What is document automation and how does it help you?
Adopting automation in your business has the potential to save you significant amounts of time and money. One of the most exciting things about automaton is seeing it move into areas where people previously thought it would not be possible to implement.
One of these areas is document automation. As we are going to explore throughout this guide, document automation can involve a lot of things, both in the context of types of documents and the processes that underpin that automation. To keep things simple, we will often refer to this through the lens of contract automation, but these same principles and practices can apply to almost any document type.
You can learn more about how you can use Contractbook to auto-generate contracts here, or read on to learn more about document automation as a topic in our inspiration catalogue.
What is document automation?
No secrets here; document automation is 100% as the name suggests. You can use software to automate the use of documents. That includes the entire lifecycle of a contract - whether you want auto-generated contracts, self-executing contracts or something in between.
It works for a vast range of documents, from contracts to rental agreements, and anything else you need to work with. However, not all documents are equally suited for automation. A rule of thumb is that the less complex and the more frequent a specific contract is, the more benefits will you gain from automating the process around it. Using document automation software gives you the ability to automate documents at scale. This capability can help you deal with more contracts and help to fuel business growth.
How does document automation work?
Perhaps the most significant thing to realize about document automation is that it is not just limited to the auto-generation of documents. Once you do this, you start to realize the true potential of document automation to be a game-changer for your business.
Of course, the initial of creation of documents is still a significant portion of document automation, so we cannot just discount it! For creating documents, automation software pulls data from sources such as questionnaires, surveys, integrated apps, or existing contracts. The software then puts the data into whatever templates you are using.
Beyond this initial creation of a document, automation software can help you achieve several additional outcomes, including:
- Automated task reminders - the best software will integrate with your task management apps to ensure you do not need to do anything to get these, too!
- Automated task completion for things like sales and customer service processes.
- Creating self-executing contracts that trigger actions either as part of a wider automated process or when a person manually sets a process into action.
When used to their full potential, automated documents can transform huge portions of your business processes!
What types of businesses can benefit from using document automation?
Anyone stands to benefit from adopting document automation. However, the more documents you deal with, the more positive effect you will feel. If your business writes one or two contracts per year, you probably do not need to adopt document automation as a matter of urgency!
In contrast, if you are spending a lot of time drafting and agreeing on the contents of complex contracts or other data-driven documents, automation software is a potential gamechanger.
Businesses that operate in industries where complex regulatory frameworks exist will likely use document automation more as part of their everyday processes. For example, if you are a financial services business, an insurance company, or a law firm operating across different jurisdictions, everything you do will be wrapped up in legalities.
Who exactly is document automation for?
Given what we have just said, it is understandably easy to fall into the trap of thinking this stuff only affects lawyers.
However, the truth about document automation is that it can be revolutionary for any business, in any niche. In particular, SMBs who are looking to accelerate growth and need to drag every drop of efficiency out of their processes have the potential to benefit massively from document automation. Check out our case studies to see the extent to which SMBs and other businesses have benefited from using our document automation software to help them focus their manpower on more productive tasks.
A practical use case for document automation
For this example, we turn to another oft-maligned department in businesses: the sales team.
Even if we simplify the sales process as much as possible, your salespeople might still find themselves pulling together three different types of documents:
- Proposals or presentations
- Customized quotes
Depending on the industry you are in, creating these documents can be anything from straightforward to incredibly complex pieces of work. For most of you, the process will fall somewhere between those two extremes.
However, studies show that many salespeople spend as little as a third of their time actually selling. If you have terrific salespeople, how much better would they be if they spent all their time at work doing their job?! Now if you are shouting at me that you have different people that take care of these elements, I hear you. That is still time someone is wasting pulling all this stuff together, even if you use data analysis software to help you pull what you need. The kicker? Whoever is pulling your data and putting these documents together cannot start doing another one until they have finished the one they are working on.
