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Quick Guide: Automation of SharePoint Documents

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Efficiency in businesses will involve making tasks easier to perform and trying to perform them easier. In some cases, however, we may find that tasks are still performed in a time-consuming manner that can also become boring for the people that have to execute the notes since they have to repeat the same task over and over again.

When it comes to document creation and management using SharePoint, the majority of people that use it tend to be trapped in the loop of performing mundane tasks repeatedly. This, however, can be changed and made more efficient. By following a well thought out strategy, an organization can smoothly integrate document automation using SharePoint as a solution to the time-consuming processes they may have in place right now. Here are a few steps to follow as you adopt automation.

Step 1: Make a General Analysis of the Organization’s Documents

This step is mainly about understanding the current situation of the organization. It is a careful study to find out things like,

• What documents does the organization deal with often?

• How are the documents managed at present?

• Who deals with the documents?

• Which departments need which documents?

Understanding such questions and finding answers to them will help create a SharePoint architecture in preparation for the automation process. Within this stage, you also need to establish document types and the content.

Step 2: Structure Documents According to Type and Content

With a clear understanding of the documents of the organization, you can go on to create a structure or grouping. Type and content may seem similar but in the structure it would not be, for example, the type would be based on the department within the organization, so you can have Accounts and Sales as 2 types of documents and when it comes to content, that would be what the document is about, for instance, Sales documents may be about proposals so proposal would be the content of a sales document. Within these structures, you may find that some types may share content and that would be something worth noting because as you get to the automation process that notes will be useful.

In this step, you will probably need to list all the departments within the organization and the different documents that they tend to deal with often. These documents would then have to be placed according to their level of importance.

Step 3: Decide Location for Document Storage in SharePoint

There are two choices here, you can either store them in Libraries or Lists. There may just be two choices, yet making the choice is not easy. There are a number of considerations to make when choosing the location. To make it easier, you should consider the benefits of either of the two.

Benefits of SharePoint Lists

- Lists give the opportunity to save items within other items, for example, emails can be saved within work documents and at the same time, the email can serve as a container for the attachment sent with the email. Lists, therefore, have more capacity.

- Lists have convenient settings for granting permission to access items. Even though libraries have the provision, it would need a series of commands to get to those settings.

Benefits of SharePoint Libraries

- You can edit documents simultaneously

- Using file metadata and auto-filling simplifies document creation and mail merger which makes it great for customization of documents

- Documents open faster

- Management of documents is easier and you can also open with Windows Explorer

These benefits can guide you in making the decision about the location to store the SharePoint documents.

Step 4: Organize and Define Sections Within the Lists and Libraries

With SharePoint, the organization is done according to groupings, similar groups are stored together within the library. At times the volume of documents may be very large and you would need to split the documents even more into smaller web applications, but this is mainly if the environment is big and able to support this. If you did step-1 perfectly, it will not be difficult to define the sections within the storage areas. You can look back at the initial analysis you did and determine how many sites to have and how many subsites as well as how many storage locations you will need. It is however best not to have too many. As you do this, remember the documents and files need to be accessed with ease and fast so do not complicate it.

Step 5: Access and Permission

SharePoint is designed to give different levels of permission so depending on the need of your organization, you can set the permissions accordingly. It is possible to have some documents accessed only by individuals, or by groups, you can also determine where the access can be. You can determine if the documents can be accessed from anywhere or particular areas. This step is about ensuring the safety of the enterprise’ documents. It will take careful consideration. Plan how and who you will grant access.

Step 6: Automate File Naming

This is a process that needs to be carried out because file names need to be streamlined to prevent every user from coming up with their names which will make finding files difficult. This step helps to improve the user experience.

Step 7: Automate Document

This is where everything comes into action. You will decide what to automate and how. Find the documents that are most often used like invoices and quotations or whatever you choose. You will then create the templates for every document that you intend to automate. When that is done, you can use Windward to automate the entire process. With Windward, you can enter the necessary data as a one-off process, determining the different variables that may be unique to certain documents.

The setup process of automation is where most of the work is done, but the good thing is you only do this work once and after that Windward and SharePoint will be able to work together to generate the different documents automatically. You will simply need to choose the particular parts that you want to be included in the document and they will be added to the template. This presents a number of benefits to enterprises. Let us take a closer look at these benefits.

Benefits of Automation Using SharePoint

Automation of business processes is a blessing to companies that perform repetitive document generation. Using automation tools, such companies are able to cut costs while increasing productivity. SharePoint is one of such tools that has been implemented by many enterprises and we will examine its performance so far.

The aspects of an enterprise in which the software can bring about positive change are varied. Many businesses have implemented it in different ways for example for records management and learning portals.

There are a few hitches in the business processes that make them decide to try automation:

Reasons for Automation

- Human error especially during data entry which eventually leads to critical downtime and affects revenue.

- Time is being wasted going through different processes to get a document drafted, approved and delivered. Documents like contracts can take as long as a week or two to be ready.

- Consistent failure to comply with organization guidelines on document generation

For many companies that have switched to automation with SharePoint, the above reasons were key fueling points, however, there is also the advantages that they anticipate from adopting the tool. These include:

Fair Cost

Even for a small business, the cost of SharePoint is affordable. There are options that can be adapted to minimize expenditure when rolling out the tool. For basic automation, not more than $10 would be spent.

Easy Integration

SharePoint is highly flexible and compatible with most existing tools within the work system. For instance, it can be integrated with CRM and other enterprise systems that may already be in use along with common office tools like Word and Excel so there is no disruption in the workflow.

Limited Training Needed

In most of the organizations, the employees were familiar with the software so the training period was reduced and the business could start seeing the benefits much faster.

Dynamic Application

There are various ways in which the tool can be put to use. Enterprises can customize the use to suit their purpose. For example, medical health providers can use it to handle patient records, financial institutions can use it for processing loan agreements and legal service providers can generate contracts using the same tool.

In the end, the company is looking for a more efficient way to handle its document generation process and this presents the answer to it. After you have spent the time and money on the initial stage of set up, the benefits of Windward and SharePoint become evident with the faster generation of documents and error-free documents that adhere to the organization's standards. The clients will be happy and so will the organization.

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

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 process the template handling each tag in order, and each tags can pull from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select in a tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one datasource, 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. Additional details ...

Genesis Abel

This blog was written by:_
Genesis Abel

For over 10 years, Windward has lead the industry with our world-class document generation platform that creates visually stunning, data-powered documents designed exactly the way users want and are created in a fraction of the time and cost compared to existing solutions. Proudly located in Boulder, Colorado, Windward Studios is the premier solution for developers and business users adding reporting and document generation capabilities to their applications in over 70 countries around the world.

© 2019 Windward Studios Inc.

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