Plus sign for online authentication

Plus sign for online authentication

IT executives believe the implementation of digital signatures will not cause major change, but will be a positive force and increase efficiencies.

By Paul Montgomery

A survey of Image & Data Manager readers has found that Australian organisations are looking to integrate digital signature technologies with a minimum of disruption to existing business processes.

Selected readers were questioned about their organisations' attitudes towards the new technology, and the general response was that electronic authentication was seen as an agent for efficiency in replacing paper-based signatures, with a concurrent positive effect on the issue of security.

The respondents were asked whether digital signatures were seen as a cost centre, an efficiency tool, or a revenue source within their industries.

"It should make little difference to their normal work patterns"

One information manager at a major Australian insurance company, who did not wish to be named, said digital signatures were seen as a positive force for efficiency.

"Little restructuring would be required unless there were significant changes to our dealings with external clients. I would anticipate it being more of a move to automating existing systems, but with an acceptable level of security," said the insurance executive.

"I would hope that it affects [employees] very little. If the signatures are integrated effectively into valid workflow applications then it should make little difference to their normal work patterns."

Mandy Cramer, manager of electronic business at the Commonwealth Department of Defence, said the DoD had been at the forefront of digital signature policy within Federal Government. It contributed to the Public Key Authentication Framework (PKAF) report by Standards Australia and Project Gatekeeper.

"Specific Defence policy is being developed which outlines the responsibility of Defence 'businessowners' to appropriately secure electronic paperless business. Currently it is considered that the best means to achieve that is through using digital signatures," she said.

As part of Project Gatekeeper and other Commonwealth initiatives to encourage the adoption of the technology, Ms Cramer said the DoD had participated in the hope of an end result of more cost effective authenti-cation systems despite the fact that the Department did not think it was not clear that the introduction of digital signatures would lead to "significant" changes.

"It can be envisioned that, when a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is in place to support it, a number of internal and external 'business' processes can be reengineered to utilise solely electronic processing," Ms Cramer said. "This might range from the creation and process of electronic recreation leave forms through to the many business interactions, such as procurement, that are undertaken with other Government agencies and the private sector."

Joe Adamski, executive manager for strategy & technology at Barwon Water, said policy on digital signatures was limited to the chief executive and key financial officers, but this would change.

"As the organisation moves towards having minimal hardcopy documents for sign-off, the use of protected digital signatures will expand," he said. "This will complement efficiencies gained by changing work practices."

Mr Adamski acknowledged the security risk of changing the mode of authentication, but also pointed out the perils on the privacy front to consumers (for more on this, see our Legalities column on page 40).

"The introduction of digital signatures is a positive, but the organisation knows it must protect the individual and ensure corporate security at the same time," he said.

Michael Bache from Western Mining Corporation said his company had no accepted policy as yet, but it was not expected to lead to a great deal of restructuring.

"[We will] increase electronic forms, [and use] less paper," he said.

Mr Bache said legislation from the Commonwealth Government to ensure certainty for users of digital signatures was "critical" for external and internal users, and other respondents agreed.

"So long as the level of control exerted by the legislation is transparent to its implementation, I don't foresee it as being a bad thing," said the insurance executive.

"Government legislation must take into account the fact that digital information including signatures is the way of the future and must be recognised as being acceptable as 'legal' in all commercial/business environments," said Mr Adamski.

"It is a means to an end rather than an 'end' unto itself," said Ms Cramer. "It is not necessarily the only means, but is felt to be, currently, the most 'assured' means that would be appropriate to many 'business' processes."

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