With the variety of document generation products on the market, we get asked frequently, “What’s different about HotDocs?” There are several quick answers we could give, ranging from “we invented the concept of document generation” to “we have the most powerful platform available.” Just the same, a more detailed response is probably in order.
The most obvious points of differentiation for HotDocs have to do with the technology, itself, and with the company’s ecosystem approach to marketing and distributing HotDocs.
Most Document generation providers create technologies that can be divided into three groups: (1) Platform, (2) integration technologies, and (3) host web applications.
A document generation platform consists of a logic core, a development environment, and the document-generation templates that are used to create transactional documents. At HotDocs, we place heavy emphasis on platform.
Legal documents may be simple—a single page or paragraph with a few simple merged variables—or they may be complex—dozens (or hundreds) of pages having thousands of merged variables and ultra-sophisticated business logic defining the inclusion/exclusion of clauses. To handle the complexities of any document, no matter how lengthy or sophisticated it may be, HotDocs has a logic core consisting of a million+ lines of code. It’s this logic core that, to a large extent, separates HotDocs from the pack, which generally includes document assembly vendors that trade on simplicity since that’s what they have to offer.
HotDocs Developer 11 is a workhorse that can handle any level of document and form automation. Beyond complex automation, however, Developerincludes a simple-to-learn-and-use feature called model documents, which enables people who aren’t trained on HotDocs Developer to do a basic level of automation on word processing documents, transforming them into simple HotDocs templates. These simple templates can be further enhanced with HotDocs Developer into ultra sophisticated templates that can generate transaction ready contracts, wills, trusts, insurance policies, etc.
A HotDocs app consists of an interview (the portion of a document assembly app that end users interact with) and a document template.
HotDocs Interviews. HotDocs works on the concept of reflexive interviews, which are interactive, wizard-like sequences of data-gathering forms. In other words, HotDocs allows application architects to build interviews which reflect all of the business logic and structure built into the document templates, themselves.
This reflexive concept enables architects to present questions to application users only when and if the questions are necessary. A particular global bank, for example, has a HotDocs app for generating commercial loan documentation. The loan document template includes 6,000+ individual variables used as merge fields or data points in business rules. However, for any particular transaction, depending on the particular type of loan in question, only three to four hundred questions need be answered to complete the documents. The bank’s HotDocs app builds the interview interactively based on questions that have already been asked and answered, thus preventing a system user from wading through hundreds of screens and thousands of variables that are irrelevant to the transaction in question. HotDocs interviews can be designed in such a way as to guide users through the data-gathering sequence, providing field-specific answer validation and help resources.
A result of the interview approach is that system users are separated from the document during the drafting process. For some organizations, this fact may seem detrimental. For others, however, this separation is critical to generating transaction-ready documents without ad hoc editing. One of the many upsides of the HotDocs interview approach is that less skilled staff members can generate documents out of HotDocs templates with safety and accuracy.
HotDocs Templates. The template portion of a HotDocs app is the word document (or PDF file) plus all the business logic necessary to generate a finished document, based on the data gathered by the interview. Document templates are created by designated content experts within an organization and operate behind the scenes, as far as system users are concerned.
Given the emphasis that HotDocs Corporation places on its platform, rather than on host applications, we consequently place great emphasis on our ability to integrate HotDocs templates with third-party web pages and applications. To this end, HotDocs Server (for on-premise deployments) and HotDocs Cloud Services (for cloud deployments) have powerful, flexible sets of APIs that enable integration into third-party applications, such as Actionstep’s adaptive case management system, Agilepoint’s BPM suite, and a host of other similar applications.
In other words, at this point, we assume that end customers will want document generation interviews deeply integrated with their home-base applications, rather than running in thin, vertical web applications built by document generation vendors.
HotDocs APIs provide the following functionality:
· Enterprises can customize the look and feel of interviews so as to make them indistinguishable, styles-wise, from the native application in which they are running.
· Enterprise or application data from multiple sources can be mapped to (pushed into or pulled out of) HotDocs interviews.
· Documents can be generated with or (if a user already happens to have all the necessary data) without interactive interviews.
HotDocs Open SDK
Using the Open SDK or one of its ports, an organization’s engineers can securely embed HotDocs interviews into any web application capable of making server-side web service calls.
The Open SDK also includes components to help enterprises with data interchange, template management, and so on. The HotDocs Open SDK has been released under a liberal Open Source license, and has already been ported to a number of web development platforms, including ASP.net, Java, and PHP.
Data Source Integration
Given the assumption of deep integrations with third-party web applications, the issue of data source integrations is paramount. At the most basic level, HotDocs templates allow storage of answer files for reuse with other, similar HotDocs templates. Likewise, HotDocs allows for data mapping from several different external storage systems into a HotDocs interview and for supplemental data keyed into the interview to be written back out into enterprise storage systems.
Host Web Applications
Once documents have been transformed into HotDocs templates, a host application is necessary to run the templates in a browser. HotDocs provides a range of host applications for all environments (desktop, on-premise, cloud); however, our assumption is that, in most instances, our host applications are starting points for development and will likely undergo modifications to integrate such applications into an organization’s existing workflows.
HotDocs cloud technologies are specifically designed to consolidate stakeholders in the HotDocs business into a cloud-based ecosystem. Cloud Servicespowers the HotDocs ecosystem. Case management vendors, BPM vendors, and other types of third party vendors will make up the OEM layer of the ecosystem. The HotDocs content store will enable publishers to push content into the OEM layer, exposing it to users of many diverse applications.
We believe this ecosystem approach—a natural expansion based on our position as a long-standing, document generation platform provider—makes us unique among document assembly vendors. And we believe it positions us for cataclysmic growth, not only within the legal, content publishing space but within broader IT markets.
The broad, IT market has moved toward the ecosystem approach, which, in the case of HotDocs, opens new distribution channels for publishers, new value propositions for OEMs, and new lines of business for resellers and system integrators.
At HotDocs, we’ve encountered just about every development situation imaginable, and have built a platform that fits the needs of the broad market—the Global 10,000 market—which requires the platform approach that we’ve described above.