In an increasingly digital world, AEC firms are challenged to eliminate costly and time-consuming paper-based processes. Requirements for “wet” signatures and seals interruptelectronic workflows and compel even the most digitally integrated teams and processes to fallback to paper, delaying project delivery and limiting the industry’s potential efficiency.

The end-to-end adoption of a digital signatures and seals–based process can eliminate that digital interruption and significantly improve industry productivity.

In current practice, AEC documents morph from digital format to print over the course of projects. Documents are created electronically, but are then printed for review or approval, wet signed, scanned back to electronic form, and printed again for field work or for records storage in physical archives.

The scanning strips away intelligent data, compromises quality and makes those documents less valuable for everyone.

As more AEC firms turn to electronic document and content management solutions, field-friendly mobile applications, cloud-based collaboration and electronic workflows, it is time we also complete the transformation to the digital workflow with the implementation of digital approval processes.

In 2010, the Fiatech Regulatory Streamlining Committee identified the need to address the barriers blocking the greater use of digital signatures and seals by AEC firms and regulatory agencies. The committee embarked on three projects to speed the adoption in the industry: 

  • We issued “A Practical Deployment Strategy for Digital Signatures and Seals in Fully Electronic AEC Processes.” The paper highlights the problem, identifies reasons behind the slow to adoption of digital signatures and seals, and discusses available technology. The goal is to help AEC firms make informed decisions.
  • Now Fiatech is developing a best-practices guide to the implementation of digital seals and signatures. Fiatech will also campaign to provide states and national government agencies with knowledge and tools to adopt digital approval processes.
  • And also this year, to augment these projects, Fiatech is conducting a survey of current industry practices. We are requesting respondents share their experiences in deploying digital signatures and seals to help us develop the best practices guide.

The survey can be found at or the direct link is We need your input. The survey will remain open until April 22, 2013. All who complete the survey will receive the results.

So far the responses flowing in strongly confirm our experience that digital signatures and seals speed the approval process and reduce time and costs. To date, 40% of respondents are using digital signatures, many for multiple internal purposes including design approvals, contract management, project execution, and bidding processes. Amongst those not using digital signatures the majority of respondents see the need, and half of them plan to use them within the next 12 months.

The results so far also confirm that the main barriers to adoption are:

  • Unfamiliarity with the technology
  • Regulators not accepting them
  • And clients and partners requiring “wet” signatures.

Our work is cut out for us! We need additional input from the AEC and regulatory communities to provide a strong statistical sample for verification of the issues. Our industry's input is a stepping stone to overcoming the barriers and convincing regulators to reconsider and join those jurisdictions that already do recognize digital signatures and seals.

Drafting boards are a thing of the past, and for the approval and filing of AEC documents, pens and paper should be too. Please join the campaign by completing the survey and providing your voice and data to speed the adoption of digital signatures and seals in our industry.

Kevin Rikley is an associate at Hatch Project Delivery Group, Mississauga, Ontario Canada and Co-Chair of the Fiatech Digital Signatures and Seals Project Team.