November 29, 2006

The Holy Grail of Document Assembly is Coming

There's a favorite question that people love to ask when they're pondering whether document assembly will work for them. It usually goes something like this:

"That's great, I answer all the questions, the system spits out a great first draft, I send it off to the other side, and their lawyers mess around with the fine print of clauses 11 and 23. Now, can I shove that document back into the document assembly system and change a few of my previous answers?"

And the response used to be:

"Aaaah... well... no... sorry."

Another variation of this problem invloves contracts that are up for annual renewal. The first draft comes out of the document assembly system. All the key points of the deal are saved. But during final negotiations, the lawyers agree a few hand-crafted changes to the boilerplate clauses. In 12 months time, that contract is up for renewal:

"Can we call up last year's answers, change the dates and a few other things, and spit out a renewal contract that keeps the negotiated boilerplate clauses we agreed last time?"

This problem has frustrated document assembly users and vendors alike for many years. Any random negotiation to the text of a document (ie, changes that weren't built into the business rules of the template) breaks the connection between the automation system and the final draft. Without some way to "round-trip" the negotiated edits back into the document assembly system, you're stuck with a mismatch between what that system knows and what the final document actually says.

So, you can re-use your saved answers via the document assembly system, but you'll have to remember to manually retype any negotiated changes to the text of particular clauses.

Or, you can re-use the negotiated Word version of the agreement, but you can't use the document assembly system (which means there's a risk that certain clauses are now out-of-date).

You just can't do both.

For many, solving this problem is the holy grail of document assembly.

holy grail

But there's good news. The holy grail is coming. When Exari V5 ships in the first half of 2007, a big part of this problem will be solved.

In simple terms, any document produced from Exari which then goes through a process of negotiations (typically in Word) will be able to be "round-tripped" back into Exari in a way that preserves any negotiated changes to the text of particular clauses. This means you'll be able to save the answers given during document assembly, as well as the edits made during negotiations, and re-use them against the same template, or even against an updated version of that template. So it doesn't matter that the template has changed since last year. You simply load it all up and what's relevant will be used, and the rest will be ignored.

If this problem, or some variant of it, affects you, we'd love to hear from you. Every real world example helps us to fine tune the solution.

3 comments:

  1. Round tripping has been a possibility for a while, but usually at the cost of leaving meta-data in the document that cannot be made available in negotiations. The question will be the balancing of "metadata" and functionality.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not with our approach, at least, not the kind of meta-data that will reveal anything to another party about other possible negotiating positions or the business rules of the original template. In the Exari approach, our business rules and answer file data are stored independently of the output Word/RTF document, which means you can send a document off for negotiation in Word with absolutely no "meta-data" of the type Seth is talking/worried about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As in-house counsel for my company's Facilities Management group, I have a deep interest in template development, forms and workflow automation, and data reliability. Although I'm an extreme Word power user and competent HotDocs developer, the inability to round trip data between an assembled Word doc and the HotDocs answer file is a huge annoyance. I've wanted to replace HotDocs with an XML-based "SmartDocument" type of solution, couldn't find one, and considered building my own before concluding that I just don't have time to develop the necessary templates and schemas. Exari v5 sounds like it might be what I'm looking for. Who would be the best person for me to contact with some questions?

    ReplyDelete

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