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Paper Contracts Are So Yesterday With EchoSign

With all of the buzz afoot about goings-on in the mobile device space, it's easy to forget that the productivity enabled by the slick devices is the real story in enterprise mobility. When the gadget becomes a legitimate tool, you realize that the mobile revolution actually has substance behind the hoopla. EchoSign, recently purchased by Adobe, is among the more impressive examples of what's possible in today’s everywhere-connected business world. Signing and handling contracts will never be the same.

EchoSign has been in the e-contract game since the beginning, and Jason Lemkin is one of the pioneers of electronic signatures. Now VP of Web Services Business at Adobe, Lemkin recently filled me in on the history of electronic contracts and where he sees this fascinating space going, hastened by the culture of mobile devices that reshape the definition of "the workplace." With the acquisition of EchoSign by Adobe, there's little doubt that Lemkin's baby is fast going mainstream.

First, the easy story. Adobe has long been a huge player in business, and EchoSign's e-signature capabilities and framework are now being integrated with Adobe Reader; full Acrobat integration will come soon after. As more of what we all do goes paperless, the notion of "an original document" is also changing. With EchoSign, originals are stored in Adobe's cloud while all parties get a copy in their inboxes as soon as the contract is executed by submission of e-signatures.

While this isn't exactly new, electronic contracts are booming along with the types of device they can be executed from. And all of this was legally legitimized by the Federal e-Sign Act of 2000. Boiling it down, EchoSign enables powerful e-contracts on a swelling number of mobile devices, the Adobe integration validates EchoSign's capabilities and mutually expands both companies' footprints, and the e-Sign Act makes it all unquestionably legal and extremely practical.

Going paperless with contracts is an interesting story, but just as noteworthy are the subtle changes in the human side of the process that actually drive big benefits to those in the know. Lemkin predicts that, in a few years, half of all contracts of all types will be executed electronically, and a significant portion of those will be done on mobile devices during meetings that used to precede the actual working up of printed contracts by the back office folks. Here’s where life gets interesting.

Time is money in the business world. More contracts signed in shorter periods of time equal more and faster revenue. With EchoSign, the likes of Salesforce and a slew of Fortune 500 companies have seen their contract closure rates increase, and times-to-closure drop from days and weeks to under an hour. Think about it--I make my pitch in person, you like what I’m saying, I present a contract via my tablet PC that you can electronically sign, and the entire thing is legally executed at the speed of light with copies sent to all parties and the original safely stored in Adobe's cloud of data centers. For customers like Salesforce, EchoSign is tightly integrated with business back-end, and signed contracts are also pushed into the appropriate parts of the customer relationship management (CRM) giant's framework, requiring no traditional administrative filing of documents.

Lemkin sees a more social dimension to contract execution as reps can present contracts in person, on demand, via mobile devices. This leads to less people involved in "sealing the deal," and also lets management easily track the activities of their sales forces with service tiers aimed at businesses of all sizes. EchoSign as a private company was impressive enough, but EchoSign now as part of Adobe signals big things for those who do business out of the palms of their hands.

At the time of publication, EchoSign and Adobe are not clients of and have no business relationship with Lee Badman.