Document automation (also known as document assembly) is the design of systems and workflows that assist in the creation of electronic documents. These include logic based systems that use segments of pre-existing text and/or data to assemble a new document. This process is increasingly used within certain industries to assemble legal documents, contracts and letters. Document automation systems can also be used to automate all conditional text, variable text, and data contained within a set of documents.
Automation systems allow companies to minimize data entry, reduce the time spent proof-reading, and reduce the risks associated with human error. Additional benefits include: savings due to decreased paper handling, document loading, storage, distribution, postage/shipping, faxes, telephone, labour and waste.
Document assembly was pioneered in the late 1970s in Utah by the company that would later become known as HotDocs. The basic functions are to replace the cumbersome manual filling in of repetitive documents with template-based systems where the user answers software-driven interview questions or data entry screen. The information collected then populates the document to form a good first draft'. Today's more advanced document automation systems allow users to create their own data and rules (logic) without the need for programming.
While document automation software is used primarily in the legal, financial services, and risk management industries, it can be used in any industry that creates transaction-based documents. A good example of how document automation software can be used is with commercial mortgage documents. A typical commercial mortgage transaction can include several documents including:
Some of these documents can contain as many as 80 to 100 pages, with hundreds of optional paragraphs and data elements. Document automation software has the ability to automatically fill in the correct document variables based on the transaction data. In addition, some document automation software has the ability to create a document suite where all related documents are encapsulated into one file, making updates and collaboration easy and fast.
Simpler software applications that are easier to learn can also be used to automate the preparation of documents, without undue complexity. Clipboard managers allow the user to save frequently-used text fragments, organize them into logical groups, and then quickly access them to paste into final documents.
In supply chain management
There are many documents used in logistics. They are called: invoices, packing lists/slips/sheets (manifests), content lists, pick tickets, arrival acknowledgementforms/reports of many types (e.g. MSDS, damaged goods, returned goods, detailed/summary, etc.), import/export, delivery, bill of lading (BOL), etc. These documents are usually the contracts between the consignee and the consignor, so they are very important for both parties and any intermediary, like a third party logistics company (3PL) and governments. Document handling within logistics, supply chain management and distribution centers is usually performed manual labor or semi-automatically using bar code scanners, software and tabletop laser printers. There are some manufacturers of high speed document automation systems that will automatically compare the laser printed document to the order and either insert or automatically apply an enclosed wallet/pouch to the shipping container (usually a flexible polybag or corrugated fiberboard/rigid container). See below for external website video links showing these document automation systems. Protection of Privacy and Identity Theft are major concerns, especially with the increase of e-Commerce, Internet/Online shopping and Shopping channel (other, past references are catalogue and mail order shopping) making it more important than ever to guarantee the correct document is married or associated to the correct order or shipment every time. Software that produce documents are; ERP, WMS, TMS, legacy middleware and most accounting packages. A number of research projects have looked into wider standardisation and automation of documents in the freight industry.
In legal services
The role of automation technology in the production of legal documents has been widely recognised. For example, Richard Susskind’s book ‘The End of Lawyers’ looks at the use of document automation software that enables clients to generate employment contracts and Wills with the use of an online interview or decision tree. Susskind regards Document Assembly as one of 10 'disruptive technologies' that are altering the face of the legal profession. In large law firms document assembly systems are increasingly being used to systemise work, such as complex term sheets and the first drafts of credit agreements.
With the liberalisation of the UK legal services market spearheaded by the Legal Services Act 2007 large institutions have broadened their services to include legal assistance for their customers. Most of these companies use some element of document automation technology to provide legal document services over the Web. This has been seen as heralding a trend towards commoditisation whereby technologies like document automation result in high volume, low margin legal services being ‘packaged’ and provided to a mass-market audience.
Insurance policies and certificates, depending on the type, policy can also be hundreds of pages long and include specific information on the insured. Typically, in the past, these insurance document packets were created by a) typing out free-form letters, b) adding pre-printed brochures c) editing templates and d) customizing graphics with the required information, then manually sorting and inserting all the documents into one packet and mailing them to the insured. The various documents included in one packet could include the following kinds of documents:
- Welcome letter
- State specific policy documents
- Listing of items insured and insurance amounts
- ID card
- Company information
- Marketing material (other products)
A lot of work can go into putting one packet together. In most policy admin systems, the system will generate some kind of policy statement as a starting point, but might need to be customized and enhanced with other required materials.
- Article: Disrupting Conventional Law Firm Business Models using Document Assembly Mountain, Int J Law Info Tech., 2006; 0: eal019v1
- "e-FREIGHT is an Integrated project within the EU's 7th Framework programme". e-Freight. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
- http://www.mjc2.com/Frameset_research.htm#eMAR eMAR automation of maritime documentation
- Article Who's afraid of computer generation? Eduardo Reyes (Thursday 28 October 2010)
- The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services Richard Susskind OBE Oxford University Press, USA (January 15, 2009)
- Article: Swift Justice Pete Swabey (20 December 2010)
- Article: Client services - Distance relationships Marc-Henri Chamay Legal Technology Journal
- Article: Braced for the big bang and Tesco law Jon Robins The Times
- Article: A trip to the shops can end in divorce Ellen Kelleher The Financial Times
- Article: Why big brand legal services are bad news for solicitors Neil Rose The Guardian (Tuesday 2 November 2010)
- Article: Commoditisation of Legal Services - What It Means for the Future of Legal Practice Sylvia Lowe Law Gazette
- Article: From bespoke to commodity Professor Richard Susskind OBE Legal Technology Journal (2006)
- Article: The commodities business Professor Richard Susskind OBE The Law Society Gazette (Thursday 13 April 2006)