Evolving and disruptive technologies are transforming how businesses operate, compete and adapt. Recent abrupt changes in the economy and workplace have led to a boom of digitalization efforts within companies as well as an increase of new regulations. The results are a reduced administrative burden, optimized document management systems and an overall improved efficiency of business processes at various levels of the company. This article highlights a few of the newest trends and legal possibilities for (further) digitalizing your day-to-day legal and compliance processes.
Already for the past few years, electronic documents have replaced their paper versions. Linked to that is the more recent emergence of SaaS (software as a service) and cloud-based mobile services that improve your business's document management, in particular the ability to access documents anywhere and on any device.
One of the latest trends in the signing process is the accelerated use of electronic signatures (e-signatures). Offering e-signatures significantly reduces the turnaround time of contracts and other documents. Especially in times of social distancing and teleworking, e-signing documents is a useful and environmentally friendly tool. Three types of e-signatures are recognized in the EU, depending on the level of reliability: a (i) standard, (ii) advanced or (iii) qualified e-signature. Although the qualified e-signature provides the highest level of security and legal certainty, often a standard e-signature (e.g. scanned signature, name under email) or advanced e-signature (e.g. e-signature generated by DocuSign or Adobe Sign including an identity verification by SMS code) will be sufficient. Legal, practical and/or geographical restrictions could affect the use of e-signatures, and a risk analysis is often required when using e-signatures. This can be facilitated by setting up an internal e-signing policy, which will also help you streamline the use of e-tools within the organization.
Now that electronic documents have become well established in the day-to-day activities of companies, smart contracts are the next level contracts according to recent developments. With well-integrated e-tools, these self-executing contracts based on blockchain technology can be set-up, executed, stored and distributed in an easy way, with minimum risk of lost documents or forgotten deadlines. As an innovation still in an early stage of development with little legislative guidance, it is key to have well-framed processes that put such smart contracts in place and to closely monitor new legislative proposals in the applicable jurisdictions.
Another trend that is here to stay refers to tele- and videoconferences as a replacement for physical meetings, including for board and shareholders' meetings. The new Belgian Code of Companies and Associations offers a modern legal framework to support the use of online tools and e-communication. Add to this the possibility for written resolutions or remote voting procedures, and alternatives are available during these extraordinary times for physical meetings.
Finally, the shift to cloud services, e-signing and online meetings raises new questions on data protection and the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Consequently, Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIA) and GDPR risk assessments are becoming more and more important and will help your business to safely collect, use, store and process internal and external data.
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About the authors
Tonya Aelbrecht, Associate, Osborne Clarke
Tonya is an associate on the corporate team at Osborne Clarke Belgium. Tonya focuses on all aspects of business law, including public and private M&A, public offerings, corporate finance and general company law.
David Haex, Partner, Osborne Clarke
David is head of the corporate practice of the Belgian office of Osborne Clarke. He advises on public and private M&A and acts for clients on all kinds of transactional matters.