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When Documents Meet Reality

When Documents Meet Reality

Sep 21 · 2 min read

Process Failures

Last month, I made a claim for my wife under a health insurance policy. It was a stressful situation needing quick treatment. We called the claims number to begin the process. The claims handler said my wife was not covered under the policy; the relevant hospital consultant was not recognised by the insurers, and the procedure was outside the scope of cover. We arranged the procedure without their help. Time was pressing.

It later transpired that all three assertions were incorrect. They asked if we wanted to make a complaint. We did. They stated their procedure for handling complaints, and then missed their self-defined timescales for investigating.

I am surely not alone in experiencing a situation where an organisation says one thing and does another. Why does that happen?

I suspect process failures cause many mistakes. I further suspect that many process failures arise because there is no reliable connection between a promise in a document and organisational readiness to deliver on the promise. We are too accepting of that disconnect. It’s the same reason why business teams sometimes talk proudly about signing a contract and then putting it in a draw (never to be used). If we can make promises in documents without being accountable for performance, no wonder we end up with lengthy policy documents that are ignored and protocols that probably wouldn’t survive a first contact with reality.

If we see fit to make promises, plans and decisions in accordance with a document, it is possible to flow documented commitments into a delivery process that aims to comply. Moreover, if we at least try to connect the documents to the delivery process, we might discover glitches before we disappoint the customer or do damage somewhere in the supply chain. If we find we cannot connect the commitments to the delivery process, we must invoke a manual intervention to bridge the gaps, or maybe stop making promises that are not achievable.

My past experience working as a lawyer for a large business process outsourcing company, revealed a consistent root cause when we retrospectively reviewed occasional service failures. In almost all cases, the root cause of failure could be traced back to a customer asking us to do something non-standard, often in a hurry as a favour, and our teams did what the customer wanted without the guard rails of a procedure that trapped errors.

Some documents, if they are intended to create action, should be part of a reliable workflow. The workflow doesn’t have to be automated, but automated workflow are dependable. Integrating documents within a workflow means documents should be created in a way that ensures they are tailored to finite, known boundaries – with options that match what you can deliver.

Unless you are documenting a service that can be truly bespoke, such operational documents should not be an opportunity for artistic flourish in the hands of your employees. If they find the ‘system’ doesn’t let them do what they want to do (“Computer says no”), provide an escalation route that ensures a human checks whether the non-standard items are sensible. A system that doesn’t cater to infinite options is your friend.

When Documents Meet Reality

Sep 21 · 2 min read

Process Failures

Last month, I made a claim for my wife under a health insurance policy. It was a stressful situation needing quick treatment. We called the claims number to begin the process. The claims handler said my wife was not covered under the policy; the relevant hospital consultant was not recognised by the insurers, and the procedure was outside the scope of cover. We arranged the procedure without their help. Time was pressing.

It later transpired that all three assertions were incorrect. They asked if we wanted to make a complaint. We did. They stated their procedure for handling complaints, and then missed their self-defined timescales for investigating.

I am surely not alone in experiencing a situation where an organisation says one thing and does another. Why does that happen?

I suspect process failures cause many mistakes. I further suspect that many process failures arise because there is no reliable connection between a promise in a document and organisational readiness to deliver on the promise. We are too accepting of that disconnect. It’s the same reason why business teams sometimes talk proudly about signing a contract and then putting it in a draw (never to be used). If we can make promises in documents without being accountable for performance, no wonder we end up with lengthy policy documents that are ignored and protocols that probably wouldn’t survive a first contact with reality.

If we see fit to make promises, plans and decisions in accordance with a document, it is possible to flow documented commitments into a delivery process that aims to comply. Moreover, if we at least try to connect the documents to the delivery process, we might discover glitches before we disappoint the customer or do damage somewhere in the supply chain. If we find we cannot connect the commitments to the delivery process, we must invoke a manual intervention to bridge the gaps, or maybe stop making promises that are not achievable.
My past experience working as a lawyer for a large business process outsourcing company, revealed a consistent root cause when we retrospectively reviewed occasional service failures. In almost all cases, the root cause of failure could be traced back to a customer asking us to do something non-standard, often in a hurry as a favour, and our teams did what the customer wanted without the guard rails of a procedure that trapped errors.

