What is Document Automation? Exploring its Features and Benefits.

Rohit
Apr 8, 2024

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Gone are the days when businesses only created and managed documents using word processors.

Companies are starting to use document automation software to reduce the margin of errors that occur when manually managing complex documents. This has resulted in the rise of smart or intelligent document templates where blocks of text and content are automated to appear conditionally or repeatedly, reducing reliance on manual intervention.

Document automation also eases the process of sending these documents to clients, job applicants, and other stakeholders. Most solutions also pack an e-signature feature, making it easy for companies to get contracts signed faster and ensure business continuity.

This article explains all you need to know about document automation.

What is document automation?

Document automation is the process of using automation software and tech stacks to create, manage, and templatize documents so that you can create and distribute documents at scale. It automates repetitive tasks such as data collection, insertion, and distribution, streamlining document creation processes and minimizing errors.

What are some of the commonly automated documents?

By now, you would have understood that document automation provides numerous benefits that can significantly enhance efficiency in managing documents. If your business deals with a large volume of documents, considering document automation solutions would be highly beneficial. To provide a clearer picture of its applicability, here’s a compiled list of commonly required documents that are ideal candidates for automation.

  • Proposals 
  • Sales Quotes
  • Contracts (eg, vendor contracts, employment contracts)
  • Invoices
  • Purchase orders
  • Agreements (eg, Loan or lease agreements)
  • Prescriptions
  • Claim documents & letters

When should you embrace automation (and when you shouldn’t)? 

Before diving into document automation, it's crucial to grasp when automation is the right choice and when it may not be suitable. By understanding these distinctions, companies can effectively streamline their workflows and adopt manual oversight and hands-on approaches wherever necessary. 

In the table below, we outline scenarios for both cases:

Scenario When to adopt document automation When not to adopt document automation
Volume of Documents Use when dealing with high volumes of documents that need to be created, edited, or signed. Avoid, if dealing with a low volume, such as less than 10 documents a month, where the setup and maintenance of automation tools might not justify the efficiency gains.
Complexity of Documents Use when creating personalized marketing materials, client proposals, or reports where specific data points vary by recipient, but the overall structure remains the same. Avoid for simple, one-off documents that don't benefit from automation where setting up automation would be more cumbersome than manual editing.
Repetition & Consistency Essential for recurring documents like invoices, contracts, or standard reports that need uniform formatting and content. Automation ensures every document adheres to the standards, reducing the risk of errors. If each document is a one-off with little to no overlap in structure or content, the flexibility of manual creation is preferable.
Branding Highly valuable to leverage templates while creating sales or marketing materials to ensure consistent branding elements, such as logos, colors, and fonts, across a variety of documents. If each document requires unique branding elements or customization beyond what automation allows, then manually creating them would be beneficial.
Frequency of error It is highly valuable in situations where precision is critical, such as in legal documents, financial reports, or medical records, where errors can have significant repercussions. Automation minimizes human error. For informal or internal documents where the occasional error can be tolerated or easily fixed without major consequences, manual processes might be adequate

What are the benefits of Document Automation?

Now that we have a clear understanding of what document automation is, let’s explore some of the key benefits:

Improved consistency and standardization

Undoubtedly, document automation is a game-changer because it ensures consistency across documents, regardless of the creator. 

Organizations can maintain uniformity in format, style, and standards by utilizing pre-designed templates. It also strengthens the organization's brand identity by automatically adding a logo and extending it to font types and color schema. Such standardized presentation fosters effortless collaboration and communication within and with external stakeholders, including clients and partners.

Let's consider an example. In any organization, the sales team is responsible for creating and sending sales proposals to clients daily. This can be time-consuming due to the amount of information included in these proposals, such as company details, products or services, pricing, and proposal terms. By using pre-designed templates for sales proposals, the sales team can ensure consistency in formatting, layout, and branding across all proposals. This saves time and gives our company's sales materials a professional and cohesive appearance.

