India has benefited greatly from digitization over the last two decades. It has transformed core industries, citizen services, created new business models, and changed the way customers access services. Physical currency was replaced by online payment methods. Tech-based apps encouraged easy mobility. And much more.
Lockdowns and COVID-19 have escalated the pace of transformation. Technology, which had seemed to be a barrier to adoption, now has an army of fans. The situation was particularly acute for businesses. In order to ensure business continuity and uninterrupted operations, organisations moved vital business functions to the digital sphere.
The digitization of documents was one key aspect which had been neglected up to now, but has gained momentum since 2020.
Digitizing the paper
Commercial relationships are forged through agreements, forms and other documents between businesses and their customers, business partners, agents, investors and employees. The most critical part of this journey, however, becomes physical when it comes to signing paperwork – even though most of this documentation is drafted, negotiated, and even finalized electronically.
Clearly, there is a problem here.
Take a single document as an example. There are several steps to getting it signed – procuring the right stationery, buying stamp papers, printing and collating the documents, filling and authenticating the information, scanning paperwork, couriers, office boys running to get physical signatures, verifying signatures & communicating approvals, and finally – storing the documents in a secure physical space. The document can also be difficult to trace/retrieve at a later date, especially when it becomes necessary for enforcement or for an RBI audit.
Now imagine that all this has to be done repeatedly on a larger scale, as the volume of documents an Indian company produces each year can reach multiple hundreds of thousands, and for big companies, even lakhs!
Moving to a digital document paradigm requires a total digital transformation of ALL your paperwork processes like:
- Digitizing the signature with eSign
- Digitizing the stamp duty process
- Preventing signature fraud and maintaining integrity of the digital process
- Ensuring privacy and maintaining document security in a cloud-driven process
- Keeping track of all your digital documents and analyzing each step of the document journey to minimize drop offs
- Maintaining compliance with internal contracting procedures like collecting supporting documents and ensuring rubber seals digitally
- Ensuring that your brand identity is present throughout the digital journey to maintain customer trust
- Using the capabilities of digital flows to automate many of the document verification, sending and storage processes that consumer hours of your team’s time daily
While this is a multi-step process – it cannot be done UNLESS Step 1 is ensured – digitization of the signature.
For years, digital signatures in India have just been associated with unmanageable USB tokens. However, these were expensive and difficult to use. When Aadhaar eSign was notified as an electronic signature under Schedule II of the Information Technology Act in 2015, it marked a transition. eSign did for signatures what UPI did for payment. With only an Aadhaar number and a mobile internet connection, any Indian could electronically sign a document!
Digitizing Stamping and Enhancing Document Workflows
Aadhaar eSign served as a gateway to digital documentation. Its functionality allows Indian startups to build additional layers of tools over and above it to ensure, among many other things:
1) Digital payment of stamp duty
2) Digital signer verification and document security measures
3) Automated, efficient and fast processes
Through the above innovations, digital flows deliver unbeatable experiences that physical flows cannot keep up with.
Digitizing documentation has numerous benefits.
- Processes that used to take weeks or days can be completed within hours or days with digital flows. Customer, business partner, employee, agent, and investor relationships can be started faster.
- Electronically signed documents are inherently tamper-proof.
- Electronic documents can be stored safely with multiple backups available – protected from physical hazards like fire, water and other disasters.
- Enhanced customer experience: A safer transaction for customers during the lockdown, and a more pleasant experience overall.
- Operational Efficiency: Merely processing the journey of physical agreements is time consuming and a big load on employees. With digital paperwork – these touchpoints either get eliminated or become completely automated. This liberates teams from spending time on paperwork – and allows them to do more productive, meaningful work.
- Finally, the law itself creates evidentiary presumptions in favor of electronic documents over physical documents. SO it is also legally binding
The World Economic Forum has alluded to the Covid-19 pandemic as the turning point for optimizing of digitization worldwide. Given the numerous benefits above, the time is certainly ripe for digitization of documentation.
(The author Shivam Singla is a lawyer and Founder and CEO of Leegality and the views expressed in the article are his own)