An example of the automation of these processes in action can be seen in our customer story from Dreivers, who automated their entire sales contracts flow by integrating Contractbook with their CRM platform. What would a 30% reduction in manpower hours and a 25% reduction in costs potentially mean for your business?
Of course, you can try making things easier by cutting and pasting some aspects of your documents. However, nothing screams "amateur hour" louder than a proposal or contract where someone has used "Find/Replace" and not proofread it to find the errors. You are not getting a deal done when that happens! Even if you are fortunate enough to get away with mistakes that a client fails to notice, they might see you come unstuck if you need something to stand up in court one day!
What types of documents can you automate?
As we have alluded to with the above case study, document automation is not just about contracts.
Substitute the salesperson out of the above. Replace them with anyone who works with complex documents across any department in your business. The outcomes, and the reasons why you should be using automation, remain the same.
On top of the documents already mentioned, you can automate things like:
- Data processing agreements, ensuring they are GDPR compliant or otherwise follow the relevant guidelines in your locality.
- Sales, consignment, and service-level agreements.
- One-way and dual non-disclosure agreements.
- Licensing agreements.
- Letters of intent.
- Real estate construction and rental agreements.
- Financial agreements, from personal loans to pre-nuptial agreements.
- Offer letters and employment contracts.
- Know Your Customer documentation.
There are more examples, and we could go on listing them all day. How much of a difference would the ability to create those documents by accessing the relevant data and clicking a button make to your business?
Great document automation software allows you to automate processes, not just documents
At the start of the previous section, we said that document automation is not just about contracts. Well, as counterintuitive as this may sound, document automation is not even all about documents!
If you choose an excellent document automation software that integrates seamlessly with your tech stack, you can automate vast swathes of your sales process.
Let’s say you have built a conversion funnel that ends with a “self-service” style means of conversion. If you are already using tools like CRM software, you should already have elements of automation at play. Further integration with your document automation software and the rest of your tech stack ensures that, given a specific trigger, you can send a personalized quote, contract, renewal notice, or anything else that may be necessary as part of the customer journey and lifecycle.
What are the essential functions to look for from document automation software?
The specific functions you enjoy will depend on the software you use and the primary purpose you will use it for. However, whether you will use automation software to help draft legal contracts within your HR department or to write sales agreements between you and your clients, the overarching functions will be similar among quality tools.
1. Integrations with third-party data sources and apps
You flat-out should not add an app or SaaS platform to your tech stack in 2021 if it does not allow for a vast set of integrations! As document automation is heavily data-driven, you need to be able to access as many data sources as possible to help you draft comprehensive documents. Much of the resource you save in switching to document automation comes from those integrations. No longer are you sourcing, cutting, and pasting from numerous sources. You simply set up what you want and click a button, and the draft contract is produced in seconds.
2. Reusable templates
No-one in their right mind rewrites a new document over and over again. Still, to borrow from an earlier example, we have all received something from a colleague or business partner where they have blatantly tried to use "Find/Replace" and did not bother checking if it worked correctly.
When you use reusable templates in document automation, you eliminate the risk of doing this or committing any other embarrassing, unprofessional mistakes with your documents. This is because the data you pull will be fresh and relevant to each document you create. It is not merely a rehash of the last one, albeit it will be built around the same robust template.
3. Intuitive workflows
The best document automation platforms are intuitive and guide you by helping you select which structured data you want to include in your documents. Best of all, you do not need to use any code to make all this happen. It is typically as simple as clicking the data source you want to use or highlighting the data you need to pull.
As well as looking out for these workflows, the best platforms will include built-in analytics that shows you the status of your documents. As well as showing you what specific tasks need to be carried out next, such as someone needing to sign a contract, analytics can also help you optimize other processes. For example, if your business is losing sales at the contract signing stage, you can dig deeper to discover why.
4. Compliance checking functions
How much time does your business waste sending contracts to your legal department (or worse, an external legal counsel) to get them signed off before you finalize them with the people you want to do business with? What does that time translate to in monetary terms in lost business for every minute a contract goes unsigned? What about if you add on the time you have to spend chasing up the agreement getting signed off, which in my experience, happens almost every time?
