Document automation, document assembly, and document generation – these are all ways to describe 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. Organizations such as banks or large law firms often use document automation technology to reduce risk by minimizing human interaction with documentation.
Legal documents, such as contracts, insurance forms, wills, etc. they are notoriously unstable: each time a governing body meets, the laws governing the documents may change. This reality, the instability of legal documents, gave way to platforms specifically designed to automate legal documentation.
When it comes to banks or financial institutions, the main value proposition that draws them to document automation software is better documentation (and again, less risk). All institutions in the sector, from global banks to local agricultural credit unions, have the same problem: non-legal experts generating and executing binding contracts for significant value of money. Consequently, banks need a document assembly platform that can generate complex, business-ready contracts. The business-ready part is critical, as it is the human element in preparing contracts that can lead to legal exposure.
Document automation systems began operating 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 attorney in the legal department of a bank. This, in turn, would allow 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 preparing loan documents, providing safeguards and expert advice at the point of data entry.
Then you have the benefits of using this type of software as part of a larger business process management (BPM) solution. Companies regularly integrate specialized document automation software with the BPM system of choice due to its much greater ability to deal with immensely complex documents. This is done despite the fact that several 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-level 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 to expert systems: capturing and utilizing the knowledge of an expert in order to allow non-experts to achieve the same results. In terms of document production, it is again about risk reduction.
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 started to mention are accurate. However, I would say that the main theme of the use of this type of technology by the industry is to better manage risk.
Based on this observation, I propose that we change the name of the software definition to “document risk mitigation software.” I’m not sure if it will catch on, but every revolution has to start somewhere.