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Document Generation Vendors - 15 Essential Features to Look For

document generation vendors and a woman printing a document

Businesses today demand tools that can make their operations more efficient. Document generation vendors understand this and that is why they come up with products that are customized for specific industries.

A cartoon computer.

The software available in the document generation market serves both small and large businesses and the features they include can determine which segment of the market is being targeted. However, regardless of the type of business, the need for products that guarantee efficiency is common. The following features are what foster the appeal of the best document generation vendors.

#1- Template Designer Uses Familiar Application

For the sake of efficiency, software users need to have a designer that they can use with ease. Most users are familiar with Microsoft Office applications so the document design software needs to make use of any of the office applications.

The most common program that integrates with the template designer is Word; however, thoughtful document generation vendors will also add Excel and PowerPoint because some documents may be more than just text and so the other two programs come in handy.

When it comes to layout and formatting, Word demonstrates unparalleled capability and so the software creators will ensure it is the primary application for designing templates even though they may add others like Google Docs for people who might choose to design templates online. The problem though is there will be a limit to what can be achieved in terms of formatting and layout, this is not a reflection on the document generation software but the application being used.

Cartoon folders.

#2- Supports Multiple File Formats

When documents are created, they will usually be shared. There’s no guarantee that the person the document is shared with is using a device that supports the same file format as the senders. This could create a serious complication if the document generation vendors do not consider this and enable multiple file support.

Tailoring solutions to meet different preferences is important. It doesn’t matter whether the file being shared is to be edited or not, there shouldn’t be complications created like having to convert a file first. This would defeat the purpose of automating documents.

The best software vendors will see to it that they produce documents that support various formats. This is important especially these days when people have mobile devices that they use to access documents on the go and you need to be hands on about what formats the devices will support.

#3- Integrate a Query Wizard for Template Design

Document automation needs to be a process that the business user can perform on their own. This might not be possible without a query wizard. When creating templates a user needs to write queries so that they can choose the data to be used. This helps when utilizing conditional logic as well as several other tasks.

Document generation software like Windward seems to incorporate the query wizard best because the software is intended to be used by anyone. You may find some enterprise software, however, choose to make template creation a developer-only task and that complicates the process.

The query wizard also has to be user friendly. Some document generation vendors go the extra mile to make it simple for a business user to utilize their product. The structure of the wizard is simplified so there is less training required for an ordinary user.

#4- Uses Multiple Datasources at Once

Today’s businesses require that you have updated data at all times. The document generation software that meets user demand is the one that supports multiple datasources. If a user has different data sources and they need to populate their document with information from the different sources. The document generation API should enable tags that are marked for specific data sources.

It can get a bit complex if the software can only access data from one source and then from another. The best software will be able to intermix data from different sources at the same time. These are not very common though they are in high demand.

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#5- Prioritized Data Safety and Compliance

There are several benefits of digital advancement, but with it comes the risk of data theft and other security threats associated with cloud data storage. This makes it imperative that document generation vendors take data security as a paramount priority.

The best software would have secure connections that include firewalls, encrypted data transfer, and SSL compliance. The user is also allowed to set security levels for particular documents so that sensitive data can only be accessed by a limited authorized group.

With cloud storage, shared documents can be accessed from a secured source instead of sending them as attachments in an email that can be accessed by unauthorized people. A professional document generator will comply with the guidelines (eg: HIPAA, FDA and so on).

#6-  Flexible Document Locking Capability

This is a feature that is efficient for document and report generation. Some documents may have sections that may be locked, for example in a report, the figures should not be edited, however, there may be some paragraphs that can be edited to provided added input from another team member. Flexible locking feature will make it possible that the section that contains figures will remain locked for editing while the other paragraphs can be unlocked and edited.

Document locking enables businesses to ensure set guidelines for document presentations are complied with and yet the documents are not too rigid to be tweaked to suit a particular situation.

#7- Drag and Drop Template Design

Document design is a task that may involve more than just a person. Different designs can be created and later integrated into the main template. The best document generation vendors make this task easier by enabling drag and drop features. This means if someone else designs a section of a template, they can save it as a sub-template, this can then be dragged and dropped into the main template.

This modular document creation makes the task easier and faster. The drag and drop feature however needs to have certain abilities for it to be effective. These include:

Two woman standing in front of a white board

#8- Supporting Many Datasources

This is part of supporting familiar applications. Users should not have to worry if the software can access data from JSON. The best document creation software can access data from all the common data sources. This would include SQL, Odata, XML, and JSON. These are just the common ones but the vendors go the extra mile to add other sources that may not be common but are likely to have a few users that are more comfortable with such sources.

