Electronic signature service solution wins IBM recognition

A solution to help the insurance industry manage electronic signatures and documents won Montreal’s Silanis Technologies a Beacon Award at IBM Corp. ‘s (NYSE: IBM ) recent partner conference in Orlando, the only Canadian company to be so honoured.

While the company is based in Montreal, it actually does the bulk of it business outside of Canada, according to president and co-founder Tommy Petrogiannis. About 90 per cent of their revenue comes from the U.S., and Petrogiannis said they do more business in Australia, the UK and South Africa than they do in Canada.

It was in Canada that the company got its start though, thanks to a contract with the Government of Ontario . In 1992 it was thought that pen-based computing was going to change the world, said Petrogiannis, and that first contract revolved around electronic signatures and a custom-built solution to get e-signatures for engineering project changes to speed up the approvals process.

That solution was built into a business, and through the 1990s Petrogiannis said most Silanis customers were focused on internal e-paper processing. Silanis was viewed as complementary to form solution providers such as JetForm.

(Take a look back at one-time Canadian tech icons like JetForm that have faded from the IT scene .)

“We could automate their forms instead of returning to paper for the signing aspect,” said Petrogiannis. “We’re the last mile to enable end-to-end transactions to take place.”The big break for Silanis came in 1996 when the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff standardized on the Silanis offering worldwide. That opened the Department of Defence floodgates, said Petrogiannis.

Also key a short while later was the adoption of e-signing laws that gave e-signatures legal equivalence to written paper signatures.

“We started attacking the insurance and banking industries for outward-facing processes like loans,” said Petrogiannis.

Most of their revenue comes from the insurance and banking verticals, focusing on the large Fortune 500 players in each space. These companies are doing massive enterprise overhauls and, while you can’t get rid of paper entirely, Petrogiannis said that “last mile of true e-processing” is happening now.

“There’s tremendous ROI,” said Petrogiannis. “If a consumer can go online, get a quote, get a credit score, and get approved for a loan, they don’t want to wait for a package to come in the mail. We’ve seen close times cut from seven to 14 days down to the same day, and that’s massive. You don’t have that churn at the front-end.”

An electronic process also reduces errors, noted Petrogiannis, as the system won’t let you miss a signature, sign in the wrong place or forget to fill in data.

The Beacon Award win for Silanis, in the category of best insurance industry solution, was for a solution that addresses the evolving multi-platform nature of business today. Customers want to have the same experience whether they work with an agent, on the phone or online, and backend processes need to be integrated to make that happen.

“It’s not just signing. Our engine executes the whole process, controlling who sees what when, and making sure the steps are done,” said Petrogiannis.

Another big trend is mobility, said Petrogiannis. BMW has gone from laptops with signature capture tablets to iPads for lease buybacks, allowing customer sign-off on the spot.

“That whole mobility wave us starting to happen now across the boards, and we’re seeing that wave ripple across all banks,” said Petrogiannis.

In addition to mobility, analytics is also a major focus area for Silanis. Petrogiannis calls analytics a “treasure trove” for a legal and compliance perspective. Send out paper and it goes into a black hold, but with electronic processes you can see trends, regional data, seasonal patterns and other aggregate information.

“We’ll be able to leverage on-premise and cloud offerings to deliver analytics solutions, which I think will be the next big wave,” said Petrogiannis. “It will be the way to do business to be successful, and we’re investing heavily.”

Their relationship as an IBM partner goes back to 2005, when they teamed-up for a U.S. Army implementation that took Lotus Forms (then PureEdge) and IBM Enterprise Content Management and integrated it with the Silanis e-signature solution to design an army-wide travel requisition system.

Today, Silanis is an IBM Value Net Partner supporting Websphere, Forms and ECM. Becoming an IBM partner makes sense, said Petrogiannis, because most of their customers are also IBM customers. Most banks, for example, are using Websphere and Lotus Forms. Silanis is also keen to jump on the “Lotus Live” bandwagon, said Petrogiannis.

“Lotus Live was the first true collaboration vision I saw that made sense to me from a business point of view; it’s social networking with business controls” said Petrogiannis. “So we took our core technology, put it up on the cloud, and coupled it tightly with Lotus Live for e-SignLive.”

Silanis uses the offering itself internally to do revisions and collaborate online, and Petrogiannis said it may be the solution that will allow Silanis to scale down more into the mid-market.

“The SMB market is trying to be competitive with the big guys, and this lets us attack the mid-market in a much more cost-effective way,” said Petrogiannis. “It’s opening up new ground.”

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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