Wednesday, 01 January 2014 20:02

An E-Sign of the Times - Applying Digital Signature Software Technology to HR

Written by Damian Wirth, SPHR

Combining technology and HR can sometimes react like mixing oil and water. Have you ever attempted to implement new technology in HR, only to have it repel people and leave you ultimately further from your goal? I enjoy technology and embrace it when I can understand how to apply it. Last year, I tested a few concepts and found that it saved our organization, specifically HR, time and money. This proved successful in our new hire process and generated excitement in other HR applications. The discovery was not new; it simply proved how a well-placed system can support and promote HR initiatives.

The quest to find improvements using technology is nothing new. Many of the processes our organizations now use are proven, established practices. As a one-person HR department, it simply became essential to research and implement pieces of technology for a package solution. In this case, the improvement resulted in both efficiency and effectiveness.

The story behind the electronic conversion of our HR files is not that exciting, but it made us consider possibilities, which led to utilizing Digital Signature Software Technology. It started when I took the job and was faced with a desk and filing cabinets overflowing with paper. When you opened a drawer, you felt the resistance of paper and files crammed so tightly that the force was pushing the documents back out of the folders, damaging some of the information. We lost some valuable documents, but worse, we were running out of room to store new documents that were arriving daily.

Sitting down with a high school co-op, we devised a plan to begin scanning the documents. We developed the nomenclature; how we wanted to store and name the files. For HR purposes, we asked IT to create a separate, secure folder on the network, that only a very select few would have access. Inside that folder we stored confidential human resource information. Each employee now had a folder with their name on it and inside their folder were additional folders: Benefits, Hire, Payroll, Performance and Training. I-9 and Medical were separate folders included in the secure HR folder, but not included in the employees’ folders.

The process began by having the scanner send the document to our e-mail where we retrieved the email, moved the document into the appropriate folder, and renamed it corresponding to the agreed nomenclature. Yes, this took some time, but it was well worth it! During the length of a school year, working a few hours a week, we converted 14 file drawers into electronic documents that now reside on an existing on-site, secure server, which is backed up daily.

Other departments took notice and asked for assistance to develop similar processes. In HR, it was only a starting point and more efficiency was to follow. The idea to apply digital signature technology to our HR process began after signing a vendor contract, entirely on-line. The vendor had invested time, developing a relationship, meeting me in-person, but when it came time to sign a contract, the vendor was in an office miles away. This proved to be an efficient use of time. I recognized the potential value of adding this technology to our current electronic filing system.

Here are some basic steps in moving to electronic records and digital signature systems:

• Research options based on your needs and goals.

• Verify e-documents with your legal team. While many laws date back to 2000, clarify your plans and procedures. Some attorneys recommend saving original severance agreements.

• Check with your IT department. The software may already exist in your organization.

• Invite other departments by asking their needs and include them to participate in scheduled vendor demonstrations and contract decisions.

• Prepare a solid proposal. We should also be ready to have data and justification for projects.

• Allow time to convert existing documents and developing new forms in an e-signature format is not difficult, but depending on the number of fields in a document, it may take a few minutes.

• Share what you learn and your success to help others improve.

Our research began with identifying our usage. Where would we apply this? Where could this benefit us the most? Next and most important to our organization was security. We found several items to satisfy our needs, including audit logs to track who and when documents were sent. Signature Certificates are attached to the last page of each document verifying authenticity of the document and the signee. We wanted the highest level of data encryption to reduce our risk for data breach. The system needed to conform to existing laws and compliance regulations such as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA).

There are numerous devices and operating systems; therefore, it was critical that the e-signatures worked on various platforms and with different document formats, like PDF, MS Word or Excel. Signatures could be initiated by mouse, typing, a previously stored signature, or from a finger or stylus on a mobile device. The user interface needed to be simple, not requiring the signee to have special software. Ease of use was an important factor if this new technology were to be accepted. There were several other key features, but a notable requirement involved sending documents. We wanted to track the document. Where is it in the process? That simple question resulted in surprising functionality. We not only receive notifications when the document is viewed and signed, but we can also assign sequencing if the document needs to be approved by multiple people. The document can also expire if not signed in a given length of time.

Our first application of the technology was applied to our new hire process. The banking industry is overwhelmed with regulation and policies. In addition to the normal applications, handbook, IT security, I-9, tax, and benefit forms, our new hires are asked to review and agree to 11 lengthy, standard policies. When printed in total, a full-time new hire can be given as many as 245 pages! Implementing the e-signature solution revolutionized our current electronic filing system. Our return included a new streamlined process; saving time, paper, postage and storage space. The files are now more secure than having paper documents filling cabinets and boxes. Accessibility to any document is only a few clicks away, making retrieval very efficient. In our case, calculating the return on investment (ROI) for time and paper alone reflects a breakeven after just 4 new hires.

We have applied this system to our intranet documents, mass training documents, policy revisions, and COBRA-certified notices. As an HR Professional, many benefits have been achieved. HR is viewed again as an innovation leader and contributing positively to the bottom line. Now, I can spend more time orientating new hires or developing others that previously had been spent processing paperwork.

Proof of the benefits of this new system were realized a short time later. One morning, I sent documents for a new hire to review and sign. Then, I immediately turned my attention to processing payroll. Later that hour, I began seeing e-mails informing me as the new hire was viewing and signing each document. As an HR Department of one there is nothing more gratifying than to duplicate your time without expending additional effort. It is truly a remarkable achievement when we can find improvements and efficiencies that reduce time spent on routine administrative tasks and devote more time to the people we serve.

Damian Wirth is the Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer for Franklin Bank & Trust Company in Franklin, KY. Questions and comments are welcome by contacting Damian at damian_wirth@fbtco.com.

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