DocuSign Leads E-Signature APIs, According to ProgrammableWeb Research

Debra Donston-Miller
Jun. 05 2014, 01:16PM EDT

E-signatures have gone from curiosity to core business tool. They’ve also gone from on-premise server to the cloud, and from isolated application to embeddable API. Indeed, e-signature tools have a lot to offer most any organization, but companies must take care to choose the best tool for the job (or jobs) at hand. A recent evaluation by ProgrammableWeb shows that among the many e-signature options available today, one stands out clearly from the rest: DocuSign.

In its comprehensive comparative review of the major e-signature services, ProgrammableWeb also tested Adobe EchoSign, Barracuda SignNow, HelloSign, Sertifi eSignature, and Silanis e-Sign Live. A detailed analysis of the test results—and the e-signature market in general—are now available in 20-page-plus report, downloadable as a PDF.

E-signature boom

As the use of computing devices has grown—most notably, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets—so has the use and acceptance of e-signatures. The United States and many other countries have adapted laws to make these sorts of signatures acceptable in a wide variety of cases, such as signing contracts, government forms and deeds to property. 

Each of the services tested enables users to collect electronic signatures and incorporate the signatures into a document, as well as manage workflows by routing the document for review and/or signatures from other users based on rules set by the developer and/or administrator. The services also provide APIs that allow organizations to build e-signature functions into their own applications and integrations with other cloud services.

“At the simplest level, these integrations allow the e-signature service to read or write documents on another service—say, DropBox,” stated the report. “Business applications like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM are obvious targets for e-signing because contracts and other agreements are so central to their operation, and several of the products do work specifically with them.”

Larry Seltzer, a technology analyst with decades of experience testing products’ suitability for business use, conducted the evaluation. He tested the products from a programmer’s perspective, focusing on features that would help a company use the e-signature API quickly and effectively. Key criteria included the availability of evaluation accounts for programming tests, the quality and availability of documentation and sample code, tools for programmers and community for support.

API changes

Interestingly, the tests also highlighted some changes in the state of the state of API techniques.

Seltzer noted in the report: “As in the rest of the world of APIs, SOAP is declining as a technique among e-signature products, and REST is ascendant. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of JSON (on the rise) and XML (going out of favor). One of the products we tested, Sertifi eSignature, has only a SOAP API. Barracuda SignNow, HelloSign, RightSignature and Silanis e-Sign Live have only a REST API. DocuSign and Adobe EchoSign have both. In the case of DocuSign and EchoSign, we tested only the REST APIs. Both DocuSign and Adobe claim that their SOAP and REST APIs provide equivalent functionality.”

Capability continuum

ProgrammableWeb’s tests showed a wide range of capabilities and performance levels. One service came out on top in all areas, however: DocuSign. The platform “has the greatest breadth of features available under the API, the best developer tools and the best code samples and documentation,” stated the report.

Tests also showed that the scope of DocuSign’s API may be intimidating for some users, but “one man's complicated is another man's powerful and comprehensive,” the report added.

At the end of the day, recommended ProgrammableWeb, organizations will need to determine how each of the platform’s capabilities and performance align with their current and projected business needs. 

At the other end of the complexity spectrum, for example, the HelloSign product and API are both easy to use, while Sertifi eSignature will give SOAP programmers a capable but simple e-signature option. Programmable Web tests found the other products--Adobe EchoSign, Barracuda SignNow, RightSignature and Silanis e-Sign Live-- disappointing for reasons ranging from being complicated to use to minimal sample code.

Ongoing research and analysis

This project was part of ProgrammableWeb’s ongoing research and analysis efforts.

ProgrammableWeb notes clearly that it was retained by DocuSign to develop the report. However, one of the conditions under which ProgrammableWeb accepted the custom research work—and, for that matter, any custom research work it does--is that the report’s underwriters will have no influence on the methodologies used in evaluating products under test or on the published analysis.

 “… the only part of the outcome that DocuSign influenced was the inclusion of its API in the comparison,” noted a disclosure statement from Programmable Web in the e-signature report. “Beyond that, the testers, writers and editors who had a hand in this report’s production received no guidance, instructions or influence--directly or indirectly--from DocuSign.”

E-signatures are an important tool for effective workflow, and ProgrammableWeb’s analysis of the current crop of tools gives organizations invaluable guidance in procuring the most suitable platform.

Debra Donston-Miller Follow me on Google+

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