Some documents, if they are intended to create action, should be part of a reliable workflow. The workflow doesn’t have to be automated, but automated workflow are dependable. Integrating documents within a workflow means documents should be created in a way that ensures they are tailored to finite, known boundaries – with options that match what you can deliver. Unless you are documenting a service that can be truly bespoke, such operational documents should not be an opportunity for artistic flourish in the hands of your employees. If they find the ‘system’ doesn’t let them do what they want to do (“Computer says no”), provide an escalation route that ensures a human checks whether the non-standard items are sensible. A system that doesn’t cater to infinite options is your friend.

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Start Automating Now

5 Reasons Why Home-Grown Solutions Don’t Last

5 Reasons Why Home-Grown Solutions Don’t Last

Sep 14 · 1 min read

Some organisations come to Legito from a competitor solution, and some have no existing solution, but today I’m talking about organisations who have built a home-grown solution that isn’t meeting their needs.

Organisations with a requirement for automation are frequently big enough to employ technologists somewhere in the building. Or maybe they have a few people who have become experts in doing clever things with the usual office applications. One can do a lot with the standard suite of Microsoft office applications, especially if you’re willing to write some VBA code or macros. If your team needs a quick fix to a tedious or repeat task, there are many reasons why it might be appealing to build something rather than buy a solution from a vendor. If it fails, there’s no obvious penalty, or difficult conversations about wasted expenditure, and at least you can justify why you need to buy something instead? But…

5 reasons why home-grown solutions don’t last

#1 Document automation is harder than it looks

Building sophisticated solutions is technically demanding when you get beyond mail-merge, quick-parts, and other quasi-automation tools in Word. The first document automation solution to achieve commercial success had over one million lines of code – and it was years before vendors could offer the automation options you can get now.

#2 Home-grown solutions get stranded when people leave or move to other projects

I worked with an organisation that used a clever spreadsheet to calculate pricing. It was issued to all the sales execs. No doubt, the guy who created the spreadsheet was an Excel wizard, and the tool was smart. And then he left. Not a single person could fathom how to update the spreadsheet.

#3 Office applications evolve

I have a family member who worked for a large public organisation I dare not mention. That organisation generated some rather important documents. A keen individual wrote a script for Word. He shared it with colleagues. Soon, everybody used it. Microsoft brought out a new version of Word, with the .docx format – and the script was incompatible with the new version. The IT team had no awareness of the automation. As the new version of Word rolled out, it just stopped working. Sure, he could have updated the script – but he had authored many documents, and it would take time – which they didn’t have.

#4 In-house solutions are not built to be resilient or secure

Automation does more than execute tedious work. Modern business needs for automation frequently include business controls and compliance. There’s a need to ensure tasks are done correctly by people with the designated authority and backed up with auditable records. Business processes invariably require processing of personal data or confidential information. Enterprise-grade security and resilience must be designed into a solution, and that requires skills which are scarce.

#5 Off-the-shelf solutions have a lower cost of ownership

Volume fees from numerous users finances the build cost of commercial software. More commercial software is now supplied as a cloud-based solution which includes the cost of hosting the solution and providing support. The true cost of building and deploying an in-house solution is probably not measured – but it’s real and costly.

5 Reasons Why Home-Grown Solutions Don’t Last

Sep 14 · 1 min read

Some organisations come to Legito from a competitor solution, and some have no existing solution, but today I’m talking about organisations who have built a home-grown solution that isn’t meeting their needs.

Organisations with a requirement for automation are frequently big enough to employ technologists somewhere in the building. Or maybe they have a few people who have become experts in doing clever things with the usual office applications. One can do a lot with the standard suite of Microsoft office applications, especially if you’re willing to write some VBA code or macros. If your team needs a quick fix to a tedious or repeat task, there are many reasons why it might be appealing to build something rather than buy a solution from a vendor. If it fails, there’s no obvious penalty, or difficult conversations about wasted expenditure, and at least you can justify why you need to buy something instead? But…

5 reasons why home-grown solutions don’t last

#1 Document automation is harder than it looks

Building sophisticated solutions is technically demanding when you get beyond mail-merge, quick-parts, and other quasi-automation tools in Word. The first document automation solution to achieve commercial success had over one million lines of code – and it was years before vendors could offer the automation options you can get now.

