Canada Post recently announced it has integrated its Electronic Postmark service with Microsoft Office Word and Microsoft Office InfoPath.

The Electronic Postmark (EPM) is akin to registered mail, said Ottawa-based Simon Ely, Canada

Post’s acting director of EPM. It allows electronic documents to be legally recognized, making it possible to leave the world of paper trails behind for an electronic one.

The Electronic Postmark is compliant with the Universal Postal Union’s global EPM standard and is a Web service built on top of the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). And, according to Canada Post, it’s the first such EPM that is compliant with the standard. The Postmark is legally recognized in Canada and a number of other countries that have finalized or will soon be finalizing their laws.

If a business is making a purchase online using the EPM, it can sign the document with a certificate from a recognized certificate authority. The document can then be sent to the vendor via Canada Post. The agency will validate the digital signature to ensure it was valid at the time of signing, time and date stamp the document and assign it a hash value that it will store in its archives for authentication purposes.

A hash value is a numerical value assigned to a document by putting it through an algorithm. If a dispute arises in the future, Canada Post can verify that the document in question is valid by applying the algorithm to the document. If the document is identical, it will produce the same hash value.

Canada Post will also offer to store the actual document in its files, so if there’s a dispute three years down the road regarding the document, Ely said, Canada Post can be contacted by the parties in question or by the authorities.

“”If you look at it back in the physical world, with registered mail, it’s the same idea. When you send something through registered mail, Canada Post picks up the evidence along the way. And if there’s a dispute, you always go back to Canada Post to present the evidence. So we’re taking the same value into the electronic world.””

The EPM signer is currently available to developers so that they can incorporate it into forms they are creating. As with other Web services, they will be able to access it through an XML call.

Microsoft incorporating EPM into its Office suite will go a long way towards getting businesses to adopt it, said Warren Shiau, a software analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. They have both the technical capability and, more importantly, the customer base needed to make it accepted that other desktop vendors lack, he said.

“”For Microsoft, it’s more an effort to provide the convenience and efficiency,”” he said.

Microsoft will be offering the EPM with Office 2000, XP and 2003.

Canada Post is currently working with industries that are form-heavy, such as the transportation and insurance industries, to encourage the adoption and integration of EPM. It’s also working with another desktop vendor, Ely said.

It’s looking into a variety of billing options and plans to offer corporate volume pricing to organizations doing bulk transactions.

Both Canada Post and the United Nations electronic Trade Documents Projects are currently testing the product. Canada Post is using it internally for its Change of Address system.


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