Sometimes there is no substitute for a home cooked meal, freshly made to a family recipe... and sometimes you just want to order takeaway. Is it better to do it yourself or just buy off the menu? It’s a question that hungry people ask every day, but it can be applied to many things, including business processes like document generation. And it is not a question to address lightly.
VBA/VSTL and Custom Builds
Many organisations build their own in-house document generation system, using VBA or VSTL. A custom document generation solution has some strong positives. The main advantage is total control—because you are making it, the system will do exactly what you want, exactly how you want it. In-house development and maintenance also reduces the reliance on third party contractors which can be pricey. It’s the same with dinner. Don’t like it spicy? Leave out the habaneros. Short on cash? Use what’s in the cupboards.
But a custom build has costs associated with it as well. Development time is always longer than initial estimates say, and internal maintenance can have a substantial overhead in terms of internal resources. In addition, there is an unavoidable training cycle required for all users, and staff turnover can leave you without anyone familiar with the core system. Essentially, you get all the advantages, but take on all the risk.
Using the Right Tool
The other option is to use a third-party tool like HotDocs for your document generation systems. As a third party tool, HotDocs brings some hard-and-fast rules to the party and requires you to relinquish some of the control that a fully custom build would provide. However, the rules it establishes are common to virtually every possible document generation system, and they don’t have to be made from scratch. It is also important to note that any document system is built around your documents, and over those you retain complete control. It’s more like a buffet than an a la carte menu, letting you choose what’s on your plate without having to roast the turkey and stir the gravy yourself.
As for training overhead, HotDocs is an easy tool to learn… but with enough power under the hood to handle any task you might throw at it. And it is the market leader in document generation, so staff turnover doesn’t have to mean re-training from the ground up, as there are plenty of people out there with HotDocs experience already. HotDocs is like an omelette (bear with me). It is one of the simplest dinners you can learn to cook, but you can fill it with cheese, ham, sautéed shallots and capers, or salmon and truffle oil if you want. It is as simple or as complex and sophisticated as you need it to be.
Surf & Turf
Of course, you may decide that the tools HotDocs provides do what you need… almost. The true value of a good third-party tool is when, rather than locking you into a specific way of doing things, it makes doing exactly what you need easier. By leveraging the framework provided by HotDocs, in conjunction with the APIs provided and a little elbow grease, you can make a document generation system that does everything you need, connecting with all your existing systems, but with a comparatively low overhead and the support network of the HotDocs community. You can order the steak AND the lobster, and get them cooked to your exact specifications.
Is anyone else hungry?