#2 Home-grown solutions get stranded when people leave or move to other projects

I worked with an organisation that used a clever spreadsheet to calculate pricing. It was issued to all the sales execs. No doubt, the guy who created the spreadsheet was an Excel wizard, and the tool was smart. And then he left. Not a single person could fathom how to update the spreadsheet.

#3 Office applications evolve

I have a family member who worked for a large public organisation I dare not mention. That organisation generated some rather important documents. A keen individual wrote a script for Word. He shared it with colleagues. Soon, everybody used it. Microsoft brought out a new version of Word, with the .docx format – and the script was incompatible with the new version. The IT team had no awareness of the automation. As the new version of Word rolled out, it just stopped working. Sure, he could have updated the script – but he had authored many documents, and it would take time – which they didn’t have.

#4 In-house solutions are not built to be resilient or secure

Automation does more than execute tedious work. Modern business needs for automation frequently include business controls and compliance. There’s a need to ensure tasks are done correctly by people with the designated authority and backed up with auditable records. Business processes invariably require processing of personal data or confidential information. Enterprise-grade security and resilience must be designed into a solution, and that requires skills which are scarce.

#5 Off-the-shelf solutions have a lower cost of ownership

Volume fees from numerous users finances the build cost of commercial software. More commercial software is now supplied as a cloud-based solution which includes the cost of hosting the solution and providing support. The true cost of building and deploying an in-house solution is probably not measured – but it’s real and costly.

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Start Automating Now

Webinar: Automation of Advanced Use Cases

Webinar: Automation of Advanced Use Cases

Thank you to all who attended our recent webinar. For those unable to watch it live, here is the full webinar recording.

This time Mark Settle reviews some of the more advanced concepts of automation, including compound conditions, nested repeats, calculations, background data, advanced layouts & styles, and tags & scripting.

Webinar: Automation of Advanced Use Cases

Thank you to all who attended our recent webinar. For those unable to watch it live, here is the full webinar recording.

This time Mark Settle reviews some of the more advanced concepts of automation, including compound conditions, nested repeats, calculations, background data, advanced layouts & styles, and tags & scripting. 

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August 2022 Release: Sections and More

August 2022 Release: Sections and More

1) Sections (beta)

Legito Templates now contain multiple Sections, similar to sections you will recognize from MS Word or Google Docs documents.

There are 2 types of sections:

  • Next Page Sections
  • Continuous Sections

It is possible to attach conditions to the Sections (in other words, created conditioned Sections) as well as create repeated Sections. If a Section is conditioned and the condition is not met, the entire Section (including its content) is removed from the document.

It is also possible to Tag a Section.

In the case of dual language documents, it is possible to set a Section to ignore the second language.

Next Page Sections

A Next page Section can be added by clicking the button underneath the last Next Page Section in the Template Editor.

Each Template has to contain at least one Next Page Section.

Each Next Page Section contains a Header and Footer.

Continuous Sections

Continuous Sections can be inserted into Next Page Sections from the left menu. Continuous Sections cannot be inserted into Clauses.

Any Clause or Element can be inserted into a Continuous Section, the same way you insert them into a Next Page Section.

This feature is currently available in beta. Please be aware that there might be some breaking changes and some functionality that is not supported yet, for example, using multiple Sections in the Legito Templates in combination with Advanced Layout Designs. 

2) Page Size, Orientation, Margins, and Columns

We enhanced the formatting options of Legito Templates in connection with the Section above.

The formatting is visible (applicable) for exported Word and PDF documents only.

Page Size

It is possible to choose page size for each Next Page Section.

Page Orientation

A Next Page Section can have either portrait (default) or landscape page orientation.

Page Margins

You may set left, right, top, and bottom margins in a Next Page Section.

Columns

Each Next Page and Continuous Section can be split into multiple columns.

It is not necessary to use Advanced Layout Designs if you need to set the above mentioned formatting.

Since Sections are still in Beta version mode, it may also affect the formatting.

