There’s an old movie called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and mad it must be because one of the trickiest things about referencing the film is remembering all four ‘mads’. While that was a comedy about a crazy ensemble chasing after stolen cash, it is only the title we’re interested in, because if three years ago you’d placed the world where it is today, you’d quite rightly be described as…yes, 4x mad. And yet, here we are.

Which brings us to Adobe Acrobat Sign. While Acrobat and the by-now ubiquitous PDF document format is entirely familiar to generations of people, the capability for appending digital signatures to PDF documents with utmost ease is becoming more prominent. This, says Simon Scott, Acquire Director, is such a good and even obvious idea, one wonders why it took so long. “The answer is actually quite simple: until recently, there just wasn’t huge demand for digital signatures, even though Adobe Acrobat Sign was there all along.”

If that seems…odd…a quick walk down memory lane, and a look at some digital signature facts and figures helps shed light on this now-burgeoning sector of the technology industry.


Mad 1: A longer history than you might have imagined

Digital signatures were first proposed way back in 1976. That’s impressive, because there weren’t many digital documents back in those days, and equally impressive was the first workable implementation of a crude digital ‘x’ just one year later when the RSA algorithm was invented (RSA being the initials of the inventors). Things piped down until the year 2000, when, in between tracking down Millennium Bugs, the Americans promulgated into law the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN Act).

By today’s standard where we have ‘electronic everything’, we’re still gawking at our historical predecessors (OK 22 years ago isn’t THAT long) and wondering why something so obvious didn’t immediately catch on, let alone wait until 2000.

Mad 2: Great idea, but that’s not how we do things around here

The answer to that is complex, but a lot of it has to do with inertia, existing ways of doing business, the persistence of paper, and yes, uncertainty in how to use this newfangled thing. For instance, until it had some legislation behind it, nobody knew for sure if a digital signature carried the same weight as one laid down in Waterman ink. Plus, how could you prove whose hand made the mark?

These issues were supposedly sorted with ESIGN; except, they weren’t. Remember, in many industries, physical documents were de facto and in use for thousands of years. That’s a real change management nightmare.

One such example is a 2007 academic paper explaining why digital signatures weren’t catching on in healthcare despite ‘obvious’ benefits. Among the reasons? ‘Adopting e-signature (sic) is not only a simple activity to purchase the required hardware and software, but rather a social interaction process among users, organizations, and the environment.’

As we all know, for a great many companies to this day that remains the case. “After 2000, digital signing definitely started on an upwards trajectory,” confirms Simon. “But it was more campfire than bonfire.”

Mad 3: Digital signatures aren’t the same thing as electronic signatures

Remember we mentioned the RSA algorithm? That’s a cryptographic technique known as public/private key infrastructure. It’s also what goes to the heart of the difference between a digital signature and an electronic one. “The digital signature carries more weight – legally enforceable weight – because it is backed by cryptography and therefore has provenance, while also securing the document from alteration after affixing the signature,” says Simon.

The electronic signature on the other hand is merely slapped onto a document, something anyone with another of Adobe’s celebrated products (like PhotoShop) can do at will.

Remember, the point of a signature, historically speaking, was proving identity and intent (and a few other things, like certification of the content of the document). Dating the document was equally important.

Electronic signatures might be a mark on the paper, but the ease with which they can be appended is matched by the ease with which they can be copied, faked, forged, and so on. Not so with the algorithmically protected digital signature.

Mad 4: The pandemic and everything after

While all that was going on, the mighty PDF was working itself up from obscure beginnings as an invention of the then-fledgling Adobe corporation back in 1992. The real magic- and power – of the PDF was accelerated into space in 2008 when it went from being a proprietary document format to open source (and along with that, Adobe Reader became a standard program on computers everywhere).

This is a significant step because it sets the foundations for everything that came after; one of those things was in fact Adobe Sign, with a lineage going back to 2006 (yes, digital signatures is in fact a very mature industry!) The campfire described by Simon, all the while, was burning bigger and brighter, with the digital signature market globally worth just under a billion USD in 2019 according to Statista.

Last year, Outlook Money confirmed what we all know, Covid Triggers a Boom in Electronic Signatures, and now Fortune Business Insights anticipates the industry will be worth US$35-billion by 2029. A mature industry growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of a shade over 36%? Unheard of.

“If you’ve come this far,” says Simon, “The question you really should be asking is this: why Adobe Acrobat Sign? And chances are, you already know the answer.”

 That’s because Acrobat is already recognised, used, and trusted by millions around the world. It is accessible, easy to use, and arguably as portable as the P in PDF.

“There is a real and significant advantage in using Adobe for your digital signatures. “And that matters right where really, really, really, really makes the biggest difference – on the bottom line,” Simon says.

The crew in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad world were chasing $350,000. Adobe itself says the 300,000 clients it has using Acrobat Sign save around $600,000 over a three-year period. Now that’s a prize worth getting your own company after.

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