Document automation, document assembly, and document generation – these are all ways of describing the process of using templates to create error free documentation.
But are any of these the most accurate description of what the software actually does?
Different industry verticals identify different strategic advantages in document automation software. Organisations such as banks or large legal firms often use document automation technology to reduce risk by minimising human interaction with the documentation.
Legal documents, such as contracts, insurance forms, wills, etc. are notoriously unstable-every time a governing body meets, the laws governing the documents could change. This reality-the instability of legal documents-gave way to platforms designed specifically to automate legal documentation.
When it comes to banks or financial institutions, the main value proposition that attracts them to document automation software is better documentation (and again, less risk). Every institution in the sector-from global banks to local agricultural credit unions-has the same problem: non-legal experts generating and executing binding contracts worth a significant amount of money. Consequently, banks need a document assembly platform that can generate complex, business-ready contracts. The business-ready part is critical, since it is the human element in preparing the contracts that can lead to legal exposure.
Document automation systems began service in law firms in the late 1980s, but are equally applicable to any business environment where complex legal documentation is regularly produced.
For example, a document automation system could be used to capture the expertise of a senior lawyer in a bank’s legal department. This in turn would enable non-legal staff in remote locations to generate legally binding loan documents with expert precision. Such a system would work by guiding a loan officer through the complex business rules of loan document preparation, providing safeguards and expert advice at the point of data entry.
Then you have the advantages of using this type of software as part of a more wide ranging business process management (BPM) solution. Companies regularly integrate specialist document automation software with their chosen BPM system due to its far greater ability to cope with immensely complex documents. This is done even though a number of BPM solutions come complete with basic document creation tools. The requirement for a more sophisticated document production solution is at least partially to address risk.
Enterprise-grade document automation systems, while different from expert systems in developing a procedural approach to defining business rules, have long been used for a similar purpose as expert systems: capturing and using an expert’s knowledge for the purpose of enabling non-experts to achieve the same results. In document production terms, this is again about risk reduction.
The repeated use of words like automate, generate or assemble when discussing the functionalities and capabilities of this type of software encourages the idea that the naming conventions I began by mentioning are accurate. However, I would counter that the overriding theme of industry use of this kind of technology is to better manage risk.
Based on this observation I propose we rename the software definition to “document risk mitigation software”. I’m not sure if it’ll catch on but every revolution has to start somewhere.