3) New Line Before or After an Element

So far, it was possible to define if there should or should not be a space between two Elements. We enhanced this settings and from now on, you can also set if the Element or the following one shall start on a new line. 

This setting does not affect any logic of your Template (contions, repeats, etc.) since the Elements are still in the same Clause.

4) Template Suite Permissions

User Permissions to Template Suites has been upgraded to make it  possible to define in each Template Suite if the given User can only use it (to generate documents), or use and edit(edit content, logic, and settings of the Template Suite and its Templates, including saving and publishing new versions).

We have also transformed the “Can draft Templates” permission into “Can create new Template Suites”. This permission gives Users the ability to create a new Template Suite and edit the newly created Template Suite.

This change will be reflected in the next version of our REST API (version 6) that will be released in about a month. It is not necessary to change your integrations with the currently released and supported REST API version.

5) NetDocuments integration (beta)

It is possible to directly upload Legito generated Word or PDF documents to your NetDocuments account.

Please contact our Helpdesk for more information and to activate this integration.

August 2022 Release: Sections and More

1) Sections (beta)

Legito Templates now contain multiple Sections, similar to sections you will recognize from MS Word or Google Docs documents.

There are 2 types of sections:

  • Next Page Sections
  • Continuous Sections

It is possible to attach conditions to the Sections (in other words, created conditioned Sections) as well as create repeated Sections. If a Section is conditioned and the condition is not met, the entire Section (including its content) is removed from the document.

It is also possible to Tag a Section.

In the case of dual language documents, it is possible to set a Section to ignore the second language.

Next Page Sections

A Next page Section can be added by clicking the button underneath the last Next Page Section in the Template Editor.

Each Template has to contain at least one Next Page Section.

Each Next Page Section contains a Header and Footer.

Continuous Sections

Continuous Sections can be inserted into Next Page Sections from the left menu. Continuous Sections cannot be inserted into Clauses.

Any Clause or Element can be inserted into a Continuous Section, the same way you insert them into a Next Page Section.

This feature is currently available in beta. Please be aware that there might be some breaking changes and some functionality that is not supported yet, for example, using multiple Sections in the Legito Templates in combination with Advanced Layout Designs. 

2) Page Size, Orientation, Margins, and Columns

We enhanced the formatting options of Legito Templates in connection with the Section above.

The formatting is visible (applicable) for exported Word and PDF documents only.

Page Size

It is possible to choose page size for each Next Page Section.

Page Orientation

A Next Page Section can have either portrait (default) or landscape page orientation.

Page Margins

You may set left, right, top, and bottom margins in a Next Page Section.

Columns

Each Next Page and Continuous Section can be split into multiple columns.

It is not necessary to use Advanced Layout Designs if you need to set the above mentioned formatting.

Since Sections are still in Beta version mode, it may also affect the formatting.

3) New Line Before or After an Element

So far, it was possible to define if there should or should not be a space between two Elements. We enhanced this settings and from now on, you can also set if the Element or the following one shall start on a new line. 

This setting does not affect any logic of your Template (contions, repeats, etc.) since the Elements are still in the same Clause.

4) Template Suite Permissions

User Permissions to Template Suites has been upgraded to make it  possible to define in each Template Suite if the given User can only use it (to generate documents), or use and edit(edit content, logic, and settings of the Template Suite and its Templates, including saving and publishing new versions).

We have also transformed the “Can draft Templates” permission into “Can create new Template Suites”. This permission gives Users the ability to create a new Template Suite and edit the newly created Template Suite.

This change will be reflected in the next version of our REST API (version 6) that will be released in about a month. It is not necessary to change your integrations with the currently released and supported REST API version.

5) NetDocuments integration (beta)

It is possible to directly upload Legito generated Word or PDF documents to your NetDocuments account.

Please contact our Helpdesk for more information and to activate this integration.

More From New Releases

Advanced automation features

Advanced automation features

About Charles Drayson

Charles is a UK lawyer who has used document automation for 20 years. He has worked for large law firms, corporate legal teams, and has automated legal and non-legal documents. He writes for Legito to share his passion for using automation to get work done. “I get a kick out of creating good content and seeing it used repeatedly and reliably by colleagues without fuss and bother”.

