Chapter 5

Choose the appropriate level of document automation

Documents can be automated in different ways. While there are many approaches to automation, there are three levels to consider:

  1. Automated - Documents are created with no user intervention at all. The content and type of generated documents is driven only by the template(s), available data, and defined business rules.
  2. User-driven – Creation of documents requires input from a human user. A decision about the content must be made that can’t be translated into a set of business rules based on data. The user’s input is required even though most of the document’s content may be driven by data and business rules.
  3. Hybrid - Documents are created automatically based on data and business ruless unless some data is missing or falls outside set boundaries.

The three scenarios are not mutually exclusive. Most organizations combine at least two.

Does every document require human judgement and expertise?

The process of automating documents, and the degree to which they can be automated, depends on the answers to the following questions:

  • Is data used to determine what content goes into documents? If so, is the data available in a repository such as SQL Server, Oracle, SharePoint, XML stream, CSV, Excel, Access, application layer web services, or text files (e.g., AS/400 output)?
  • Is the judgement of human users relevant to what goes into the documents? Do the users decide which documents are generated?
  • If human users make decisions about document content, are those decisions based on the data (as described in point 1) or on a wider context that considers their knowledge and non-quantative data (e.g., personal experience with a customer/supplier, aesthetics, etc.)? Another way of expressing this is: is it reasonable to say that the decision-making process can't always or necessarily be reduced to a set of strict business rules?

Often, when organizations start with document automation, they want to replace existing manual processes. Because a manual process is being replaced, a tendency may exist to keep the user engaged in the creation of documents. Thus, the user-driven mode is chosen, and a "plug-and-play" document creation solution replaces the existing manual processes. Later, when the entire process is under review, a decision may be made to proceed with the automated or hybrid mode.

In automated mode, there are many scenarios. The solution may create batches of thousands or millions of documents. The solution may simply create one document when someone clicks a button in the CRM system or other application, or another trigger (e.g., a payment is overdue by four days).

In hybrid mode, the solution may automatically send welcome kits to all new customers, but when data elements are missing or don't match validation rules, the solution may create a task for a customer service officer to resolve in terms of providing the correct values.

Which is the correct mode for your business? Automated, user-driven, or hybrid?

In the next section we consider the use of, and integration with, the organization's existing systems and data sources.

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