In the times of agile Saas services and processes, the documents may not be the hottest topic. You could ask, where are documents needed anymore?
For millennias documents were the way to transfer knowledge to succeeding generations. Current sophisticated data processing technologies provide us hugely more efficient ways to process data in various structured formats. Thinking through systems architect’s glasses, it is actually not at all desirable to let data be diffused into documents. So, why are we still producing all these billions of documents? What are they good for?
The answers are many, but let’s think for example a typical business use case of proposals and agreements. What would be the essence of, let’s say, a proposal document?
The purpose of a proposal is to give a potential customer the information he needs to make a purchase decision. Today, the customer usually expects this information in some written format, which he can e.g. forward to other stakeholders for review. The modern salesman rarely anymore authors the proposal by himself. He would probably rather first enter customer data in a CRM, and then enter the proposal data into company’s ERP system in order to make it appear in the selling pipeline. Then he most probably generates a proposal document in PDF format and sends it to the customer.
So, as I see it, this proposal document is essentially a snapshot of the systems data intended for another stakesholder, which is here the customer. The document presents the structured data to a customer, but should not contain any other case specific information, which would be outside of, and difficult to reach from, the operative systems.
From customer’s point of view, it would be good, if the document would correctly present all essential information in easily readable format. From IT systems point of view this may be a challenge, as customer’s view of the product or service may differ from the way it is stored in the ERP. The customer may need very detailed information for example of the contract terms in order to make the decision. If case of structured and configurable products, it may be quite a hard job to construct this kind of detailed enough, but concise and easy-to-read document.
To achieve this, the documents are typically created by merging structured data with some type of templates. This enables separation of structured case specific data from the needed static text and graphic content, as well as styles, layouts and formats. So, templates are a very essential element in customer document production. But let’s leave that topic for a future post...
Author Ari Hakaste