6 January 2020
Anyone can use document automation and benefit from it. But if you want to be a power user of document automation, it pays to understand it at a deeper level.
In this post, we’re going to share some of the deepest — and most counterintuitive — aspects of document automation. Once you understand these, you’ll have an advantage in using automation compared to others in your field.
To use document automation to its fullest potential, it’s helpful to understand these three secrets:
Once you’ve grasped the importance of each of these points, you can rush to the forefront of your industry in terms of document automation prowess. Keep reading to dive into each individual point in turn.
Secret number one is that automation is like having 1,000 interns. I can’t remember who said this first -- it wasn’t us -- but the saying regularly rattles around in my mind and seems to grow truer the more I learn about automation.
Why is this strange saying true? It’s because interns are relatively inexpensive, throw all their energy into the tasks you give them, and because they’re new to the job you need to give them detailed instructions to get them going on the right track.
Automation is very similar. Our service, for example, is inexpensive compared to hiring someone to do the sorts of jobs that document automation can achieve: brand compliance, formatting, data updating, and batch processing hundreds of reports. Our 2021 prices range from $6,900 to $36,000 per year, accommodating between 5 and 50 users. That is typically significantly cheaper than hiring real people to do those jobs.
In addition, when you give our servers a task, they drive forward to execute that task with relentless momentum. The servers’ job is to compute, and they don’t stop to breathe or rest. They simply charge forward, executing one automation command after another until they run out of commands.
The final similarity automation and having 1,000 interns -- and one of the most important -- is that document automation can only automate instructions that you have provided. If your instructions are incomplete or poorly thought out, then the automation servers will enthusiastically carry out those incomplete and poorly thought out instructions, potentially leaving you with useless documents.
Document automation secret number two is that when you’re automating documents, restrictions are features, just like permissions are features. Permissions tell the server what can appear in your documents, and restrictions tell the server what cannot appear in your documents. Whether you define them implicitly or explicitly, every document automation process involves both permissions and restrictions.
It pays, then, to think of restrictions as features. Features are things that you explicitly rather than implicitly define, so that you get the result you want. With document automation, you should define your restrictions just as explicitly as you define your permissions.
When you’re automating documents, the rules you choose are important. The automation server will execute your instructions, and those instructions explicitly or implicitly include both what you can and cannot do.
This is especially true because the automation server is making decisions at extreme speeds and hundreds or thousands of times in succession. If you don’t want the machine to do 100 wrong things, you need to tell it what not to do! That means you need to consciously instruct the server not to do things you don’t want.
This requires a completely different mindset compared to working with normal word processing software like Microsoft Word. When you’re using normal word processor software, you don’t have to think too much about what you don’t want to do; you simply don’t do what you don’t want to do, and you get the result you expect. But that’s because you are only doing, say, one thing a second, with your Word Processor, whereas with document automation the server may be doing thousands of things each second.
Secret number three is that it’s harder than you think to craft the right set of instructions when automating documents. This is why your choice of automation software is vital, and its also why it’s important that the software is backed by a knowledgeable team of automation experts that can help you achieve your goals.
Consider the English phrase, “I want the report colour to be blue 99% of the time”. To most people, this is a fairly clear instruction. It’s also fairly clear what the outcome should be. If someone handed you 100 reports, you’d know what to look for to confirm that the rule was either followed or not. You’d expect about 99 of them to be blue, and the other 1 (give or take) to be some other color.
Now consider the code equivalent of that phrase. It might be hard to believe at first, but the code equivalent of the English phrase “I want the report colour to be blue 99% of the time” is “Color=Any”. That’s because computers are not great at processing probabilistic instructions, or instructions that are 99% complete! Computers are fantastic at processing instructions that are 100% complete, but if there is further clarification needed computers will be at a loss as to what to do.
To ensure that you are at the forefront of document automation capability within your industry, keep in mind that automation is like having 1,000 interns; restrictions are features, just like permissions are; and it’s harder than you think to craft the right set of instructions when automating documents.
If you keep those principles in mind, the sky’s the limit for document automation.
If you haven’t yet made up your mind about which document automation software to try, we invite you to contact us to start a conversation. We’re here to help!