Advanced automation features

Charles Drayson

Aug 30  · 5 min read
Charles Drayson
Aug 30 · 5 min read
Comparing automation solutions is tricky if you don’t know what the more advanced features will do or whether you need them. Is it likely that you would use only the basic features, and anything else means paying for complexity and bloat that you don’t need? The assessment is harder if this is the organisation’s first deployment of an automation solution. A demo is good, but each vendor will run a demo that looks slick.

Comparing automation solutions is tricky if you don’t know what the more advanced features will do or whether you need them. Is it likely that you would use only the basic features, and anything else means paying for complexity and bloat that you don’t need? The assessment is harder if this is the organisation’s first deployment of an automation solution. A demo is good, but each vendor will run a demo that looks slick.

ADVANCED FEATURES – AM I JUST ADDING UNNECESSARY COMPLEXITY AND COST?

ADVANCED FEATURES – AM I JUST ADDING UNNECESSARY COMPLEXITY AND COST?

Successful projects create a demand for more. Most vendors (including Legito) advise starting with a simple project and then building incrementally. Projects which begin with large, ambitious rollouts carry risk. The first project is usually a success, unless an organisation has bought something completely unsuitable. Unfortunately, some organisations find it hard to increase adoption after the first project. What will you find when it’s time to take off the water-wings and swim in the deep end?

If you decided to invest in automation, it’s probable that some of your needs were not simple. Organisations are messy. Departments want different things. For every process, there are exceptions. You might have a standard document broadly suitable for most occasions but ideally suited to almost none. You map out a process, and then someone changes it, or you find that people are not following policies. If you over-simplify the solution, your colleagues will not use it, find ways round it, or complain loudly that it doesn’t work.

Successful projects create a demand for more. Most vendors (including Legito) advise starting with a simple project and then building incrementally. Projects which begin with large, ambitious rollouts carry risk. The first project is usually a success, unless an organisation has bought something completely unsuitable. Unfortunately, some organisations find it hard to increase adoption after the first project. What will you find when it’s time to take off the water-wings and swim in the deep end?

If you decided to invest in automation, it’s probable that some of your needs were not simple. Organisations are messy. Departments want different things. For every process, there are exceptions. You might have a standard document broadly suitable for most occasions but ideally suited to almost none. You map out a process, and then someone changes it, or you find that people are not following policies. If you over-simplify the solution, your colleagues will not use it, find ways round it, or complain loudly that it doesn’t work.

YOU THINK YOU ASKED ALL THE STAKEHOLDERS ABOUT THEIR REQUIREMENTS, AND, AFTER YOU BUY THE SOLUTION, YOU FIND THEY ASK FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

YOU THINK YOU ASKED ALL THE STAKEHOLDERS ABOUT THEIR REQUIREMENTS, AND, AFTER YOU BUY THE SOLUTION, YOU FIND THEY ASK FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

This is why, sooner or later, you will want advanced features. The Pareto Principle still works – you will get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the features, but there are three more factors to consider:

  • It’s hard to predict which features will form the 20% delivering most of the benefit. 
  • As you expand across the enterprise, each department might depend on different features. 
  • People who get good at developing solutions using Legito don’t want to stop at 80% – believe me, it’s addictive, and you will want more.

It’s like buying a car. I still remember cars without electric windows – we thought it was mad that some people would pay extra money to save the effort of winding down a window by hand. Remember manual chokes to get engines started? They were not exactly complex, but none of us looked back after electronic ignition. When cars first had air conditioning, it seemed extravagant. As for heated steering wheels, why would anyone need one? But, the driving experience with all those features is fundamentally different from the experience of the sort of cars I first drove as a teenager. There’s another similarity with buying software solutions: if you buy something basic, it might be impossible to retrofit the features you need – you have to buy again (and write off the investment in the first solution). For the manufacturers, it was hard to upgrade legacy models to compete with new modern designs.

Next-generation automation solutions compared to legacy solutions are, like modern cars, easier to use and more amenable to wide adoption by colleagues who are increasingly intolerant of mediocre technology.

What are the advanced features that make the difference?