It makes a difference if the software can allow the user to create a database from a data source. This makes the process flow much faster. Sometimes accessing data may take much longer than the actual document creation.

#9- Enabled Embedding of Office Documents

Some documents may need accompanying documents or embedded fields that explain sections of the document. A user may not want to clutter a document with too many images and yet they may be important to explain a document. A helpful document generation salesforce feature would be embedded documents.

Embedded documents are usually office documents because that is what would be used to create them. The vendor can provide options for the user to choose how embedded documents appear, for example by hovering over a section, it could prompt a drop-down document with an Excel spreadsheet showing detailed statistics added by the user. These embedded objects also need to be live as opposed to static if they are to wow users.

#10- Code Free Template Design

Since the majority of automation software users are not coders, it is only natural that the software does not require coding. Some vendors have introduced template designers that are either low-code or no-code, and looking for code-free document generation tools is now much easier. Users can simply give commands that the software will implement.

If, for example, you are using Word to create a template, the Word document generator will not require any knowledge of programming language.

Code-behind however is not entirely bad especially for a business that has a technical team ready to create templates in that way. It is much easier to customize templates as and when they are needed and it can prevent other employees from tampering with templates that have already been approved.

A red circle with a white X in the middle.

#11- Error Notification

The purpose of automation is partly to eliminate human error, however, in the template creation process, it is almost impossible to eliminate errors. The best document generation software will have an error warning system so that the user is alerted about any errors they may have made in the template design.

The method used for reporting errors in different software may vary but the main thing is a user must be able to identify certain errors as well as omission.

#12- Multiple Delivery Options

The vendors provide efficient and common options for the delivery of documents that have been created. It makes no sense to automate the creation process and then have the delivery process handled manually.

Even legal firms can deliver legal notices using automated systems that provide proof of delivery as well as proof that the document has been read. This cuts down on the time taken to deliver documents as well as response time.

Delivery however needs to be flexible. It can be in the form of an encrypted email attachment, hyperlinked message, printed in different locations, or even faxed. The delivery should take into account the different common digital delivery options and then incorporate them.

The user is then able to decide how to personalize delivery to each recipient. For example, individual X may receive an email while individual Y might receive a notification to check the shared database. This makes dealing with batch automated documents more efficient.

NASA image of the Earth from outer space

#13- Multiple Language Capability

Multinational businesses will have both employees and clients that may speak different languages. It is important that the document generation process can be supported in the various languages used by the clients and staff. You want to look for document automation software with the proper internationalization.

The best software will enable a user to create a document in a language they are comfortable in and then it will be effectively translated to the language that the recipient will understand best. This means that a user can set the language they prefer to use and the software will have that as the default language that appears on the user device even though a document was originally saved in a different language.

Many software vendors will claim to provide this feature but not all of them will provide enough languages or accurate translation. Businesses must confirm that the language capability of the software can be trusted.

#14- Electronic Signature

Official business documents must be fully approved. For businesses that generate large volumes of documents, it may be difficult to have a single individual signing hundreds of documents every day. The electronic signature solves that problem ensuring that all documents can be approved but this is done in a short time.

This feature, however, needs to have good security features to ensure that the signature is not hijacked and used by unauthorized individuals. There is also a digital audit trail that will enable the person generating a document to see whose signature is already appended and which one is missing. A notification can also be set to alert everyone who needs to sign, that there is a document ready for signing.

#15- Effective & Quick Customer Support

However user-friendly software might be, customer support is always essential. The customer support provided by the best document creation vendors will seek to address problems as soon as possible. This is why AI is now a common feature of user support.

Chatbots are used to give quick live solutions to customer problems and problems that may need live urgent solutions can be handled by phone. Emails are also common channels for communication between customer support and the user. A number of support avenues can be provided including FAQ which will answer a wide range of questions including questions like “what is document generation”? Or “how to create a template?”

In Conclusion: Consider Your Use Case

A yellow cartoon thought bubble.

Some features listed above are suited for particular businesses and not so much for others. This is a general identification of the most important ones. In some cases, a business may be comfortable with the most basic features which would make software with below standard features just as good as the more sophisticated ones.

It is a good idea for a business to analyze its particular needs and then look for an automation solution that will support those needs. There would be no need to have a document automation software that will be underutilized unless the business intends to use it in the future.

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Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

Genesis Abel

Written by:_
Genesis Abel
Windward © 2021 All Rights Reserved.


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