Welcome back to this series of articles looking at document automation. If you haven't seen them, please do take a look at my previous posts below which set the scene and discuss preparation and scoping.
This week we are focusing on development itself (i.e. building the automation). This is a stage that our customers can largely sit back and relax for. Although, they will often provide valuable input that helps to clarify content of the templates or internal processes.
Our development process has a few steps to it:
- Developing the questionnaire
- Automating the template(s)
- Making external connections
Let's take a quick look at each of these below.
Developing the questionnaire
We like to start with this as it allows us to develop a model governing the logic of the templates first without having to worry about the structure of the document itself (I'll explain the benefits of this another time). By logic I mean the conditions that cause questions to appear or not based on earlier answers in the questionnaire.
At CCAS we have developed an innovative series of template logic models for different industries which dramatically reduces the time required to complete the development of the questionnaire. Having these templates also ensures increased accuracy, consistency and best practice within the team.
Once the questionnaire has been developed we make it available to the customer to check that it works as expected, that it is intuitive and that appropriate follow up questions are displayed at the right point.
If scoping has been thorough then this step can be a relatively quick process and means our customers can make a start reviewing the questionnaire fairly quickly. At the same time, we can move on to the automation of the templates themselves.
Automating the templates
This second step takes the longest and is the one where subject matter expertise is extremely helpful as we try to apply the logic model to the templates without breaking the model. Such expertise are particularly important when a single template is intended to produce different types of documents.
In the case of CC Dr@ft, which is built on the Thomson Reuters Contact Express platform, this is done by applying code in and around the contents of the template. This has several benefits including:
- the ability of the customer to see the code alongside the content of the template, making it relatively easy to read and understand how the templates work; and
- the ability of the platform to work out the correct questions to display based on the coding which is itself based around the content of the document - in other words, only relevant questions are presented to the platform user so they don't waste time answering irrelevant questions.
Key to this step is making sure that you are consistent with your code. Template automation, as with any kind of coding will be unforgiving of any small errors.
Making external connections
This final stage is optional but can provide fantastic value-add to your automated templates if you have databases or external systems that you want to connect to the platform.
By way of example, on a recent assignment during which we were automating board minutes and internal loan approvals we were able to connect to a database containing the many group entities of this organisation. This meant we could easily pull in the company names to a drop down box in the questionnaire and as a result automatically populate company registered addresses and registration numbers in the generated document. This saved a significant amount of time compared to having to locate those details manually.
That is all for this week. A relatively short one but, hopefully, without getting too technical this has given you a reasonable insight into this stage of the process.
For the next article in the series, I'll be focusing on testing - arguably the longest and most crucial stage of the process and also the one requiring the most customer input.
Get in touch
If you've found this article helpful and would like to discuss our approach to template automation further, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.