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Document Automation – Do it yourself or shop bought?


A few years ago I bought my first house. It was small. It came with all the essentials like a kitchen, bathroom, small master bedroom and another room that was more like a cupboard than anything else, but even though it was small it came with a garage. This was excellent news, as there was no space for storage inside the house and, quite frankly, who puts their car in their garage these days anyway? We needed to utilise that storage space well, get some units that we could store our excess things on, organise them so we could find them easily and make sure we didn’t clutter the place up.

My wife and I went on a couple of trips to look at such storage systems in the likes of Ikea and B&Q (Home Depot for our American friends). While I was there I channelled my inner engineer, looking at what they were providing and how I could easily do this myself. I came away thinking “I don’t need to buy one from these places, what is a storage system made of anyway? Just some wood and screws, I can build this myself.”

I went down to the local timber merchant to buy the wood, packed it in my car then set off to pick up the rest of the supplies I needed. It took me a day to build this thing, it wasn’t that complicated a structure to build but still it took a while. I went back into my house that evening pretty pleased with my manly skills and proclaimed to my wife she should come and see my handy work. She duly did, and was pretty underwhelmed. “It’s a bit wonky”, “will it hold everything we need it to” and “what happens when we need to add more space or use it for heavier items” were some areas of the critical analysis she performed on my storage system for those few minutes. Although a crushing blow for my pride, it does pose an important question – why reinvent the wheel?

There are many IT solutions out there that produce documents, from solutions for mortgage applications that produce loan agreements to account management systems that produce invoices. These solutions do these specific tasks exactly as they are designed to and document automation is seen as an add-on to meet those additional output requirements, but it usually comes with little or no control over the content, style and formatting of the output. Any customer-facing output is incredibly important for any business – it is the face you show to the world. There is nothing worse than receiving a badly structured, badly formatted and complex document from a business that is providing you with a service.

What happens when a solution can provide all the expert functionality but fails at being flexible, maintainable and scalable when it comes to document production? What happens when the customer requirements go further than just putting a few pieces of data into set positions in a document? What happens when a paragraph needs to be conditionally inserted into a specific clause, or text in a clause needs to be updated in all of your document templates? What happens when you move from producing individual documents to producing a suite of them during a process? Do you rely on IT to make a complex change to simple wording in a paragraph, the person who wrote the specific custom integration to change their source code or is there a way to empower the business user, the person who knows their documents the best, to make changes to the logic, structure and styling of their documents and control their content because they are the key knowledge holder?

At HotDocs we have specifically built our technology in a modular fashion to provide an easy way to integrate any solution with the document automation technology that we provide. Our software contains powerful APIs that expose the core assembly engine, allowing for flexible implementations while providing a scalable architecture both for on premise server and in the cloud. Business users can be in full control of their template content while allowing many applications to consume that content to produce the documents they need from the systems they use.

In short, if you have document automation needs, don’t build it yourself and risk something that is a “bit wonky”. Trust in the experts; integrate with HotDocs.

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