Plus, pre-designed templates can include placeholders for variable information such as client names, product details, and pricing, making it easy for the sales team to customize each proposal quickly and accurately. 

Lower chances of errors

Another major benefit of automation is accuracy. When employees have to manually enter data or copy/paste data from one place to another, the likelihood of errors increases substantially.  

For instance, manually transferring customer information from a spreadsheet to a CRM system or copying financial data from one document to another can lead to errors such as typos, miscalculations, and omissions among others. Document automation mitigates the risk of errors in such scenarios by including templates and ensuring consistency and precision. Plus, while using templates, you can utilize features like data validation and auto-fill to minimize errors and data entry.

Faster turnaround time

Tasks that usually require hours or even days to complete manually can now be automated, significantly reducing the time required. For instance, processes like generating monthly reports or processing invoices can be completed in a fraction of the time through automation. This saves time and empowers organizations to respond to requests more swiftly. 

Let’s take a sales proposal example. If you're working with a new client and need to send a proposal, you can use the existing templates, make key changes, and send it promptly. With faster turnaround times, businesses can stay ahead of the competition, meet tight deadlines, and capitalize on opportunities faster. 

Enhanced client experience

Today, customers expect everything to be quick, easy, and efficient. That's why many tech-savvy companies turn to document automation to enhance the customer experience. If you notice, document automation offers a host of benefits: from faster response times to the delivery of accurate information and consistent branding, document automation effectively caters to customer needs. For example, a customer requesting a quote for a product or service can receive it almost instantly through automated systems, leading to faster decision-making and improved satisfaction. 

Improved compliance

Industries like healthcare, finance, and law,  demand stringent adherence to regulations and standards when handling documents. Manual processes in these industries can inadvertently result in non-compliance, leading to potential risks and penalties. Therefore, it is highly advantageous for these industries to adopt document automation. By integrating compliance rules directly into templates, organizations ensure that every document produced meets the required regulatory standards. This not only reduces the risk of non-compliance but also mitigates associated consequences.

How are different industries using document automation?

Document automation is a game-changer for businesses of all stripes. Particularly, for large and growing businesses who cannot afford to spend their valuable resources handling large volumes of paperwork or navigating transaction-heavy documents daily.

Below are some commonly automated documents used across different industries.

Industry Name of the document Purpose of the document or process
Legal Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) Used to protect sensitive information shared between parties, such as client confidentiality or trade secrets.
Power of Attorney (POA) document Authorize an individual to act on behalf of another person in legal matters, such as managing finances or making healthcare decisions.
Settlement agreement Formalize the resolution of legal disputes between parties, outlining the settlement terms, including any financial compensation or other obligations.
Intellectual property (IP) agreement Document the transfer or licensing of intellectual property rights, such as patents, trademarks, or copyrights, between parties.
Healthcare Prescription Used to authorize the dispensing of medications to patients
Health Insurance Claims Used to generate and submit patient treatment information to insurance providers.
Medical reports Includes all the patient data, test results, and treatment details.
Banking Loan agreement document Outlines terms and conditions of a loan between the bank and borrower.
Bank statement Provides a summary of account transactions over a specific period.
Transaction confirmations (via email ) They are typically sent via email to the customer and serve to validate the accuracy of financial transactions and provide official confirmation of their completion
Welcome letter Welcomes new customers to the bank and provides essential account information,
Software Service level agreements (SLAs) Defines the level of service expected by a customer from a service provider, outlining metrics, responsibilities, and penalties for non-compliance.
End-user license agreements (EULAs) Outlines the terms and conditions of software usage for end-users, including licensing, restrictions, and liabilities.
Software development agreement Specifies the terms and conditions between a software developer and a client for the development of custom software.
Data processing addendum Outlines terms for processing personal data, ensuring compliance with data protection laws.
Finance Invoices Generated to request payment for goods or services provided to customers.
Purchase orders Generated to authorize the purchase of goods or services from suppliers.
Credit Applications Collect information from individuals or businesses applying for credit or loans, including personal or business financial details.
Real Estate Purchase agreement Legal contracts outline the terms and conditions of a property sale, including the sale price, closing date, and contingencies.
Lease agreement Contracts between landlords and tenants that specify the terms of the lease, such as rent amount, duration, and responsibilities of both parties.
Tenant notices Formal communications from landlords to tenants regarding lease renewals, rent increases, or lease terminations.

