May 1, 1997
Computers and software applications have dramatically accelerated the pace of many activities that were previously handled physically. This includes design drawings, 3D visualizations, and document management, but some processes such as the approval of new CAD drawings to manufacturing largely remain in the physical world due to inadequate software functionality.
However, it now appears that at least one company, Silanis Technology, has developed an adequate software solution that is reliably secure, does not require a significant change to a company’s procedures, is easy for people to use, and still dramatically speeds up the process for obtaining approvals with signatures (albeit digital ones).
What’s Common Today
The two key aspects for a document’s approval in the physical world are its originality and the reliability of the handwritten signatures that approve a document to move to the next stage. Any changes made to that drawing afterwards would be easy to spot.
A bitmapped signature pasted onto a CAD file is easy to copy and the file can still be changed later with the approving signature intact. A signature could be input via a digitizer pad and verified against a database, but the file could still be altered afterwards even with the approving signature in place. Neither method effectively replaces the physical method.
Digital signatures based upon the currently unbreakable public-private key software (PGP or pretty good privacy) are secure along with their encrypted documents. However, Silanis correctly points out that the many forms programs (Lotus Notes) that use public-private keys require companies to change their procedures into a totally electronic paradigm without decent provisions for printed copies.
ApproveIT Leads The Way
Silanis’ ApproveIt program mimics the physical paradigm with digitized handwritten signatures. Once a document such as a drawing has been signed—with a person’s captured signature file or signed real-time via a digitizer pad—the ApproveIt software monitors the status of the document. If the document is modified later, the signature will not display on the computer screen in the appropriate place on the document nor will the signature print with the document.
The signature and the approval rated information are embedded in the actual document. As a result, the document carries the signature and security monitoring with it even if the document leaves your computing environment. There are no ties to network operating systems, network protocols, e-mail systems, PDM or EDM systems. All ApproveIt applications are client-based with no server software required.
Signatures are input preferably into the system on a digitizer pad, and the resulting high resolution file (1200 dpi) can be reused. The file is encrypted and can only be used once its password is provided. The system can also require a fresh signature for each approval, although this would require a company to purchase enough digitizing pads to make it convenient.
ApproveIt for CAD 2.1 ($399 per copy) only works with AutoCAD R12 and R13 running under DOS and Windows 3.1/95/NT. AproveIt is also available for Microsoft Word 6.0-7.0 and Excel 5.0-7.0, and WordPerfect 6.1 for $149. Site licensing is also available
Silanis plans to ship a software toolkit to integrate ApproveIt’s electronic signature and encryption capabilities into other applications. This should include other CAD programs such as MicroStation as well as CAD viewers, enterprise document management (EDM) systems, workflow, e-mail, and groupware.
The toolkit is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) bundled in a dynamic link library (DLL) that can be accessed by several programming languages. It sells for $1,995 plus $99 per runtime license, and supports Windows 3.1x, 95, and NT (but not DOS).
Bentley Systems and Netscape recently announced a joint effort to bring digital signature security to large-scale engineering projects on corporate intranets. That effort is focusing on the encryption of the CAD files, but it does not appear to provide the means to completely replace physical routing of paper documents and appropriate sign-offs from key personnel. In the meantime, Silanis appears to be the only game in town.
Contact: Silanis Technology, 888-745-2647, 514-683-3232, http://www.silanis.com