Why the Federal Government Should be Interested in the Future of Digital Agreements

By Hal Marcus, Global Legal Evangelist, DocuSign

Agreements are changing—and faster than you may think. A range of digital technologies is fundamentally evolving our understanding of how agreements are best prepared, signed, acted-on, and managed across and between entities.

Both for its own benefit and as a matter of public policy, the U.S. federal government should be paying close attention to advances in digital agreements, and sometimes even leading the way in exploration and adoption. Here are a few reasons why.

By law, executive agencies must now digitize their processes

All executive agency heads are currently facing a deadline of June 2019 to develop and share with Congress their plans to accelerate their adoption of electronic signatures. This is just one of the time-sensitive mandates of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (“21st Century IDEA”), signed into law on December 20, 2018.

This new law is aimed at improving U.S. citizens’ experience with the federal government—while streamlining processes and eliminating waste—via the modernization of websites and forms. These agencies are now poised to reap, many times over, the kinds of “ripple effect” efficiencies and cost reductions that some state and municipal agencies have already experienced with their incremental transformations to digital technology.

With such an extensive effort afoot to update websites and processes, this is a rare opportunity for agencies to get ahead of the curve, preparing for the future of agreements with digitized and, to the degree possible, standardized templates and models. At the scale of the federal government’s operations and expenditures, the benefits could be dramatic.

Cloud technologies are increasingly available to the federal government

The most advanced agreement technology is offered via the cloud but, historically, cloud-based services have sometimes been a tough fit for government agencies. In recent years, however, the maturation of cloud services and the proliferation of redundant, localized data centers have largely removed cost, disaster recovery concerns, and the need for customization as potential barriers to federal government adoption.

FedRAMP-certified cloud services are more readily available to ensure adherence to strict security standards, and sophisticated protocols have evolved to help address citizen privacy considerations, even as global and local privacy regulations have forced corporations to carefully revamp their processes to achieve compliance.

Together these developments are making it more viable than ever for executive agencies to leverage industry-standard, cloud-based platforms that can help make citizen interactions with the federal government feel more like user-friendly, consumer interactions with private business.

Emerging technologies offer an intriguing future vision for agreements

Around the world, pioneering blockchain-focused providers have been creating agreements that can self-execute key aspects of performance—updating contractual obligations in real time as conditions change and distributing or withholding payment accordingly.

Modern contract preparation providers are increasingly enabling legal agreements to  be assembled from pre-approved components like building blocks, for a streamlined, more consistent process.

Such advances in document modeling portend a boost to legal AI providers seeking to deliver reliable compliance reporting of massive volumes of agreement terms. When the underlying data is digitally structured from inception, the analytics can deliver insight with an unprecedented degree of confidence.

Organizations that rely heavily on agreements are poised to benefit extensively from a range of emerging tech: from blockchains, to so-called “smart contract” code, to clause libraries, contract-focused AI, and more.

While it’s not yet clear which contract technologies and models can bring the greatest value to federal government agencies, what is certain is that nothing will change until outdated, paper-based systems of agreement become digitized.

And the time for that—so says U.S. law—is now.

Talking about the future (literally) in Washington, D.C.

As the industry-leading system of agreement platform, DocuSign is happy to be sponsoring the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s DC Blockchain Summit on March 6 and 7—and to be leading a multi-disciplinary panel of experts and thought leaders as together we explore “The Rise of Smart Legal Agreements.”

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