What is Document Automation Software?

Document Automation Software is a tool that empowers businesses to create and distribute documents faster and at scale by using pre-defined templates and rules. It automates associated repetitive tasks such as data entry, formatting, sending for approvals, conducting compliance checks, and more. 

Let’s look at a brief overview of how a typical document automation software operates. It involves three major steps as described below:

1. Create templates unique to your needs

The first step in automating document creation involves creating templates in your preferred format – PDF, Word document, presentations, spreadsheets, or fillable PDF forms. Templates serve as blueprints for future documents, allowing users to define the structure, layout, and placeholders for dynamic data. These templates can include simple blocks of text or even elements like images, graphs, or tables.

2. Generate documents at scale

Once templates are defined, the next step is to input relevant data into the placeholders. Users can input data manually or retrieve it from external sources such as databases or CRM systems. 

Many document automation software solutions offer API integration with CRM platforms or ERP systems, enabling automatic data retrieval for document generation. Upon input, the system generates documents with accurate and up-to-date information, ensuring consistency in styling, fonts, colors, and branding across all generated documents.

3. Deliver documents to relevant stakeholders 

Once the document is ready in the desired format, the system delivers the documents to the intended recipients. You can configure workflows to route documents to designated approvers or stakeholders and even set up automated notifications to alert them about pending approvals. 

For instance, whenever a sales team member generates a quote for a potential client, the system automatically forwards the quote to the manager for approval. The sales manager receives a notification or email prompting them to review and approve the quote. 

Depending on specific requirements, documents can be delivered through various channels such as email, printing, or integration with other software systems. For instance, when a new CRM lead is created, personalized sales documents can be automatically generated and emailed to the prospect.

What are the key features to look for in document automation software?

When evaluating document automation software, looking at the key features that'll fit your business needs just right is crucial. Here's what you should keep an eye out for:

  1. Template builder: Templates form the backbone of document automation software. When selecting a document automation software, ensure it offers a user-friendly interface with intuitive tools for document template creation and customization. Look for software that provides an easy-to-use interface, making it easy to design document templates. 
  1. Third-party integration: Your document automation software must integrate with existing systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and data management platforms (like, Google Sheets, Airtable, etc). Integrations ensure seamless data flow between different systems and streamline workflows.
  1. Workflow automation: Workflow automation is essential for ensuring documents reach the right stakeholders efficiently. It lets you automate the entire document creation and approval process according to your specific requirements. Look for features like conditional logic and role-based permissions in your document automation software to streamline workflows effectively.
  1. Mobile access: Whether you're a salesperson on the road or a supplier constantly on the move, you need document automation software that allows you to create documents and share them anytime, anywhere. Having mobile access when you're away from your desk is always handy.
  1. Analytics: Access to valuable insights is crucial for improving various document generation processes within your organization. That’s why you should look for document automation software that offers insights into document usage, error rates, user behavior, and more.
  1. Security: When you’re dealing with data, be it client or patient data, ensuring security is a top priority. Opt for document automation software that offers robust security measures, including data encryption, access controls, audit trails, and compliance certifications like GDPR or HIPAA compliance. This ensures that your data remains protected at all times.

How do you choose the right document automation software?

To help guide this process, let's explore the key steps involved in choosing the document automation software that best aligns with your business needs.

1. Build a business case to explain the  need for Document Automation

 Whether it's spending too much time on document generation, dealing with inefficient approval processes, or meeting complex compliance requirements, analyze challenges your team needs help with. Then identify which specific documents or processes could benefit from automation. 

