[As is the case with our 8 things series, the opinions expressed in the 5 myths guest columns are those of the guest contributor and not necessarily mine or AIIM's. This guest post is by Faine Mende, President of North American Operations at ActiveDocs. As usual, contra perspectives welcome.]
All organizations produce documents, some even hundreds or thousands a day. Information contained in these documents is often vital to business – from producing sales quotations, policy and procedure documents to employment or legal contracts. While some content in these documents will change, other aspects, such as its structure and how it is formatted, may not. In other words, many documents contain repetitive content that changes little from one document to the next and variable content that must be accurately personalized. Document automation can streamline the creation of the simplest or most complex corporate document but many companies are confused by how it works. Below are 5 Myths organizations need to think about when considering how they handle document creation.
Myth #1: Document automation is only Word Merge.
Reality: Microsoft® Word mail merge is a desktop-based application and allows users to create large volumes of documents by populating “merge fields” in templates pulling data from external sources such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Microsoft Access Database or other OLE DB/ODBC standard compliant resources. Since it is not a server application the mail merge is processed on the end user’s desktop and the resulting documents are saved on the desktop, in a file system or printed directly by the end user. The performance of the application is also limited by the end user machine and it can easily tie up an end-user machine for long periods. More importantly, scalability cannot be achieved. The mail merge functionality can only be enhanced by using custom made VB Scripts for each application/mail merge template. This can increase template creation and maintenance costs, as well as make the template itself more complex. On top of this if templates are subject to a workflow, an additional application must be deployed to manage the editing, audit and approval needs. Microsoft Word is therefore not ideal for high volume automated document production due to the limitations on scalability and unmanned document production capabilities.
In general, Microsoft Word mail merge satisfies the document production needs of an individual or small business/department, in the same way that Microsoft Word as a text editor allows full customization of documents. However its deployment as a corporate solution for document creation is questionable as manual document editing and customization by using complex fields in a template is error prone which is not acceptable when creating customer-facing documents.
Myth #2: My contracts/proposals are all perfect.
Reality: What goes into corporate document management systems as approved language is often a free-for-all of broken procedures, bypassed controls, outdated boilerplates and inaccurate numbers. Documents created through these all-too-common processes, such as contracts for example, often leave companies open to penalties and legal liability. The cause isn’t negligence, but inadequate technology.
Most companies have business rules around document preparation to minimize their risk exposure. Very few of them have a cohesive system for enforcing those rules where documents are actually created – on employees’ desktops. Rules and procedures are fine, but when there is no way to express them through the technology systems used to create documents, they’re easy to circumvent – deliberately or accidentally. At the end of the day, most companies have more effective controls around their processes for buying office supplies than they do for creating legally binding documents.
This lack of control at the front end of the document management process – creating the actual document – leaves companies open to risk. As anyone involved in document creation knows, one errant phrase can cost a company millions. Insufficient or non-existent document automation increases the chances that the errant phrase will end up in the contract. Companies respond to that risk in two ways. Those serious about reducing their risk exposure search for products that will improve their front-end document preparation. Those not serious about reducing their exposure issue more memos and procedures so they have plausible deniability if something goes wrong, which it often does.
Myth #3: It’s okay if my sales guy spends four hours creating a proposal.
Reality: According to Gartner Group, documents claim up to 60 percent of office worker time and account for up to 45 percent of labor costs – too much time spent on mundane tasks vs. focusing on core competencies and bringing in revenue. To understand the time spent in your own organization consider these questions: How are documents created in your business? Copy and paste? Built from scratch every time? Or, built from user-unfriendly templates where all the information is entered by hand (even if you already have it in another system) and can't be validated or repeated (so if the customer's name appears twice, you have to enter it twice) or have business rules and logic applied? None of these methods is efficient or accurate. They are time-consuming, error-prone, and almost guaranteed to create problems further down the line. Input costs are increased, and productivity suffers. By automating the process you can have more efficient and accurate document creation. Copy-and-paste, and build-from-scratch approaches are eliminated.
Myth #4: My documents are too complex to be automated.
Reality: Many documents become more complex as information is pulled from outside of the application that is creating them. Pricing information needs to be looked up in an Excel spreadsheet, financial management or ERP system, while customer address details have to be looked up in a CRM system, for example. But document automation software takes advantage of the latest XML technologies to enable intelligent, “active” documents that can be produced automatically with ease. They include tools such as wizard-driven forms that replace the traditional macro and template driven approach to performing repetitive Word tasks. They seamlessly access external data sources and repositories of text-based data relevant to the Word document being created, eliminating the need to copy and paste. And because the information comes from live sources, it’s always up to date, no matter how complex the data or the resulting document.
Myth #5: Document automation is just document management.
Reality: Document automation technology is often mistaken for the document management software common in most industries. Document management software is not designed to help companies avoid contract creation problems. Its purpose is to maintain the integrity of a document once it’s completed by restricting access and editing privileges, and managing audit trails of who reviews, modifies and approves documents. If the document is flawed to begin with, the document management system can’t help the company fix it. Also, document management systems are often maintained at the departmental level. A sales or project manager might not have direct access to the latest legal or financial content. They have to rely on those departments to send them updated content – an often unreliable process.
Document automation systems are applications that use built-in workflows to structure document creation. They replace word processing applications as the primary tool for creating documents. That’s a crucial change in the document management process. Word processors do not enable the company to enforce business rules. The enforcement is all manual and outside the document creation process. Document automation systems enable organizations to express and enforce their business rules right from the beginning of the process.
By better understanding automated document creation and its benefits over current approaches, organizations can be assured the documents they produce are consistent and of a high quality, and adhere to all corporate standards. These benefits can be accomplished quickly while reducing maintenance and training costs and ensuring the organization can leverage intellectual property, improve staff productivity and provide more efficient service to customers.