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Digital Signing in SAP With Signature, Seal and Time Stamp

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    The demand for companies and society to increase digitization is leading to a rapid increase in the number of implementation projects in the context of digital signature procedures. In addition, the business processes in the company, as well as the existing IT systems are a suitable starting point to realize signature procedures without media discontinuity. SAP and ERP processes, in particular, offer the ideal starting point for this.

    What Characterizes a Digital Signature Process in SAP?

    The respective SAP module (CS, FiCO, MM, PP, etc.) with its process-related transactions and the data and characteristics administered in countless SAP tables for this purpose is the decisive system. For example, technical working documents are stored in the SAP document management system (DMS) or in document management systems or archives connected via ArchiveLink. Forms are designed using SAP standard tools such as SAPscript or add-ons such as Adobe Interactive Forms. Work processes and documents are released via SAP Workflow, in Microsoft SharePoint, or in Nintex Workflow. Output management functions are also relevant for sending a digitally signed document by e-mail.

    To ensure that the transition to a digital signature process is seamless for every user at a company, the implementation should use the existing (SAP) technologies.

    Which Business Processes in SAP Are Suitable for Digital Signature Procedures?

    In traditional ERP processes (purchasing & procurement, sales) as well as in engineering and plant maintenance, printing on paper and signing by hand have potential for optimization. But from the management perspective, business and strategic considerations are relevant in making the decision:

    • How are process costs reduced?
    • How is the process run-time shortened?
    • How can the digital signature be used throughout the company?

    Last but not least, local legislation and authorities, as well as standard-setting organizations, can specify the type and nature of the digital signature to be used. After all – if a company already uses SAP, it can be built on the underlying technologies and IT applications. From a technical perspective, this is the ideal starting point for entering the world of digital signature procedures. It is, therefore, important to consider where a digital signature procedure can fully develop its benefits, benefit from existing technologies, and be legally recognized.

    Which Approach is Better Suited for Integration into SAP – Signature, Seal, or Time Stamp?

    Basically and independently of the chosen method, documents must be obtained, digitally signed, and then stored again. Unlike signatures, seals, and time stamps do not necessarily require manual interaction (click on the button) to execute the digital signature process. When using an advanced certificate (AeS), seals, and time stamps can even execute recurring processes completely automatically. Example: If Accounting releases a billing document after the document check, the invoice document is automatically called, signed with a digital seal, and then sent by e-mail to the customer stored in SAP. A thousand times a day and without manual intervention.

    On the other hand, the use of a qualified electronic signature (QeS) always requires a transaction-related authentication of the releasing party. The necessary hardware and software in the form of a card reader (USB connection), including smart cards, must be procured, and the technical communication between the individual components must be established. This applies equally to signatures, seals, and time stamps.

    In summary, no particular suitability of any of the methods mentioned above can be determined. Basic activities, such as the integration of all IT components into the overall process, including the exchange of transaction parameters and documents, always occur. In this respect, the focus should be on the overall benefit of the integrated business process.

    What to Consider for a Digital Signature Procedure?

    In functional terms, signing, sealing, or time stamping is only part of a very complex process overall, the design of which requires the integration of various sub-processes. An additional sub-process can be derived from the following example questions:

    • Is the document or form to be digitally signed already in the target format?
    • How should the signature, seal, or time stamp be visualized?
    • How is the electronic forwarding to the next signatory carried out?
    • Is a print option still required parallel to the fully digital signature process?

    Where SAP does not offer a solution, a variable solution from SEAL Systems can take over the specific task. In cooperation with a signature product, which supports all signature types and types in general, digital signature processes can be integrated into every business process, where they replace paper and ink and shorten the process time.

    Under certain circumstances, a strategic decision may still have to be made, which will have an impact on previous work and IT processes. So we from SEAL Systems recommend the general use of the standardized PDF format. This ensures that digitally signed documents or forms remain readable in the long term. This aspect has become more important in times of constant, automatic updates in office software and IT applications.

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