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DocAuto Tools Revisited

So, a little over a year ago, I wrote about the big three in DocAuto tools – Exari, Hot Docs and Contract Express. But a year is a long time in technology, and a lot has changed.

In 2018, £1.2bn was invested in LawTech, and something like 7k companies have emerged in the field in that time. A sub-set of these offer document automation solutions – so many, in fact, that it would be impossible to give you a high level overview of all of them.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a fundamental change in the market and the clear trend changes that all this new tech has brought with it.

Where we’re working

To develop in two of the big three, you would start by opening a word document. Seriously – to develop a tech tool, you wouldn’t open an IDE or a web browser, you would open Word. To develop in the other one, you’d be working in a piece of proprietary software straight out of the 90s – presumably because it’s practically a millennial, and therefore 90s is cool?

With the new wave of DocAuto tools coming to market, we are finally moving out of Word and onto web-based platforms. Finally, document automation is moving into the 21st century!

How we work with it

Once upon a time, you’d have expected to build your logic by hand. Into your Word document, you’d have painstakingly built your logic by typing a lot of curly brackets {}, ‘IF’s, ‘AND’s and ‘OR’s. Even if you were lucky enough to be working with a tool that does not rely on Word, the 90s interface is hardly intuitive.

Fortunately, the new DocAuto tools are quite happy to provide a functioning UI. While they do vary, and significantly, it is no longer unreasonable to hope to highlight and click/drag and drop/select from a predefined list.

The result: the barrier to entry is much, much lower. Building an automation really can be simple – rather than ‘easy enough when you know what you’re doing’.

Simpler – fewer features to play with

The usability of the new options does come at a cost, though, and that cost is features. This fact is by no means a surprise – these new tech solutions are young and agile. So, they’ve gone to market with a Minimum Marketable Product, more features to come. It says quite a lot about the state of DocAuto that an MMP doesn’t necessarily need to have an ‘undo’ feature (seriously).

This tells me a few things:

  1. Document automation, where is is being used, is being used at a very low level. If people were actually using the full potential of document automation tools, it just wouldn’t be viable to go to market with such a simple product. Therefore, the demand for document automation products must be around ease of use, not features.
  2. Lawyers are willing to leave the Word environment. If it is viable to market a product in this space that is not rooted in Word, it must also be true that, somewhere in the legal industry, some people are willing to venture outside their ‘natural habitat’.
  3. There is a lot of scope to build the features you want. These tools are young and agile – they are hungry and able to respond quickly to demand. So, just because a piece of technology doesn’t have all the features you need on the day of the demo doesn’t mean the features can’t be available. It’s worth having a conversation or two.

Better integration

These tools are now being built with integration in mind. Unlike the big 3, the new generation of tools are not just a part of a holistic solution, expecting that, once in the ecosystem, you will stay there. Instead, they are designed to integrate with the rest of your environment.

Why does this matter? Well:

  1. Your choice of document automation tool doesn’t have to tie you into their platform. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to be automating your documents with Contract Express if you’re using Lexis Nexis for your research. Equally, attempting to use Exari DocGen without taking the rest of their CMS is, frankly, futile.
  2. Back end maintenance no longer has to drive your IT team around the bend. Have you ever stopped to think about how your Document Automation software sits within the rest of your IT infrastructure? If not, go talk to your IT team. The chances are, if you are running the older software, that it comes with a high maintenance overhead. These new tools have, for the most part, been built with integration to back end infrastructure in mind, so maintenance is much simpler.

The impact?

Well, only time will tell what impact his will have on Document Automation in general. However, I think it is safe to say that there is a lot of opportunity for firms to start doing things better. The myriad of new DocAuto tools available, their agile development practices and their willingness to engage with their customers around features and experience promises an easier road for those of us tasked with building the automations. Whether those automations we build will be better received by our users in the years to come, though, that is a different matter.

And what about the Big Three?

Well, they’re probably not going anywhere any time soon as they have some big contracts with some big firms. For these firms the resistance tpo change from both an emotional and practical standpoint will be strong. But, the new tech solutions are going to give them a run for their money, and they are going to have to adapt. If they can’t, they may well find themselves consigned to the sscap heap of history.

It will be particularly interesting to see what will come of Exari’s DocGen (or PowerAuthor) tool. Having acquired Adsensa and been taken over by Coupa, they are now billing themselves as a ‘global leader in CMS’. I’ll be interested to see whether DocGen will find its feet or fall by the wayside as new tech moves into this space.

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