Just as e-mail replaced snail-mail in much of the corporate world, electronic workflow and approval systems could wring the inefficiencies out of classic routing routines.

Montreal-based Banc National is hoping to cut its middle

market lending approval process from two weeks to 48 hours-and make up ground on its main competitor's reduced approval time-with the implementation of a secure electronic approval system. "We are losing a lot of time right now with paper," says Rejean Charest, coordinator of the bank's information technology initiative.

The answer is not to re-architect a bank's approval process for the sake of technology, says Tommy Petrogiannis, president of Quebec-based Silanis Technology. "Take the existing business process and automate it," he says.

Silanis's ApproveIt product suite allows users to affix a "digitized" signature created using a signature pad (versus "digital" signatures) to any document that has been passed along via e-mail or the company's internal workflow system. Using biometric analysis, ApproveIt verifies that the real-time signature matches the stored signature of the signer. Because of the encryption technology utilized, after the signature is attached, the document cannot be changed. If it is, the connection between the document and the signature is detached, and the document cannot be printed. "Right now, you always have a stamp or a signature on a dossier so you know it is approved," Charest says. "I don't think it's such good proof, but right now this is what we base our confidence on."

The tasks best served by ApproveIt are those requiring multiple signatures to be expedited, says Petrogiannis. Competing technologies for automating workflow may use digital signatures or bitmap signatures to simulate the pen and ink version. Silanis officials argue that digital signatures, based on a public key-private key technology, don't allow for printing secured, verified documents. Bitmap signatures do not protect documents from alteration.

Silanis will sell the product for $149, with discounts for volume purchases. A tool kit is available for under $2,000 to customize applications.

-sausner tfn.com

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