Box revealed last week that it is buying SignRequest, a Dutch cloud-based electronic signature company, in a further challenge to Adobe and DocuSign who have traditionally dominated the market. It paid $55 million for the business, according to VentureBeat.

It also reflects the opportunity for technology companies from the rapid acceleration of digital transformation underway at the moment.

The sector is set to grow to $14.1B by 2026 according to Markets and Markets, up from just $2.8 B in 2019. That might be an underestimation, frankly, given the report was compiled before the full extent rapid shift to digitalisation in 2020 became apparent.

The Box deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions that suggests the highly fragmented segment, currently dominated by Adobe and DocuSign is heading for a shakeup

As Gartner’s  Tricia Phillips noted in recent research, “The dramatic global increase in remote work has increased the need for business-accessible electronic signatures for a variety of use cases, both internal and external (customer, partner or vendor).”

Phillips said “There are hundreds of electronic and digital signature providers globally. As demand for electronic signatures increases, vendors are actively expanding their capabilities to meet evolving client needs. ”

Her report also noted recent acquisition activity and strategic partnerships, as well as the development of native electronic signature functionality including;

  • DocuSign in 2018 acquired SpringCM, a leading CLM which already had deep integrations with DocuSign’s electronic signature products. In 2020, it also bought Seal Software, and Liveoak. “All of these acquisitions support DocuSign’s larger Agreement Cloud strategy, “
  • Dropbox bought HelloSign in 2019 to enhance content collaboration and management offering.
  • Apttus bought Conga, including the Conga Sign products, and is now known as Conga. While Conga Sign had previously been focused on use within the Salesforce platform, with this acquisition, the vendor will expand the product to support deep integration with the former Apttus suite of productivity solutions, including its CLM platform.
  • Entrust acquired Safelayer Secure Communications in 2018 while OneSpan acquired U.K. vendor Dealflo in the same year.
  • In 2019, Signicat, a vendor based in Norway, was acquired by a venture capital group Secure Identity Holding. Then in 2020, Signicat acquired Connectis to continue its development of digital ID technology.
  • Finally, Gartner notes that OpenText has developed a native electronic signature product that complements its support for third-party global enterprise electronic signature products.
MarketsandMarkets estimate of digital signature sector growth

Box deal

Box has an install base of more than 100,000 businesses, including 69 per cent of the Fortune 500. But importantly it also has very close integration relationships inside its ecosystem of market-leading solution providers like Zoom, Slack, and Okta. That means it is well placed to benefit from the growth in digital signatures a time of extraordinary acceleration in digital transformation due to the global pandemic.

McKinsey and Co earlier this year estimated that its corporate clients experienced an average of seven years of transformation in six months in the first half of 2020, after COVID removed the “business-as-usual” inertia that often gets in the way of change. That global trend creates fertile ground for the expansion of digital signatures.

Box also previewed Box Sign, an e-signature capability that will be developed on SignRequest’s technology and natively integrated into Box. Box Sign is expected to be included in Box business and enterprise plans, enabling customers to modernize the way they work and digitize important processes while ensuring their agreements can be securely managed and governed in the Box content cloud.

According to Aaron Levie, co-founder, and CEO of Box, “The past year has fundamentally shifted the way we work, pushing businesses to move critical processes to the cloud. Streamlining digital transactions is integral to digitizing business and the e-signature category is ripe for disruption. We’re thrilled to welcome SignRequest to our team.”

On a company blog he wrote, “As companies continue to rapidly digitize their business processes and workflows in this new era of hybrid work, we know that streamlining digital transactions is more important than ever. As we’ve engaged with our customers of all sizes on their most pressing digital transformation challenges, we’ve heard resounding feedback that they need a simpler way to drive end-to-end business processes around their content.”

“For the past several years, we’ve been building the leading content cloud, enabling some of the world’s largest and most regulated organizations to secure, manage, and collaborate on their valuable information. Adding e-signature with Box Sign extends our vision for the content cloud and will help our customers accelerate their digital transformation.”

He said more and more transactions are moving from paper-based and manual workflows to the cloud. “Banks are bringing on new clients more smoothly; B2B sales teams are closing deals faster; global manufacturers are working with partners more securely; healthcare providers are distributing new medical supplies and vaccines faster and with better coordination; fast-growing companies are onboarding new employees virtually. For all of these critical processes, e-signatures have become an important way business gets done.”

Meanwhile, Geert-Jan Persoon, CEO of SignRequest said, “The last year has shown us that we can effectively work virtually and that we don’t need to rely on in-person meetings to get business done. Our mission is to build the most intuitive e-signature technology in the market and we are very excited to join the Box family to scale that vision in the enterprise. Marrying our powerful and affordable e-signature solution with Box’s enterprise-grade content platform will help digitize more transactions.”

Box Sign to streamline digital transactions

The company says the pandemic induced transition in the way people live and work is powering digitisation.

In a statement announcing the deal Box argued that content underpins nearly all mission-critical business processes, from closing deals with sales proposals and contracts to getting new products to market faster with innovative designs and manufacturing specs, to securely onboarding new customers and employees.

The company says SignRequest complements its existing capabilities and its also fits easily into Box’s core design principles. Box Sign will inherit Box’s industry-leading security and governance capabilities, ultimately helping customers reduce IT spend, eliminate content silos, and facilitate legal and regulatory compliance.

“E-signature is a large, high-growth market,” said Varun Parmar, Chief Product Officer at Box. “With less than one-third of organizations deploying digital authorization because of cost barriers and legacy solutions, work is slowed down by paper-based signatures. Over 100,000 customers already use our platform to power the way they work, and we believe that by making electronic signature capabilities native to our core offering with Box Sign we will drive incredible value for our customers — speeding up and simplifying workflows, lowering security and compliance risk – while cutting costs.”

Business Benefits

The company claims many of the business processes the Box content cloud drives for customers today will be accelerated by the addition of Box Sign. For example:

  • Legal teams will be able to create and finalize contracts within Box, from drafting and co-editing the contract to signing and retaining the agreement with Box Governance, eliminating version control issues and the costs to use third-party e-signature tools.
  • HR teams will be able to initiate and complete offer letters using Box Relay together with Box Sign, streamlining the hiring and onboarding process for new or seasonal employees.
  • Sales teams can initiate customer contracts for signature with Box Sign right from Salesforce, with Box being the secure content layer for everything – from pitch decks to executed agreements.
  • Compliance teams will be able to retain and protect executed agreements directly within Box, securing sensitive content with granular access controls and threat detection using Box Shield.
  • Marketing teams will be able to securely and easily collaborate with external agencies on confidential ad-campaigns from creating the project brief to the legal-approved statement of work.

“In 2021, organizations will need to develop and implement long-term technology strategies to address the lasting impacts of the shifts we’ve seen this past year,” said Holly Muscolino, Research Vice President, Content and Process Strategies and the Future of Work, IDC. “Box’s content cloud will play a key role in helping businesses manage the entire content lifecycle in one secure location.”

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