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The rise of modern systems of agreement
DIGITAL transformation is making it faster and easier to do business.
Companies have invested billions of dollars to modernise their Systems of Record (SofR), such as customer relationship management, human capital management and enterprise resource planning systems, and their Systems of Engagement (SofE), such as marketing automation and internal collaboration applications.
Yet for most companies, there is one critical system that has yet to be modernised, despite being central to the process of doing business. It is the company's Systems of Agreement (SofA): the collection of technologies and processes used for preparing, signing, acting on and managing agreements.
If your SofA is like most companies', it is rife with manual processes, slow turnaround times, and human errors. Such legacy SofA are needlessly burning time and money. They are also undermining the experiences of customers, employees, and partners. More generally, when you consider that agreements are pervasive across every size and type of business, legacy SofAs are imposing a persistent and perennial drag on business productivity across all sectors of the economy.
Some companies have already taken the first step to transformation by implementing e-signature solutions from companies like DocuSign to break the bottleneck of needing a physical signature - a crucial and valuable breakthrough.
The San Francisco-based company is currently valued at about US$6 billion after its recent initial public offering in the United States and is also backed by EDBI, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board.
Chu Swee Yeok, chief executive officer and president of EDBI, said: "Digital business solutions have become a staple for enterprises to maintain competitiveness. DocuSign's leading eSignature technology offers a unique digital solution for companies to go paperless and capture productivity gains.
"Since EDBI's investment in 2014, DocuSign has set up a Singapore office and has gone on to help local enterprises increase productivity through shorter turnaround time and generate cost savings.
"Leveraging our network, we continue to work closely with DocuSign to help companies build stronger digital capabilities and catalyse Singapore's digital transformation journey."
An excellent example of running a modern SofA is Salesforce, one of the world's leading software companies.
In the past, Salesforce representatives sent out contracts by email and postal mail, receiving completed agreements back in an average of two business days. Once the contract was finalised, the sales operations team had to follow up with the customer to get a purchase order (PO) number for invoicing. Only once the process was complete would the customer be provisioned.
Using DocuSign as its SofA platform, over 90 per cent of Salesforce contracts are completed within the same day and 71 per cent within an hour. This large time savings means a better customer and employee experience and faster revenue recognition. As well, there is major cost savings due to manual work saved.
Beyond using its SofA for its more than 3,000 sales representatives, Salesforce has also deployed it for use by its human resource, purchasing, procurement, and other departments.
But important as it is, e-signature addresses a single stage of the larger agreement process, leaving manual processes elsewhere. For example, in preparing an agreement, people often end up rekeying data that exists in another system. Or when acting on a just-signed agreement, people often need to manually transfer the agreement terms into, for example, billing systems. Thus, what happens before and after the signature needs the same acceleration that e-signature has brought to the signing process.
Using DocuSign as its SofA platform, Salesforce can create and automatically populate agreements with data from any Salesforce CRM record, then send the agreement for signature, all directly within the Salesforce application. The customer then enters the PO number during the signing process, then the PO number is written back to the Salesforce CRM record.
A new instance of Salesforce's software is then automatically provisioned for the customer, removing data and manual process complexities often associated with legacy systems.
Modern Systems of Agreement are part of the much larger trend of digitally transforming business processes end-to-end. It is especially important to consider a platform's innovation readiness - that is, how will it allow companies to take advantage of new technologies as they emerge?
For example, agreements have evolved from paper to PDF documents. PDFs are digital, but they are like pictures of paper. Displayed on a phone, a normal-size PDF document's text can shrink to being unreadable. Today's consumers expect more. They expect documents that automatically adjust their formatting for readability on devices ranging from desktop computers to smartphones. As agreements evolve in that direction, an SofA platform should handle that evolution seamlessly.
DocuSign also integrates with Nuance, a PDF solution provider. With the latest Nuance Power PDF 3, any user can choose to sign a PDF or send it to another party for their signature using integrated DocuSign actions, making it a seamless process to approve a purchase, close a sale or sign an agreement.
"A big plus for us is that Nuance Power PDF turns static files into 'live' forms so that digital signatures can be added. Our partners often have to sign countless documents which can now be done quickly and easily thanks to this feature," says Andrew Stott, Technology Services Supervisor at Hall & Wilcox Lawyers.
While moving offices, the Australian legal firm decided to seize the opportunity and set their firm on the path to becoming paperless. As a mid-sized, commercial law firm, it was keen to cull the volume of paper it had amassed over the years and implement digital capabilities where possible to reduce future paper volumes.
"Unlike other PDF solutions, it is remarkably well priced given the feature rich menu of capability that it provides. Power PDF has been a very worthwhile purchase for us as we realise our goal of becoming paperless."
Given that agreements are everywhere within a business, companies that modernise now can realise substantial benefits in cost reduction and customer experience, as well as gain a competitive edge against slower movers.
A survey conducted by Forrester Research reported that of those IT and line of business decision makers surveyed, all experienced a combination of challenges related to legacy SofAs:
- Difficulty maintaining visibility into the location and status of paper-based documents
- Lack of security over printed documents
- Difficulty administering and controlling documents over time
- Difficulty collecting and managing documents from multiple sources
- Cumbersome paper-oriented tasks such as scanning and document management
- Costs and delays due to human errors while executing manual processes
These factors are driving companies to modernise their Systems of Agreement. Even if some of the parts have already been digitised - such as with word processing, email, and electronic signature - a legacy SofA is a collection of disconnected parts that rely on manual processes to make the parts work together. So it is important to choose a technology platform that connects the parts into an automated whole.