Chief Architect Robert Oswalt invented the core technology underpinning the SIGNiX digital signature platform, and has written or co-written the eight patents we hold. We interviewed Robert about the challenges he faced in the beginning, surprises along the way, and the importance of trust.
What challenges did you face starting out?
We started at the top of the Internet boom and thought that everything would go to digital signatures in a year or two. We were racing as fast as we could to make a comprehensive, secure solution, thinking we’d be left behind if we didn’t have it all yesterday.
Then it turned out that customers were very hard to find. That was partly due to the dot com crash, and partly because it was a big conceptual adjustment for potential customers to understand, accept and trust the idea of electronic signatures.
It took several years of slow, careful study and standards development by committees of trade associations before most customers started to buy. In the meantime, it was possible—although often not easy—to find investors that could see the potential.
What was your vision for the technology?
We wanted to build a comprehensive, accessible, high quality solution.
Comprehensive meant we would not only create signatures, we would provide a place to store and access electronic documents.
Accessible meant that new users could use our services easily without having to install anything new. It would all work in their existing web browser. It also meant that the complicated, multi-step process of getting a digital certificate from a Certification Authority—storing, accessing, renewing and revoking it— and applying it to create a digital signature would all handled automatically without the user ever having to see it or know anything about it.
High quality meant that the signatures we made had to be at least as trustworthy as the handwritten signatures they were to replace, if not more so.
Have you been surprised by how things have developed?
Yes. When we started, not only did we think demand would be large and immediate, we thought customers would want the highest quality signatures possible.
The opposite turned out to be true.
Most initial customers would only trust this new way of signing in applications where they were already willing at accept a lot of risk. In many cases, the signature was there more to make their customer feel committed than to legally seal the deal.
The important thing for many early customers was that the signature be really easy to make, in order to close a sale as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Has the company's focus always been on security and assurance? If so, why do you think that has been so important?
Yes. At first we thought the market would demand it.
Now we offer a range of signer authentication options so that customers can choose ones that fit their risk tolerance, convenience and cost needs. But for all of them we maintain the same high level of integrity assurance on the signed document (i.e. any tampering with a signed document is detectable) and the same level of auditability through a detailed logging of user actions during the signing process.
In the end, our product is the trust people can place in our signatures. So our business depends on our reputation, and our reputation depends on our security and integrity.
What is it about SIGNiX that has made you dedicate so much of your professional career to the company?
I like the people I work with. I like the size of the company, where what you do is needed and makes a difference when you do it. I like it that there is always something new and another interesting problem to solve.