Document Automation 101

Document Automation 

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash
Docugility | May 31st, 2021

All you need to know to get started

With artificial intelligence on the rise and with data being the hottest commodity in the information age, you may think that document automation is yet another new thing to add to your toolkit.

But document automation, also called document assembly, has been around for as long as the internet.

This is good news because the technology has had time to grow and mature. Now you can choose from a broad array of highly sophisticated document automation technologies.

But what exactly is document automation and when should it be considered as an essential part to every business?

This article will unpack the key concepts about document automation. We will also explain how and when you should consider using document automation – and when not to.

What is document automation?

Key to unpacking what exactly document automation is, is considering automation on its own.

Automation, much like the industrial assembly line used to build cars, involves breaking up a process into simple pieces and getting technology to perform each of those tasks in a routine and predictable way.

With document automation, instead of building cars piece by piece, we are building documents. And the focus in our virtual document assembly line is also on completing mundane and repetitive tasks. So that humans have more time to do the high value work that only humans can do.

The 6 essentials of document automation

But what exactly does document automation look like and when should you be using it in your business? Below is a selection of the 6 most important things to know.


How exactly does document automation work?

Your existing documents

Document automation uses your existing documents (and existing corporate styles and document layout).  Document automation templates are created based on these existing documents.

Interview or data

With document automation, instead of working within the word processor document you instead answer a series of questions in a questionnaire (or interview), or use data from a database, to create the document.

Once the interview is filled in or the data is pulled in from a database a document or set of documents is created based on the document automation template.

Integrates with Word

Document automation software is designed to work seamlessly with your already existing word processor, the most common being Microsoft Word.

Best for commonly used templates

Without document automation, you may use a document (a static template) as the basis for creating new documents. You would make a copy of that document in a new file, and then read through the document and alter it according to the new document’s requirements. For example, if you are creating a document for a new client, you will have to alter the client’s name wherever it occurs, and you will have to change the pronouns used.

Useful for related documents

You may also have to create a related set of documents using all the same information, like name and address and contact details, over and over again.

When accuracy is essential, but you are pressed for time

Keeping track of all that information, and ensuring you are always using the client’s most up to date details can be time-consuming, you may also have typos or errors in your cut and paste approach, or you may have to redo the formatting of the entire document.

Doesn’t that sound like something a machine is better equipped for as they don’t get tired or make typos?

Shifts tedious tasks to the machine – and frees employees to do more valuable work

As a human, would you not rather be spending your time on building client relationships or providing your wealth of experience – instead of cutting and pasting?

That is exactly where document automation steps in and can provide a real benefit, not only to the bottom line, but to increasing the value of the work that you and your colleagues are able to do.



What can you do with document automation?

There is a long list of things that a document automation system can do, but here is a selection of the most important and time-saving ones:

  • Works with your existing customer database and pulls in customer details directly from there
  • Allows you to build in a selection of paragraph options so that you can customize your documents
  • You can also customize your documents sentence by sentence, or word by word
  • It can conduct complex mathematical calculations in the background, so that you don’t have to do that over and over again
  • You can use one set of data to create multiple documents
  • You can build in logic and conditions into your paragraphs so that the system will make the right choices based on the input you have given to it


When to use document automation

Document automation is not the answer to all your document needs, as there will be certain projects where only you and your expertise, and your individual contribution will be the right approach. So, when exactly does document automation become a useful and even essential part of your toolkit?

When to use document automation

You can look out for any of these signs to decide when you should use document automation:

  • You need to create a particular group of related Word documents or PDF forms over and over again.
  • You need to create a large volume of of a specific document or set of documents, and it takes a lot of time to create those documents manually.
  • The document you create needs to change based on who the client is or what the transaction or project requirements are.
  • Changing the details in each Word document or PDF form is extremely time-consuming.
  • There are many small details in your document, including layout, that have to be consistent and accurate every time.

You need to incorporate complex mathematical calculations in your document that need to be accurate every time.


Example of when to use document automation

A good example of this type of use, is if you are in the business of registering trusts for your customers. The commonly used documents would include:

  • A trust deed of 15 pages which require certain client details and addresses to be placed in the right place.
  • You have a variety of clauses that you want to choose from within the trust deed.
  • You also need to file numerous government forms in PDF format, which require a lot of the same information to be completed.


When not to use document automation

What about when you shouldn’t use document automation?

  • A significant part of the document requires custom text that cannot be automated
  • The document will only ever be used once.


How does my information get into my document?

Most of the logic and work in document automation is done behind the scenes with the use of a specially designed document automation engine or machine. And much like a physical machine, while it can do the heavy lifting for you, you will still need to tell it what to do. The steps below provide a broad outline of how you and the software work together.

Preparing your documents to be used with the document automation software

Prepare your document automation template

The first step is preparing your template with your document automation software. You, or a document automation specialist, will identify the items in your document that need customizing.  This includes identifying:

  • the fields that need to be filled in (e.g., customer names, dates etc.);
  • wording, paragraphs or attachments that need to be inserted or changed and identifying when such insertions or changes will be made;
  • any calculations that need to be made.


Prepare the questionnaire / interview / database integration

Based on the fields, rules and calculations needed in your template  the questions or data needed to create a document based on the template will be identified and a questionnaire / interview or data base integration will be prepared.

Creating documents with the document automation software

Answer the questions

When you want to create a document, you will be presented with a form that you can fill out on your computer, either online or offline. Here you will enter the values of the details you have identified for this particular client or situation. Alternatively, you can get the client data from a database such as Salesforce. Another possibility is sending the form to your client so that they can complete the details in their own time.


Create your document

Once the answers are complete, you can preview what your document will look like. if there are any gaps, then these will be highlighted, and you can go back to answer them. if you are happy with how it looks, then you can click a button to create your document.

Word or PDF

You will then be able to save a copy of your document with all the relevant data completed. This can be saved as either a Word document or as a PDF file. Both versions can still be edited by you at this stage. However, if you prefer that it can’t be edited thereafter, you can build that feature in as well.


You only need to prepare your document for use with the document automation software once. While this is one of the most time consuming parts of document automation, once this is done – you never have to repeat that again. Thereafter, you can reuse the same template over and over again, while easily customizing it for each use or client in the future by answering the interview questions or based on the data in the linked database.


What types of information can be inserted into the document?

Just about any information that you can put into a Word document is something that you can automate. This can include:
  • contact details and addresses of any person referred to in the document
  • images or PDFs to be included
  • dates, currency, numbers
  • calculations of those dates, currency and numbers
  • tables that need to grow or shrink depending on the quantity of data provided
  • selections of various clauses you could use in a contract
  • hyperlinks to other documents


Who should be using document automation?

As a general rule, if creating documents is an important part of your business, then document automation may be right for you.


Types of industries

The following list of industries and work spaces are typically heavily reliant on creating repeatable documents:

  • legal services
  • law firms
  • financial services
  • insurance firms
  • accounting
  • engineering
  • banks
  • health services


Types of job descriptions

If you hold one of these types of jobs or if your responsibilities include the following, you may want to use document automation to take your work to the next level, and to compete with the rapid changes in technology:

  • you are the head of a particular subject matter practice group
  • your role is to streamline processes and maximize efficiencies
  • you are a small business looking to maximize value from limited resources
  • you are a large business looking to reduce billable hours in order to provide more value for customers

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