This is why, sooner or later, you will want advanced features. The Pareto Principle still works – you will get 80% of the benefit from 20% of the features, but there are three more factors to consider:

  • It’s hard to predict which features will form the 20% delivering most of the benefit. 
  • As you expand across the enterprise, each department might depend on different features. 
  • People who get good at developing solutions using Legito don’t want to stop at 80% – believe me, it’s addictive, and you will want more.

It’s like buying a car. I still remember cars without electric windows – we thought it was mad that some people would pay extra money to save the effort of winding down a window by hand. Remember manual chokes to get engines started? They were not exactly complex, but none of us looked back after electronic ignition. When cars first had air conditioning, it seemed extravagant. As for heated steering wheels, why would anyone need one? But, the driving experience with all those features is fundamentally different from the experience of the sort of cars I first drove as a teenager.

There’s another similarity with buying software solutions: if you buy something basic, it might be impossible to retrofit the features you need – you have to buy again (and write off the investment in the first solution). For the manufacturers, it was hard to upgrade legacy models to compete with new modern designs.

Next-generation automation solutions compared to legacy solutions are, like modern cars, easier to use and more amenable to wide adoption by colleagues who are increasingly intolerant of mediocre technology.

What are the advanced features that make the difference?

#1 No code development

I liked writing code using the first generation of document automation solutions. It was satisfying to get it right. But, I was one of those who also liked programming as a kid, and I relished the challenge. If you want your subject experts to build a solution for their teams, you could look around for people who also like messing around with code.

Here’s the problem: not many people fall into that category, and even if they do, not many organisations want to pay their key staff to mess around dabbling in code just because it has some esoteric appeal. They want their lawyers to use their legal drafting skills. They want their HR professionals thinking about people-friendly processes. They want their procurement teams focused on delivering value.

#2 Workflow

Many organisations who bought the first-generation solutions were surprised to find that the solutions generated a document and then did nothing else. The data used to create a document was mostly discarded or useless. The documents were no less and no more useful than a simple Word file. Everything else happened by email. Have your colleagues reviewed the document? No idea – email them. How many replies are you waiting for? No idea – trawl your sent items folder and see if you’ve had replies. Maybe create a list in a notepad and tick them off as they arrive. Is your document waiting for approval from someone who is on annual leave? You will need workflow. Do you have the budget and bandwidth to buy a workflow solution and integrate it with the document automation tool? Much better to have them in the same tool.

#3 Dashboards

If you deploy an automated solution, you probably have more than a few work items to get processed. After the solution has been running for a while, you will want to manage the workload. You will want visibility of current work. You will want to retrieve information from work processed months ago.

#4 Customisation

It’s better to have one solution that can be used across the whole enterprise, rather than each department buying its own solution. Each department might not care, but each department might not have the autonomy to fly solo on such things. However, each department will have a different requirement and a different view on your organisation’s world. That’s why you need to be able to customise. Customising a solution is more than just adding a logo and being able to select a colour scheme for the screens. True customisation means recognising that each team uses different data, different reports, and different processes. Moreover, they might want to separate one from another. The HR team does not want employee records accessible across the organisation. On the other hand, HR might want to roll out some processes (annual leave requests, new joiner processes) across all teams. This level of customisation requires software designed to be enterprise-wide.

#5 Digital signatures

Many documents need to be signed: contracts, purchase orders, job offers, approvals, audits. If they need to be signed by more than one person, you might need to specify the order in which they get signed. In many situations, you might need to verify that a signature is genuinely applied by the person named. It might not be good enough to copy and paste a GIF image taken from your scanned hand-written signature. Signing documents the old-fashioned way is a nuisance, time consuming and increasingly it makes you look old-fashioned. Since Covid, digital signatures have dramatically increased. In my work as a lawyer, I rarely see documents signed using hand-written ‘counterparts’ scanned and emailed. If a document is to be digitally signed, generate the document in a way that is natively ready for digital signature, and integrate the workflow with a digital signature solution. It’s easier if you can do all this in one tool.