Document automation software takes care of all that for you, helping you ensure your documents are compliant for whatever markets you are working in.
Are you ready to fire your lawyer?
5. Control of how much input you can have
Although document automation software has the potential to save you masses of time and money, there may still be times when you need to have some input.
Great software puts you in control of how much input you have. Document automation is not a one size fits all game. Ensure you can 100% automate some documents while having the option to utilize human intervention if you need to.
6. Mobile access and usability
Not only do you want to be able to access your software and send documents on the move, but you need to ensure your documents are produced in such a format that the recipient can quickly review them on mobile devices. Furthermore, your software needs to have features that allow the recipient to accept or request revisions on the move, too. Remember, a simple "I agree" button is enough for getting a contract signed quickly.
Make sure your software removes rather than creates obstacles around executing your contracts!
7. Built-in, automated, and intelligent content management
As much as you want reusable templates, you want them to always be correct, too.
If regulations like the GDPR or employment laws in your country of operation change, you do not want to waste time having to chase or wait for updates. Find software that automates these changes and ensures your business is constantly sending out slick, professional documents based on the relevant and most recent laws and regulations.
How can your business benefit from using document automation tools?
We already mentioned saving time and money and highlighted how the functions of excellent document automation tools deliver these, but the benefits do not stop there.
In addition to saving you time and money, using document automation tools will deliver, at a minimum, the seven benefits highlighted below.
1. Ensure you have consistent branding across your documents
Wave goodbye to copying and pasting your logo into headers and footers or finding out who moved your Word letterhead to a different Dropbox folder! With a document automation tool, you can set up your templates to carry your branding and ensure all documents produced look professional and on-brand.
2. Give you secure storage and allow you to share and collaborate easily
Your document automation platform should not offer you automation and nothing else. You should be able to securely store your documents, including after they have been agreed and signed, collaborate when changes are necessary, and share them with stakeholders for checking and signing. This removes the need for you to have lengthy email chains and documents littered with tracked changes and comments.
3. Assist you in transforming the customer experience
When discussing document automation, it is easy to talk about the features that help drive what is a powerful tech product. However, the most significant benefit you will enjoy is how transformative automation will be from a customer perspective. You will deliver documents quicker, work much more efficiently, and become a business that people love to deal with!
4. You can use legal design effectively (and correctly!)
There are many reasons why people dislike contracts. One of the most common is that they are poorly designed and do not make it clear who is responsible for what.
Utilizing legal design can help you alleviate this. Using document automation ensures you utilize legal design that is accepted and will stand up in court, should you ever need it to.
5. You reduce errors and ensure your documents stand up legally
Speaking of standing up in court, the single most straightforward way to undermine any document – contract or otherwise – is to have it littered with errors. Relying on document automation software means the data you need to input into your documents will be presented correctly, in the right place, and ensures you can have confidence in the content of every document you use and send.
6. You save time and money
All the points throughout this guide probably come back to this one. Whether you are a legal firm, looking to improve your sales processes, or simply need to do a better job at executing documents, automation software helps you do so while saving significant amounts of time and money.
Your clients are happier, you are not worrying about doing mundane but vital tasks, and you have those resources to redeploy into something more productive and impactful. Everyone wins!
7. You can customize and personalize at scale
Any business that is looking to grow must be capable of executing tasks at scale. As document automation software will pull data from various sources, you instantly have the capability to customize and personalize every type of document you need, at vast scale. No more waiting around for approval or for the first job to be done so you can start the next one!
Using document automation in your business
As you can see, while document automation is a relatively simple concept, the best tools are fully-fledged all-in-one SaaS platforms.
You do not necessarily need to use document automation if you rarely deal with contracts and other documents. However, if dealing with administrative tasks such as these take up more than a couple of hours a week for anyone in your team, automation is 100% the way forward.