One of the many failures in the paperless world was the fact that we still need to sign many things. From offline credit card payments to mortgage paperwork to contracts. Of course we were promised electronic signatures but nobody trusted them.
My office has recently gone almost completely paperless. But some paperwork can’t be avoided. I scan the papers I do receive and recycle the used paper. But my routine for contracts is to print the document, sign it by hand, scan it back in and email it back. If I have the Word version of the document, then I sign it with a scanned version of my signature and send it as a PDF to my client … who prints it, signs it, scans it and sends it back. Of course if they fax it back, I have to scan it again!
It seems I may be the only one in the world that didn’t know these problems had been resolved by a “trusted third party” named EchoSign. They claim to have 3,000,000 users of their service including Groupon, BT and Delta Airlines. They have a number of sub-products around the basic eSignature service including tracking of documents (i.e. who has signed and who has not), a fax-in service for those that don’t trust the new whizz-bang interweb, and a document archive for long term store-and-recall of signed documents.
I think I might give it a go for my next contract. As all good SaaS offerings, they have a limited free trial. The try-before-you-buy philosophy is one of the greatest things to come out of the software era!
Update 24/Jul/2011: While this is a long way from a replacement for EchoSign (and friends), Apple has added a little tweak to the Preview.app in Mac OSX Lion that will be sufficient for my needs. Preview now allows you to add a digital scan of your signature to any PDF document using the built-in video camera. A simple and fantastic improvement.