2. Research available options

Review analyst reports, check out product demos, and refer to case studies to understand the benefits of document automation software and shortlist top document automation platforms that fit your requirements. 

Once you've shortlisted a few document automation software options, carefully list your requirements. Some solutions may provide extensive content libraries, while others focus on robust approval workflow controls. Some may be cloud-based platforms, while others are web-based.  

For example, businesses using Docupilot would have chosen us for our:

  • Wide range of integrations
  • Scalability
  • Compliance with SOC2, ISO27001, HIPPA, GDPR
  • Value for price at $29/month

Rank the shortlisted vendors and trial them thoroughly through free trials, proof-of-concept projects, or personalized demos. 

Thoroughly review the pricing and licensing details of your top choice(s). You’ll have to consider different costs involved, such as setup fees, per-user licensing requirements and costs, and other ongoing costs (e.g. maintenance costs).

3. Analyze Return on Investment (ROI)

Assess the return on investment (ROI) your organization stands to gain from the time and cost savings achieved through automation compared to manual processes. Here’s a step-by-step process:

  1. Identify time and cost savings
  2. Estimate labor costs
  3. Calculate ROI: ROI (%)  = Total Costs/Net Savings  ×100

For example, if a company manually generates 50 documents per month, each taking approximately 20 minutes to create documents and distribute. Creating 50 documents manually might take 500-1000 minutes or roughly 8-17 hours per month at an average labor cost of $15 per hour, costing you $120-$255 per month.

With document automation software (like Docupilot) assuming an average setup time (creating templates, integrating with Zapier) of 1 working day (8 hours) and negligible ongoing maintenance time, you can reduce contract creation and distribution time by 100%. With the slew of automation in the platform, you incur no additional labor costs for data entry — you only pay a monthly subscription cost.

Takeaway

Whether you operate in healthcare, finance, legal, real estate, or any other industry, the transformative potential of document automation is undeniable. By embracing document automation, businesses can empower employees, streamline workflows, and boost productivity across the organization. Ready to embark on your document automation journey? Try free trial today, and let our experts guide you through the process, ensuring you make the most of this powerful tool.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why is document automation important?

Document automation is important because it enables businesses to streamline and accelerate document-related processes that would otherwise be manual, time-consuming, and prone to errors. By automating the document creation process, organizations can realize numerous benefits, such as faster turnaround times, reduced errors, better user experience, and more.

2. What does automating a document mean?

To automate a document means using software to generate documents automatically, utilizing pre-defined templates, rules, and data sources. The software retrieves data from various sources, such as forms or databases, populates a pre-designed template, organizes it in a structured format, and then routes it to the relevant stakeholders or stores it in a designated location.

3. How do I create an automated document

First of all, you need to adopt document automation software to do just that. Below are a few steps you need to follow to automate a document on the platform.

  • Design document templates with content controls, placeholders, and logic
  • Connect the templates to relevant data sources
  • Configure rules for dynamic content/formatting based on conditions
  • Set up routing and approval workflows 
  • Deploy the automated template for use by authors/contributors

4. What is legal document automation?

Legal document automation refers to the use of software to rapidly generate and personalize legal documents, such as contracts, agreements, forms, and letters. This process involves template creation for legal documents, automating content insertion resultantly, streamlining the document creation process.  Legal document automation softwares streamlines workflow, boosts profitability, and enhances collaboration for lawyers and legal firms through cloud storage, customizable templates, real-time tools, and intuitive interfaces for seamless document management and client relations.

5.What is the difference between a document management and a document automation platform?

Document management simply makes documents easier to find and access. Document automation, on the other hand, makes the creative process of building documents exponentially faster and more efficient.

Did you know?

According to a Thompson Reuters, respondents who use document automation for lease agreements (22%) report that they have time to Leverage workflows to develop new business models with clients and Win new clients with better business development.