John Hancock Goes Digital

Excerpt from Financial Executive magazine
By K. Daniel Glover

If the digital zealots of the world are right, Oct. 1, 2000, marked the beginning of a revolution. That is the day John Hancock, one of the heroes of another great revolution, became passé. The insurance industry considered that day a “major milestone in e-commerce,” and bankers hailed the beginning of “a new era.” Even Wall Street, which had little to celebrate during the dot-com downturn of 2000, had visions of a brighter investment millennium.

So what made the date so special? The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, otherwise known as the E-SIGN Act, took effect. Congress passed the bill nearly unanimously last year, and President Clinton signed it into law last June 30. Now, say the law’s advocates, the world just has to wait for businesses and consumers to realize how convenient and cost-efficient e-signing can be, and it will become as commonplace as e-mail.

In a nutshell, the new law gives electronic signatures the same legal weight as the traditional ink-on-paper variety. It defines an e-signature as any “electronic sound, symbol or process attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” The statute does not, however, require any business or individual to use e-signatures or even to accept them from others. Business interests actually wanted broader language than the law contains — the right to provide loan terms electronically if people preferred that, for instance, and the right to pre-empt state laws requiring companies to keep original paper records of transactions. But E-SIGN proponents ultimately accepted narrower language because of lawmakers’ concerns about the potential for consumer fraud.

People familiar with e-signature technology cite the law’s multiple business benefits. It allows completion of an entire transaction — with customers or, more likely in the short term, with other businesses — without leaving the office. Companies can save money on paperwork, filing space, travel costs and more.

Bruce Underwood, the chief information officer at Lease, which serves as a middleman for technology equipment leases, says companies “can reduce costs with their people, courier costs, printing and postage costs.”

Companies also can save time — up to three or four days for each transaction or contract completed entirely electronically, Underwood estimates. And that savings, adds Bill Brice, the chief executive officer of AlphaTrust, an e-signature firm, helps financial executives eliminate what he calls “lost-opportunity costs” — the opportunities businesses lose to pursue new deals while they are occupied closing other deals. … “This just revolutionizes everything,” says Bartlett Cleland, the vice president of software and counsel for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a leading E-SIGN advocate. “It throws open the doors.”

(Read the article)


It’s The (New) Economy, Stupid!

A look back at Bill Clinton’s high-tech legacy

Originally published at Silicon Alley Reporter
By K. Daniel Glover

When William Jefferson Clinton became the youngest elected president since John F. Kennedy, he moved into a White House technologically fit for Kennedy’s generation. The state of affairs was so sorry that Clinton himself mocked it in a Silicon Alley speech just a month after his inauguration, and his description of the outdated phone system had his audience of technology executives in stitches.

ClintonLegacy“When we took office,” Clinton said, “I walked into the Oval Office — it’s supposed to be the nerve center of the United States — and we found Jimmy Carter’s telephone system. … No speaker phone, no conference calls, but anybody in the office could punch the lighted button and listen to the president talk, so that I could have the conference call I didn’t want but not the one I did.

“Then we went down into the basement, where we found Lyndon Johnson’s switchboard — true story — where there were four operators working from early morning ’til late at night. Literally, when a phone [call] would come and they’d say, ‘I want to talk to the vice president’s office,’ they would pick up a little cord and push it into a little hole.”

Makings of a legacy
The White House is a different place today. Presidential aides communicate not just on more advanced telephones but by cell phone, pager and email, and the bulk of presidential documents, from press releases to the text of speeches to major policy papers, are available online.

The nation, too, is a different place. The Internet existed before Clinton was president, but it became ubiquitous during his eight years in office. Americans increasingly shop, chat and conduct their business online. Companies that struggled to survive at the outset of Clinton’s two terms in office, such as America Online, now rule the economic roost.

“When I became president,” Clinton told Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates in a June 5, 1998, commencement speech, “the Internet was the province of physicists, funded by a government research project. There were only 50 sites in the world. Now, as all of you know, we are adding pages to the World Wide Web at the rate of over 100,000 an hour, and 100 million new users will come on this year.”

The Commerce Department’s “Digital Economy 2000 Report,” issued last June, made an even stronger point about technology in America. It told of 10 straight years of economic expansion, phenomenal increases in productivity, and the once-unimaginable state of low inflation and the lowest jobless rate in decades — and all that combined with plummeting computer prices, faster technology and increased Internet access.

“The digital economy and digital society are no longer ’emerging.’ They are here,” the report concluded, in an intentional break from the language of similar reports in 1998 and 1999 that had been dubbed “The Emerging Digital Economy.” “Americans have definitively crossed into a new era of economic and social experience bound up in digitally based technological changes that are producing new ways of working, new means and manners of communicating, new goods and services, and new forms of community.”

America, in short, has thrust full bore into the information age. And as Clinton, a former president whose obsession with his legacy has become legendary, starts his quest to secure a friendly reading of his administration in the pages of history, perhaps he should think technology first.

Ask the average American today what they know about Clinton and the Internet, and they may have visions of Matt Drudge, the cyber scribe who broke the story of the president’s sexual escapades with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, or of Kenneth Starr, the determined prosecutor whose detailed account of that affair lives on dozens of Web pages. But those sensational episodes may be mere footnotes when historians ponder Clinton’s technology legacy.

“In the most general sense, President Clinton may be remembered as a person skilled in getting in front of parades — knowing where the trends and attitudes are leading people,” Kevin Taglang, managing editor of the Digital Divide Network, a partnership between the federal government and the private sector that the Clinton administration helped initiate, said last year. “It is no different in regard to the information/digital revolution. I believe the president realized what a great economic force IT development could be and has sought to champion them.”