Until recently, using and implementing e-signature solutions represented a simple opportunity that paved the way for new services and generated greater efficiency in normal business and onboarding processes. All of this is certainly still true: the electronic signature still represents (maybe even more than before) a formidable enabling tool.
Now, we’ve gone beyond this and we can safely say that the electronic signature is no longer just a possible solution to implement, but a real must have. In recent times, customers and users have become more and more accustomed to managing interactions and transactions in a completely digital way, while maturing real expectations at the same time. Therefore, providing them with a quick and easy-to-use e-signature solution is an essential element if we want to offer a digital customer experience that meets their expectations.
As we know, there are several types of electronic signatures, each with different characteristics. Among them, today we will focus on the simple electronic signature. Very often, the simple electronic signature takes a back seat to its advanced and digital “cousins” that are characterized by additional complex elements that offer high guarantees before the law.
The simple electronic signature is also able to effectively support various transactions and activities, if you know its peculiarities and understand how to use it in the best and most correct way. Let’s discover some of the things you can do with a simple electronic signature, from the purchase of goods and services to the signing of typical HR process documents.
What is the simple electronic signature?
The simple electronic signature (SES), as the name indicates, represents the least complex and articulated type of electronic signature. While other electronic signature solutions must include legally defined elements, such as the mandatory identification of the signatory, insurance protection or, in the case of digital signatures, the use of cryptographic keys, the simple electronic signature does not require any of these. Instead, it responds to the principle of technological neutrality, which means that, from a technological point of view, SES solutions can take on diverse forms and characteristics.
The SES is part of the more general definition of electronic signature that we can find in the eIDAS regulation, which describes the electronic signature as “a set of data in electronic form, which is attached or linked by logical association to other electronic data and used by the signer to sign.” In practice, a simple electronic signature, in its most basic form, usually consists of a pair of username + password credentials, just like the ones we use to access our email or a personal account, and point&click solutions.
In fact, it has been confirmed by certain judicial decisions that a communication sent through email can be considered as signed with a simple signature. For example, this has been affirmed by ruling n. 858 of December 15, 2003, issued by the Court of Cuneo.
The probative value of the simple electronic signature
But what is, in practice, the evidentiary value of a simple electronic signature? Keeping in mind the considerations made so far, it is good to remember that, according to the CAD (Digital Administration Code), the evidentiary value of a computer document signed with a simple electronic signature and its effectiveness with respect to art. 2702 of the Civil Code may be assessed in court, in relation to the characteristics of integrity, security, and immutability. This means that, net of specific legal provisions, the value of the SES used is directly linked to its technological and process characteristics: the principle of technological neutrality, from this point of view, constitutes an advantage because it allows producers of simple electronic signatures to develop different solutions suitable for strengthening SES solutions, as we shall see shortly.
In some cases, our legal system excludes a priori the use of the SES: these are all the acts for which the written form ad substantiam is required, as identified by art. 1350 of the Civil Code and other special laws. This is the case, for example, of the acts that determine the purchase and sale of real estate or electronic invoices and other accounting records, or insurance and banking contracts. For acts that require the written form ad substantiam, it is necessary to use an advanced electronic signature or a digital signature that is compliant with the provisions of the law.
The simple electronic signature, instead, can be used for all acts that require the written form ad probationem, for which the use of an AES or a digital signature is not strictly required.
In addition, SES solutions are easy for the user, precisely because they are characterized by simple access and few steps. These solutions are easier to integrate with other systems already in use, making them suitable for integration into fully digital workflows, enabling effective digital onboarding processes to be put in place. The only thing that remains to be seen, then, is which documents and contracts can be signed with a simple electronic signature.
Buying goods and products online
One activity that is increasingly common for all of us is going online (remote in any case) to purchase goods and merchandise of all kinds. For all intents and purposes, an online purchase is a form of agreement between two parties, whether it is carried out in person, or remotely. In most cases, in the presence of a client, it is a verbal agreement, which does not require the preparation of any written document and is concluded by the issue of a receipt or invoice. In the case of online transactions, therefore, there is no need for digital or advanced signatures, as a simple signature is already largely sufficient.
Purchasing a new supply of electricity or gas
Another activity that has resulted in shorter queues at in person counters in favor of digital is the purchase of new contracts for multi-utility supplies and the subsequent management of all phases and related activities. Even in this case, an SES solution can be used effectively, possibly in the form of a “robust” SES, as we will describe later. This type of process lends itself particularly well to the implementation of an electronic signature because it makes it possible to completely rethink them in a digital mode. In addition to the dematerialization of contracts and subscriptions, it is also possible to create processes where other interactions between the company and the customer no longer take place at the counter or over the phone, but digitally. With the right workflow in place and the necessary call to actions, you can offer customers the option to make an appointment with an operator or activate a new service with just a few clicks. The necessary documents can be made available for signature by email or through a dedicated web area, and it becomes possible to create an increasingly rich and personalized digital customer experience.
Signing HR documents
A simple electronic signature can also be used to dematerialize and streamline certain HR reports and processes. For example, a simple electronic signature can be used when requesting vacation time, a leave of absence, requests for training, or expense claims. In this regard, it is worth mentioning a recent clarification from the Revenue Agency, which is contained in response no. 740 of October 20, 2021, regarding the management of expense reports. The Agency’s response clarified that digital expense reports do not require a qualified electronic signature or an advanced signature by the employee, thus making it perfectly plausible to employ a simple electronic signature or SSO authentication solutions (SSO).
Approval of quotes and purchase orders
The acceptance of an estimate or a purchase order is another activity that can be made by affixing an SES, thus digitizing and bringing efficiency to these types of transactions. Also in this case, the SES allows you to streamline processes that would otherwise require the exchange, printing, and scanning of various documents to acquire a holographic signature, while these steps are significantly reduced, if not eliminated, with the adoption of a digital approach.
Signing privacy notices
It is possible to sign privacy policies through a simple electronic signature solution, once the signer has the chance to properly view and read the document itself. This could also be implemented via email, or the information made available on a special web area that the signer accesses with a pair of credentials. The call-to-action for the signature, in the form of a point-and-click solution (e.g., a button that clearly expresses the willingness to sign the document) can be placed at the end of the disclosure, so that the signatory can properly view it.
How to strengthen an SES solution?
As we have said, the simple electronic signature can assume different characteristics that determine the degree of robustness. Because the value of the simple signature, in the event of a dispute, is evaluated in relation to its characteristics of integrity, security, and immutability, it may be usefulto adopt measures to increase the level of robustness of the SES, while maintaining its flexibility.
The easiest way to increase the value of an SES is to use an OTP code (one time password) to be sent to the signer, via sms, app, or email. Sending the OTP code to a device owned by the signer is a form of authentication by them and allows the person to further confirm their willingness to sign that particular document.
Moreover, many signature solutions already on the market, such as the one provided by Doxee, make it possible to produce a file that collects the evidence of signature, which is associated with the signed document. The events that have characterized the life cycle of the document up to the moment of signature are collected and documented in the file, for example the date and time when the document was submitted to the signer and the moment when the signature was affixed. In this way, you can associate a time reference with each event and place it firmly at a precise date and time.
Blockchain is also a great way to strengthen simple signature solutions by securing the hash-print of the signed document and protecting against future tampering and illicit modification. Finally, all signed documents can be legally preserved to ensure that they are unchangeable and retained for as long as necessary.