During the pandemic, 56% of companies carried out projects leading to preparation and implementation of remote work

During the pandemic, 56% of companies carried out projects leading to preparation and implementation of remote work

In their next digital transformation projects, almost half of the companies want to pay special attention to the possibility of using eID and trust services.

Over the last six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated digitization processes in companies. Most companies have focused primarily on enabling their teams to telework and transfer internal processes to the online world. Customer service and sales projects have been less frequently implemented. Today, the basic tool facilitating remote business operations is the electronic signature, most often used by as many as 63% of companies for annual financial statements, according to the report “Trusted Economy in the new reality. Reducing the risk associated with fast digitization”, prepared by Deloitte Legal together with Obserwatorium.biz and Asseco Data Systems. The report was officially presented during the European Forum on Electronic Signature and Trust Services.

The digital revolution in individual areas of life was already well advanced before the outbreak of the pandemic. In Poland, the financial market could boast about a particularly high level of digitization. Additionally, actions taken in the field of public administration allowed to increase the number of citizens using the trusted profile – a public e-identification tool – and the number of available public e-services. The number of trust service providers operating within the legal framework defined by the EU regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market, i.e. the so-called eIDAS, has been systematically increasing throughout Europe. On the other hand, although the electronic circulation of documents characterized the internal organization of a significant part of enterprises, it did not translate into their secure and reliable exchange between individual business entities and was not of a cross-border nature.

COVID a digitization catalyst

In the period from March to September 2020, when the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic were most severely felt, many companies and public administration units were forced to carry out accelerated digitization processes. The situation not only intensified the pre-existing trend of moving communication or work to a remote formula, but also forced digitization in the area of transactions – declarations of intent, identification or signing of contracts.

In those areas, for some time now, we have had at our disposal European regulations such as eIDAS, introducing tools in the form of trust services and electronic identification. Coronavirus has been verifying on an ongoing basis to what extent they have been fulfilling their function and whether they have been actually used, and to what extent companies or public administration have rather applied ad hoc or substitution solutions. The new post-Covid normality requires that many of the developed technical and legal processes remain with us for a longer period of time, and this will mean that the approach of business and regulators to the use of trust services and eID will have to be revised to make them even more common and useful, said Simina Mut, Partner, CE Legal Leader, Deloitte Legal.  

The need to conduct business in difficult conditions caused that further and deeper digitization of internal processes allowed to combine business objectives with concern for employee safety. Among Polish entrepreneurs, the most changes introduced were to enable remote working – this is how 56% of the respondents to the survey conducted for the report pointed out. The second most common area (51%), within which digitization projects were carried out, were the company’s internal processes concerning the circulation of documents and signing contracts on-line. Coronavirus contributed to the acceleration of already implemented activities aimed at digitization of processes in the organization, as well as to the immediate launch of new initiatives, crucial for the current functioning of enterprises.

We are seeing increased interest in digitization in business, and its reception is definitely better than before the outbreak of the pandemic. This is especially true in the financial sector – banks and leasing companies, where remote management and decision making are now heavily explored. Also sectors such as human resources, which previously did not fully see the need for digitization, are now considering how to digitize the processes of signing contracts in order to comply with the rigours of the civil code, said Artur Miękina, Key Projects Sales Director, Asseco Data System.

44% of the respondents indicated that their companies carried out projects related to the digitization of the broadly defined area of human resources management (HR). On the other hand, in the remaining areas, companies have still not decided to implement digital tools, even though the law largely offers this possibility.

The opportunity has not been exploited by utilities and telco companies. Out of the leading Polish energy and gas suppliers, only two allow potential customers to sign the contract remotely. The market of mobile operators is similar. Only in two cases the purchase process can be carried out completely remotely, including signing the contract, but it should be noted that these are not “standard” offers but products aimed at selected market segments. Equally few providers offering Internet access and TV packages enable the electronic conclusion of the contract – said Miłosz Brakoniecki, Partner, Obserwatorium.biz.

Electronic signature

Currently, the basic tool to facilitate remote business is electronic signature. There are more than 600,000 qualified certificates active in Poland, which, however, still contrasts with the number of issued payment cards (43 million units, i.e. significantly more than one card per one adult in the country), which are mass products. However, an increase of about 100,000 certificates (17%) on a year-to-year basis should be noted. This means that the “paperless” revolution is still far behind the fast progressing “cashless” revolution in our country.

The most frequently (63%) mentioned document for which an electronic signature is used is the annual financial statement. In turn, 61% of the respondents pointed to financial agreements, such as loan agreements, collateral agreements, investment agreements, etc., as well as employment documentation – including employment contracts, internal documents concerning the company’s policy, regulations and employee applications. Only slightly less popular are powers of attorney (54%) and minutes of the board meeting or written resolutions (51%).

I think that over the last six months many organizations have found out that digital tools significantly facilitate remote work and maintain business continuity. Take document workflow, for example, when most employees work remotely. We’ve seen the growing popularity of digitizing this process and using SimplySign mobile qualified electronic signatures. At the peak of the lockdown, the interest in this tool was 600 percent higher than a year before, said Tomasz Litarowicz, Director of Security and Trust Services, Asseco Data Systems. It is noteworthy that, as our survey shows, the majority of respondents with a qualified electronic signature use it more than 20 times a month, so very often. Therefore, it seems that its holders not only use it to perform public law obligations, which can only be fulfilled electronically, but they have also noticed the potential of a wider application.

Regulatory conditions

One of the main legal aspects of digitization of economic processes has always been the issue of effective conclusion of contracts by electronic means – remotely and without generating the need to send paper documents. However, for such a digital solution to be really successful, it still has to guarantee its legal effectiveness also in the cross-border dimension. In particular, the eIDAS regulation aims at ensuring a common, high standard of qualified electronic signature. The aim of such standardization is first and foremost to ensure that the legal validity of qualified electronic signatures is recognized in all Member States despite being issued in only one Member State.

Unfortunately, the widespread cross-border nature of trust services exists only in theory for the time being. In practice, not only do we encounter psychological resistance to the use of “foreign” e-tools for contracting, but we still face legal and practical barriers to a large extent. The fact that a given document is legally effective in one country does not necessarily mean that it will be enforceable in another country. An interesting trend in this area are platforms for signing electronic documents that integrate e-signature tools from different suppliers. The most widespread of them are present in practically every Member State. Therefore, it is possible that cross-border trust services will follow this waysaid Marta Gocał, Managing Associate, Legal Adviser, Deloitte Legal.

The experience of recent months shows that Europe needs not only cross-border, but also interoperable solutions for the circulation of electronic documents. The solution here may be eDelivery, which has already proved its worth on some markets and is planned or already implemented on others.

Demand for digitization

According to the authors of the report, the increase in the popularity of remote client registration in the commercial sector and the trusted profile in public administration in Poland indicates a huge demand for electronic identification services, which can be supplemented by other digital commercial solutions. Electronic identification itself is becoming a key service that should have a clear framework for legal functioning in public administration and the commercial world. Its implementation must be convenient and safe for end customers and include as many online processes as possible. According to the report, not only e-signature, but also electronic delivery and electronic seals have the potential as tools meeting the needs of companies and consumers in the digital transformation. In order to properly implement them, communication and partnership between the commercial sector and regulators at the European and national level is essential.

The report “Trusted Economy in a new reality. Reducing the risk associated with fast digitization“, prepared by Asseco Data Systems, Deloitte Legal and Obserwatorium.biz, was presented and discussed during the European Electronic Signature and Trust Services Forum. The full report is available for download at www.efpe.eu.