Why and How to Automate Document Creation in SharePoint
Simplification, automation, employing robots – these are realities of our day and age. Still, in every job we face monotonous tasks which makes one wonder why they have not been automated yet. For every 10 people using SharePoint to create documents, 9 will do so in a way that is tedious, repetitive, and needlessly complicated.
Plan for SharePoint Document Management
1. Analyze existing documents. Determine document types, properties;
2. Create a flexible and easily extendable content type structure;
3. Choose where and how to store documents in SharePoint;
4. Create fields, sites, libraries and lists. Add content types;
5. Plan for permissions;
6. Define and automate SharePoint document naming;
7. Unify document templates location;
8. Distribute content to smaller files;
9. SharePoint document automation;
10. Optimize views and libraries;
So, what does this mean in more practical terms? When creating multiple contracts, invoices and reports in SharePoint, most people are primarily copying and pasting data from one file into another or from a SharePoint list into a document. Anyone who has done this knows what a tedious ritual it can be. However, with the right set of tools, you can automate this process and let SharePoint do the work for you.
In this post, I will introduce SharePoint document creation steps that you can automate, as well as the best practices for this process.
Step 9. SharePoint document automation.
I doubt anyone would deny the usefulness of automating document creation in SharePoint. Still, before you can start, you will need to prepare. You should create a plan of action, a document management plan, and, on top of that, you should sketch out a timeline for your change trajectory.
A good place to start is reading the previous posts in this series. Throughout the series, we discuss all the best practices for document automation in SharePoint, including the more technical aspects.
Which Processes Can You Automate?
You can automate the creation of virtually any document you regularly use in SharePoint. And this is exactly what we love about this product: it is highly adaptable to do what we want it to do.
Proposals, invoices and reports are among the most popular documents in any business. Since they need to be created and filled in on a regular basis, they are also perfect candidates for automation. Now, let’s move on to the technical side of this story.
How to Start Document Automation
There are 2 main ways to create a system for processing your documents. The first one is to create document templates for every possible scenario and then filling them with required data when needed. This, we find, is a roundabout way with quite a few drawbacks.
The second method, and the one we prefer, is to let the documents be filled for you automatically. This method is also one of the key features of Jungle Docs and JungleDocs for Office 365. It requires initial setup but from then on it will save you a lot of time.
First, you should create one clean template and, consecutively, a set of smaller files that include all optional information. We call these smaller files Small Parts. Any number of Small Parts can then be easily added to a template to create a ready-to-send document.
Important: Small Parts by themselves do not make for a document; they solely form the building blocks for a final document.
Setting Up a Template
Let’s say you want to create an invoice template. In it, you should add all the necessary static information such as layout, your company’s address etc. Of course, you should omit any data that is specific to an individual invoice: date, customer information, products, tax numbers, quotes and so on.
Then, you will add content placeholders to your template. When you create a new invoice, the placeholders will be filled automatically filled with your SharePoint metadata (e.g., names and addresses).
And What About Those Small Parts?
Your Small Parts will include bits of information about contracts, customers etc. which you will only need in specific invoices – not all of them. Using Small Parts, you will select the elements you need by clicking the appropriate Small Parts checkboxes, and let the document be created for you.
The first advantage is a given one: the automation of your document creation processes will save you time. Lots of it.
Furthermore, automation will produce a more consistent structure to your SharePoint information architecture – which will result in a smoother working intranet. You will be creating clear-cut templates and storing optional information across folders. By the way, you can also automate document naming so that your intranet becomes more easily navigable.
What difficulties have you faced creating business documents, and does document automation sound like something you would be interested in giving a shot?