Could Electronic Signatures Not Be Telling The Truth?

It turns out that people are more willing to lie when it's electronic
It turns out that people are more willing to lie when it’s electronic

Image Credit: Rob King

As the person with the CIO job, one of your ongoing responsibilities is to always be looking for ways to streamline how the company operates. We all know about the importance of information technology and that if applied correctly, we can take multi-step time consuming tasks and turn them into quick and efficient online processes. However, in our quest to create the “paperless” company, is it possible that we just might end up taking things too far?

So What’s The Problem?

Where the person in the CIO position just might run into some problems with their company wide streamlining operations would be in the area of electronic signatures. In the past, we’ve always added a signature to a form in order to ensure that the person who is filling it out feels a personal responsibility for what they have put on the form. By having them place their signature on the form, we are in essence having them tell us “i confirm that the information that I am providing you with is correct to the best of my knowledge.”

Nothing in this world is ever perfect, but this technique of requiring people to add their signature to a form seems to have worked out pretty well over time. However, now we enter the scene as CIOs and one of the areas that we’ve identified as being inefficient are all of the countless paper trails that wind their way through the company. What a lot of us are doing is shifting our companies from having people put pen to paper and instead having them sign electronic forms. There are a lot of different ways that these electronic forms can be signed: a simple checkbox, typed signatures, or even personal identification numbers. The problem that CIOs are running into is that when our signature goes digital, we are more prone to lie.

How To Solve The Signature Problem

What the researchers have discovered is that people feel less committed when they sign something electronically. What this means for the company is that the people who are signing the form may be more likely to lie. Note that this is in contrast to when we are signing something by hand. The researchers who study such things have discovered that when electronic signatures are used, they turn out to be largely ineffective in curbing dishonest behavior.

So what’s going on here? Not only in the workplace, but also in a lot of other areas of our lives we are more and more using e-signatures. What the researchers have discovered should stand as a cautionary tale for CIOs. What they are telling us is that the people that we have signing things feel more removed when they are submitting things electronically. It turns out that when people are asked to sign by hand, it deters them from cheating. However, e-signatures don’t serve as a deterrent at all.

So what’s a CIO to do? Should we drop the concept of e-signatures all together because they are driving user behavior that we don’t really want to encourage? The answer, of course, is no. Instead, we need to listen to what the researchers have discovered. What they have found out is that if users are allowed to draw their own signatures (using a stylus or mouse) it creates more of a connection between the signer and the signature. This seems to complete a step in the mental process that people go through in order to feel as though they are actually signing a real document.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the main responsibilities of a CIO is to always be looking for ways to help the company to streamline its processes. One step in this process can be to turn the manual process of signing a document into the process of using an e-signature to sign electronic documents. The problem with this process is that research has shown that when we are signing things electronically, we are more inclined to lie.

The reason that when we sign things electronically we are more prone to lying is because we don’t feel connected to the signature or to the document. It turns out that it really doesn’t matter how we electronically sign something, checkbox, typing our name, or a personal identification number – we’ll still have a tenancy to lie. Researchers who are studying this problem are telling us that one way to deal with this issue is to have people use a stylus or a mouse to trace their signature. This will allow them to be more connected to the document and less prone to lying.

The march towards turning manual processes into online processes is well underway. We’re not going to be stopping this anytime soon. What this means for CIOs is that we are responsible for finding ways to get the company’s employee’s o view electronic documents as being “real” documents and their electronic signatures as being “real” signatures. The good news is that it looks like this can be done, we just have to find the way that will work the best at our company.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to test to see if your company’s employees lie when they sign something electronically?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job, you are sitting on a mountain of data about your company’s customers. Every time they purchase your product, call your support department, or even just visit your website because you understand the importance of information technology you collect more and more data about them and about what they are looking for. If your company is like most companies, then your marketing department attempts to use this data to create marketing programs that will connect with your customers. However, is there something more that could be done with all of that data?