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SharePoint 2010 - Digital Signatures and word documents RRS feed

  • Question

  • Hello.  My users have a couple of different word documents that need to be sequentially edited and then digitally signed for final approval.  I need to figure out the best, out of the box, way to automate the entire process and make it extremely easy for them to use (without using InfoPath.. we've been down that road for other things and we don't want to go back there.. too many problems with client on desktop).  

    From the end user perspective, the steps would be as follows:

    -User 1 starts a new MS word document (with choice / text fields) from a document template that I already uploaded for them.

    -User 1 fills out the form and then saves it to the library.

    -User 2 gets notified (workflow?) that there is a new document for them to review and edit.

    -User 2 clicks on the link to open and edits the document.

    -User 2 saves to the library.

    -User 3 gets notified that it's their turn to edit.

    -The same process is followed for the next 2 users. 

    -Once everyone has finished editing the document, another notification goes out to everyone saying that it's now time to sign the document.

    -Need to keep the document in read only while it gets passed around and signed (Collect signatures workflow seems to still give the user the ability to edit the document at any time.. and if they did, it would invalidate the signature).

    It seems like this is the very thing that SharePoint would be useful for, yet I'm having trouble coming up with a simple solution for this that doesn't require a lot of custom columns, designer workflows and too many steps for the user, resulting in confusion.

    Can someone make any suggestions?  If no OOB way, is there a paid product that solves this problem? Am I completely missing the answer right in front me :)



    • Edited by spex5 Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:20 PM
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:18 PM

Answers

  • I know you hate InfoPath, but I'm going to chime in here, because I do forms and approval workflows on a daily basis.

    With InfoPath, they do need to have the client if you're going to use the official digital signature object, but I use browser based forms and go about the signatures in a different way. http://www.wonderlaura.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=183

    I like to keep the interface super simple for the end user, and instead of assigning tasks via workflow, I simply make the workflow send notification emails, and each email gives them a link to the form. Along the way, I use different views to allow people to edit certain things depending on what stage of the process the document is in. 

    Yes, without InfoPath, there is a way you can create a SPD workflow with the "start approval process" (task process designer), but to me that's confusing for end users because they have to go look at the document and then go look at the task and complete it.  There IS an out of box workflow to collect signatures, but it doesn't exist as an action that you can put in another workflow, so you'd have to run two different workflows.  All that ends up being confusing to the end user, as you stated.  Some 3rd party workflow products such as K2 and Nintex do have some "approval" type functionalities built in, so you may want to check those out.

    Also, in my InfoPath book, I wrote a whole chapter on building an approval process (chapter 11) which explains in extreme detail the InfoPath stuff I just mentioned.


    Laura Rogers
    Rackspace: SharePoint Consulting
    Blog: http://www.wonderlaura.com
    Twitter: WonderLaura
    Books:Beginning SharePoint 2010: Building Business Solutions with SharePoint
    Using InfoPath 2010 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step

    • Marked as answer by spex5 Thursday, September 13, 2012 3:56 PM
    Wednesday, September 12, 2012 7:07 PM

All replies

  • I know you hate InfoPath, but I'm going to chime in here, because I do forms and approval workflows on a daily basis.

    With InfoPath, they do need to have the client if you're going to use the official digital signature object, but I use browser based forms and go about the signatures in a different way. http://www.wonderlaura.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=183

    I like to keep the interface super simple for the end user, and instead of assigning tasks via workflow, I simply make the workflow send notification emails, and each email gives them a link to the form. Along the way, I use different views to allow people to edit certain things depending on what stage of the process the document is in. 

    Yes, without InfoPath, there is a way you can create a SPD workflow with the "start approval process" (task process designer), but to me that's confusing for end users because they have to go look at the document and then go look at the task and complete it.  There IS an out of box workflow to collect signatures, but it doesn't exist as an action that you can put in another workflow, so you'd have to run two different workflows.  All that ends up being confusing to the end user, as you stated.  Some 3rd party workflow products such as K2 and Nintex do have some "approval" type functionalities built in, so you may want to check those out.

    Also, in my InfoPath book, I wrote a whole chapter on building an approval process (chapter 11) which explains in extreme detail the InfoPath stuff I just mentioned.


    Laura Rogers
    Rackspace: SharePoint Consulting
    Blog: http://www.wonderlaura.com
    Twitter: WonderLaura
    Books:Beginning SharePoint 2010: Building Business Solutions with SharePoint
    Using InfoPath 2010 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step

    • Marked as answer by spex5 Thursday, September 13, 2012 3:56 PM
    Wednesday, September 12, 2012 7:07 PM
  • Oh, don't get me wrong, I like InfoPath :)  I'm just not a fan of how it handles digital signatures.  I would think differently about this if it could be done well through the browser.  I've noticed you've been doing a lot with SP 2013 (I follow your tweets/youtube posts).  Any improvements with InfoPath 2013?  I haven't played around with it yet.

    So it seems like there is no smooth way to accomplish what I'm looking to do without using IP.  

    What I've done is created a content type with several check box columns for the initial round of editing (the users have to remember to check when they're done).  Checking all the boxes will trigger a workflow that sends out an email to everyone telling them to sign.  Unfortunately, signing the document doesn't give me any way to work it into the workflow so they can sign sequentially.. so they all get the email at the same time.  They have to remember to not edit the document each time they sign.  I'll just have to do a lot of training to get people doing this right.

    If I have an opportunity to do this again in IP, I will definitely check out your book.

    Thanks!

    • Edited by spex5 Thursday, September 13, 2012 3:51 PM
    Thursday, September 13, 2012 3:48 PM
  • Your solution makes sense to me... that's probably the route I would have taken if not using InfoPath. Lotsa training involved, yes.

    No, they didn't change a thing in InfoPath 2013.


    Laura Rogers
    Rackspace: SharePoint Consulting
    Blog: http://www.wonderlaura.com
    Twitter: WonderLaura
    Books:Beginning SharePoint 2010: Building Business Solutions with SharePoint
    Using InfoPath 2010 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step

    Thursday, September 13, 2012 8:46 PM
  • Sounds like you want a smooth UX (user experience) for your clients. Unfortunately, SP 2010 workflow is limited. There are improvements for SP 2013 workflow.

    Usual answer is a workflow addin.  The type of workflow you want is the Nintex bread and butter. Plus, they're integrated with my company's digital signature product, CoSign.

    Re: editing document after someone has signed it--this is an important issue. PKI (Public Key Infrastructure)  digital signing software (such as CoSign) include cryptographic techniques to ensure that if a document is changed after it is signed, then the signatures will be shown as no longer valid (ie the doc was changed after it was signed).

    -- This guarantees to the signer that the document won't be changed after the signing. And also guarantees to subsequent readers that the signer can't claim that the document was changed after he/she signed it.

    Regards
    Friday, September 21, 2012 12:46 AM