#6 Data mining

Your organisation’s total document store contains valuable data that could provide insight into your business that is available from no other source. Litigators have been looking for ways to scrutinise documents using e-discovery tools. Mercifully, there are more beneficial reasons to look back at your documents to see what you can find. That task is easier if you keep digital records about each document. Inevitably, you might want information in the future that you did not anticipate when the document was first created. The tools to extract useful information from documents and processes are starting to deliver additional value beyond the obvious automation benefits.

#7 Who knows what’s coming?

It’s a trite observation to say solutions are, in general, becoming more sophisticated. You could wait for the next new thing, but there will always be something new coming, and you might never get started. The better strategy is to buy a solution with a history of developing new features, regularly – it’s the most reliable assurance that the solution will not drift out of date.

#1 No code development

I liked writing code using the first generation of document automation solutions. It was satisfying to get it right. But, I was one of those who also liked programming as a kid, and I relished the challenge. If you want your subject experts to build a solution for their teams, you could look around for people who also like messing around with code.

Here’s the problem: not many people fall into that category, and even if they do, not many organisations want to pay their key staff to mess around dabbling in code just because it has some esoteric appeal. They want their lawyers to use their legal drafting skills. They want their HR professionals thinking about people-friendly processes. They want their procurement teams focused on delivering value.

#2 Workflow

Many organisations who bought the first-generation solutions were surprised to find that the solutions generated a document and then did nothing else. The data used to create a document was mostly discarded or useless. The documents were no less and no more useful than a simple Word file. Everything else happened by email. Have your colleagues reviewed the document? No idea – email them. How many replies are you waiting for? No idea – trawl your sent items folder and see if you’ve had replies. Maybe create a list in a notepad and tick them off as they arrive. Is your document waiting for approval from someone who is on annual leave? You will need workflow. Do you have the budget and bandwidth to buy a workflow solution and integrate it with the document automation tool? Much better to have them in the same tool.

#3 Dashboards

If you deploy an automated solution, you probably have more than a few work items to get processed. After the solution has been running for a while, you will want to manage the workload. You will want visibility of current work. You will want to retrieve information from work processed months ago.

#4 Customisation

It’s better to have one solution that can be used across the whole enterprise, rather than each department buying its own solution. Each department might not care, but each department might not have the autonomy to fly solo on such things. However, each department will have a different requirement and a different view on your organisation’s world. That’s why you need to be able to customise. Customising a solution is more than just adding a logo and being able to select a colour scheme for the screens. True customisation means recognising that each team uses different data, different reports, and different processes. Moreover, they might want to separate one from another. The HR team does not want employee records accessible across the organisation. On the other hand, HR might want to roll out some processes (annual leave requests, new joiner processes) across all teams. This level of customisation requires software designed to be enterprise-wide.

#5 Digital signatures

Many documents need to be signed: contracts, purchase orders, job offers, approvals, audits. If they need to be signed by more than one person, you might need to specify the order in which they get signed. In many situations, you might need to verify that a signature is genuinely applied by the person named. It might not be good enough to copy and paste a GIF image taken from your scanned hand-written signature. Signing documents the old-fashioned way is a nuisance, time consuming and increasingly it makes you look old-fashioned. Since Covid, digital signatures have dramatically increased. In my work as a lawyer, I rarely see documents signed using hand-written ‘counterparts’ scanned and emailed. If a document is to be digitally signed, generate the document in a way that is natively ready for digital signature, and integrate the workflow with a digital signature solution. It’s easier if you can do all this in one tool.

#6 Data mining

Your organisation’s total document store contains valuable data that could provide insight into your business that is available from no other source. Litigators have been looking for ways to scrutinise documents using e-discovery tools. Mercifully, there are more beneficial reasons to look back at your documents to see what you can find. That task is easier if you keep digital records about each document. Inevitably, you might want information in the future that you did not anticipate when the document was first created. The tools to extract useful information from documents and processes are starting to deliver additional value beyond the obvious automation benefits.

#7 Who knows what’s coming?

It’s a trite observation to say solutions are, in general, becoming more sophisticated. You could wait for the next new thing, but there will always be something new coming, and you might never get started. The better strategy is to buy a solution with a history of developing new features, regularly – it’s the most reliable assurance that the solution will not drift out of date.

More Industry Insights