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Feedback and Digital Signatures: An EU Approved Digital Signature System -- 81 -- Short (oral) Paper


10:50 - 11:50 on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 in 4.206

The JISC funded SWANI project (Secure Work-based learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure) had the overall aim of creating an online administrative system for the work-based learning (WBL) programme in South West Wales that included a document authentication process that would meet EU audit requirements and hence was also acceptable to the Welsh Government for funding purposes. A further aim was to deliver a system that was significantly more time-efficient and cost-effective than the previous paper-based system, as well as enhancing the learning experience.

The problem the project sought to solve related to the stated requirement by the European Commission agency responsible for the WBL funding that signatures on all auditable documents should be hand written. As the WBL programme in Wales is supported by EU funding, all the documentation had to conform to this requirement and was hence paper based rather than digitised. However, a centralised computer based system would be far more efficient and secure and to achieve this, the signature issue needed to be addressed.

The SWANI project explored a number of digital signature systems used for audit purposed in the financial and commercial sectors. It also noted that the EU Directive on Electronic Signatures had a similar goal of establishing an accepted process for EU audit. Approaches to achieve this goal included the use of ‘Qualified Certificates’ for document authentication issued by an accredited ‘Certificate Authority’ (CA). A number of commercial CA companies have been approved by the Commission to issue such certificates and the project considered it as a possible solution. However, though approved by other areas of the Commission this and similar systems were not yet recognised by the EU funding authority for the Wales WBL programme, so another solution had to be found, at least in the short term, if full digitisation of the WBL documentation was to be achieved.

The Joomla open source content management application was chosen for the digitisation exercise and a range of WBL system documents were created that met the needs of the management and administration process in printed form and the intended efficiencies in digitised form. A significant efficiency gain was a single entry requirement for all main data fields that then populated all documents using those fields. This had the added benefit of ensuring data consistency across all documents.

The solution adopted to solve the digital signature problem was to use a digital pen which both physically recorded signatures, whilst at the same time creating a digital facsimile of the signature and adding it, together with a time record, wirelessly to the digitised document on the central database. The requirements of both the audit system and the digitised document management system were thus achieved.

The SWANI project completed the digitisation of all the WBL system documents using JOOMLA and tested the digital pen system. It shared the outcomes with officials in the Welsh Government responsible for European Commission funding and received confirmation that it met their audit requirements. The system will be trialled across the region during 2012/2013 as a new project funded by the JISC Embedding Benefits Programme. At the end of this pilot period the refined system will be made freely available to the education community. This presentation will reflect on the lessons learned from the project and the implications for other developments facing similar issues.



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