharp accuracy and at much greater speeds than humans. This can profoundly improve turnaround times for signatories.
Automated form filling: Electronic documents can be pre-populated with signatures and initials already, but with the help of AI, less manual oversight is required, meaning that incomplete fields or errors can be understood before notifications are sent.
Predictive analytics: AI is already proving capable of spotting similarities and inconsistencies between documents while providing suggestions for users to bridge this gap. AI can accurately assess and ‘learn’ how contracts should be phrased and make suggestions for templates, clauses, and addendums to make them more watertight.
Unlocking the Power of Intelligent Documents
Improved content analysis: Machine-learning algorithms can scan documentation to check the consistency and appropriateness of language used for signatories, as well as the validity of contract terms, regulatory compliance, and others. Any suggested modifications or amendments based on an analysis of previous material will also prove more useful for companies.
Intelligent automation: AI can automate the processes of document routing, sending prompts or reminders, next steps, and many other administrative tasks. This will allow companies that leverage this tech successfully to see first-hand the benefits mentioned above.
Ongoing monitoring: Once a document has been signed, AI algorithms can be used periodically to monitor compliance and adherence to said agreement, including deadlines, expiration dates, and breaches. This will alleviate more of the administrative burden already on many employees’ shoulders.
It’s clear that AI technology is primed for continued advancements which will only make it more sophisticated, reliable, and accurate. Therefore, it would be prudent for organisations already utilising eSignatures to embrace AI as a valuable workplace tool, rather than a direct replacement for any existing infrastructure already built. With effective supervision and management, AI can empower companies using eSignatures to stay compliant, and competitive, and maintain the trust and confidence of customers and stakeholders.
Dakota Murphey is a Brighton-based, established freelance writer with experience in business growth and a strong interest in all things digital. Aside from her love of writing, she loves good times with family and friends and admits to being a bit of a film buff.