I hate paper. It served a good purpose for a long time. But now we’re stuck with the legacy despite having better ways to do things. And nothing annoys me more than the print, sign, fax/scan cycle. Recently I’ve had to do a bunch of that. So after the first few I decided to cobble myself together something that would work as a good replacement.
Of course, the way I would like this to work is some kind of digital signature. But I’ve lived through enough failed waves of attempts to bootstrap public key cryptography systems (and have the keysigning party trust signatures to prove it!) that I know better than to try something like that. And all it would really accomplish anyway is exchanging my fools errand of looking for a printer where ever I happen to be with a half hour conversation with someone explaining how yes, a digital signature is a signature and can be accepted for legal documents.
So I decided to figure out a way to be compatible with existing process instead, figure out how to take the existing inputs and emit the existing outputs. But without all that messy physical process in between. I was hoping for something that would record a signature of mine and allow me to just cut and paste it into a document. Instead I found some decent PDF editors for the iPad that allow me to open up an existing doc, sign it with my finger on the touchscreen, and just mail it back. There are actually a few out there that are supposed to be dedicated to this function, but I’ve instead settled on the free Paperpad Lite application. It’s free. So at the end of the day, I’ve found myself a replacement for print/sign/fax that thus far has cost me zero dollars. Double w00t!
The dedicated “signature apps” are supposed to do things like allow you to open up other document formats like Office docs, but in my experimentation so far they generally don’t work. Most of the time the doc comes out garbled. So in those cases I resort to bring up the doc in Pages on my Mac and saving it as a PDF myself. When I’m really in a pinch (like I don’t have my laptop with me and I need to get the doc back right away) I normally just request a PDF version instead. Just watch out for asking for a PDF version from your lawyers, probably less expensive to just wait on those ones :-)
The transformation for me has been pretty extreme. Now as long as I have my iPad with me I can return a signed document right away. That’s more like it! Not perfect mind you, I wish I could do it with just my phone and a click, the way it would be with a proper digital signature. But I’ve eliminated hardware, waste, and a number of digital to analog conversions (which always make me sad). I could probably deal with the “other docs” to PDF problem with a set of filesystems triggers on my Mac, some commandline hackery, and Dropbox. Then even with my Air sitting on my desk at home it could still be working for me.
It’s made me think a decent amount about some replacement workflows enabled by devices. It’s not like using phones/mobile tech to replace paper and scanners is something new. Scanr has been around doing the same for a long time, and with companies like Zosh getting snapped up by document management companies I assume others are looking in the same direction. So if it’s been around for a while as an idea, why start caring about it now? I think it’s a combination of image capture capabilities being at the right level, applications being gregarious enough that I don’t have to worry about by digital documents being locked in a silo once I decide to make the transition, and now the availability of touchscreens.
For me this is a usage that finally turned the corner from interesting hack to useful set of services. I regularly use my Android phone as a scanner now using an app called CamScanner, which automatically crops and contrast corrects the image, and will save it directly off to Dropbox for me. It’s made me wonder about that camera that’s supposed to be in the next version of the iPad. The iPad has made a good paper replacement device thus far, but if it can also pull docs in from paper to ease the transition from existing process we could have a genuine enterprise transformation on our hands. Cool stuff.