Q&A with HotDocs Chief Technology Officer, Mark Settle - November 2017
The HotDocs development team is always striving towards creating innovative and valuable software to meet the demands of our customers and keep in line with market trends. Overseeing product development is Mark Settle, who was appointed Chief Technology Officer (CTO) earlier this year. Mark has brought a wealth of experience to the role and has been a driving force behind the company’s evolution over the past two decades.
With his past involvement in various roles within HotDocs, both technical and customer-facing, he provides an extensive and unique insight to all aspects of our software. Within this interview, Mark discusses recent product developments, successfully staying ahead of the curve, and his ambitious development plans for HotDocs.
Q: What trends have you seen in the marketplace and what developments have been made to the product since you started at HotDocs?
A: Over the past 20 years, we have built the product into the trusted market leader and have seen HotDocs expand into a variety of industries. What has been one of the most interesting developments has been in how HotDocs has evolved within the legal market. Smaller law firms have always found the tool to be effective in delivering value, as HotDocs brings a number of tangible benefits to their businesses. In recent years, there has been a lot more emphasis on fixed fee pricing, which has seen a lot of larger law firms looking into software tools, such as document automation, to work better and smarter.
Within the banking industry, we have seen one of our earlier adopters continue to successfully use the HotDocs server product in the USA for commercial lending. We have also witnessed a growth in the number of customers in the banking industry over the past decade, so it’s an exciting marketplace for us to continue to develop into, as more and more banks see the value that HotDocs brings to their business.
There have been many proactive and market-driven changes to the products offered by HotDocs over the years. For example, when the 5.0 version of HotDocs was originally released it was only available on desktop, as the server product had not yet been developed. When HotDocs Server was released, it allowed us to cater for enterprise-level document assembly. There have been significant changes to add features that improve both the template authoring and end user experience. Many of these additional features have allowed us to enhance the product and eliminate the need for users to write a script within HotDocs – with the end result of saving more time and boosting the product’s core functionality.
There have been great incremental features that have added enormous value to the software for end users. Most recently, we have been developing a new product which has allowed us to take a big step forward in certain areas, such as improving the user experience to make it easier to create and maintain templates, as well as work collaboratively on templates. This is fundamental to how we ensure that HotDocs remains the best and most widely used document automation software tool on the market.
Q: Through your experiences of working with the software and seeing how far it has already come, where do you see the development of HotDocs going in the next 5 to 10 years?
There are two very powerful parts of HotDocs - the dynamically generated interview process and the assembly of the document itself from a provided set of answers.
Our interview process will continue to adapt and facilitate the consumption of data from other areas. We have an extremely powerful interview tool that allows a user to gather data in a comprehensive and complex way. This prompts the user for the information, but in other cases, the information is being pulled from other systems, so the ability to access this data is very important.
Nowadays, information is everywhere and is easily accessible through web services, so it is essential for us to continue to build a simple way to transfer and consume data moving forward. As the theme of efficiently processing “Big Data” continues to dominate many international companies’ strategies, our software will be required to keep pace with this.
HotDocs is inherently API-rich, which is absolutely fundamental to how the product can be absorbed and used with our clients’ established business systems. By maximizing the use of the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), we have seen HotDocs seamlessly become a piece of business-critical software for a number of major brands worldwide. With countless possible future integrations, HotDocs’ API capabilities will continue to play a major part in our product roadmap.
On the other side of that is how we advance our document creation. As technology moves forward, we are becoming increasingly paperless. Documentation is now created electronically and actual printed documents are becoming less important. The information that HotDocs generates within an answer file and the output data from the interview process is also becoming more and more important to help companies to comply with ever-tightening regulatory standards – particularly in legal and banking.
Over the next ten years, how we define “a document” is going to be something quite different to the way we look at it today. From a HotDocs perspective, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we are staying on the cutting edge of document automation, as while there will always be a need for the data within documents as we know them now, the way that data is consumed will evolve.
Q: How does your customer-centric approach proactively influence the product roadmap for HotDocs?
A: Before I moved into the role of CTO, I was running the Professional Services team in the US, where I was in touch with customers on a daily basis about our software; training them and helping them with implementation.
We undertake a flexible process to make sure that our product roadmap mirrors what our customers truly want and are asking for within HotDocs. During this process, we gather information to ensure that forthcoming product initiatives are prioritized and based explicitly on current and future customer needs.
Our team takes a customer-centric approach to everything we do and this allows us to proactively monitor and react to changes in the marketplace, in terms of changing compliance requirements or standards. We have some exciting product plans coming up in the next 18 months, which will add significant value to our software.
Our HotDocs Advisory Panel (which meets annually at our HotDocs User Group events in the United States and United Kingdom) help to drive customer feedback to deliver improvements through our product roadmap – harnessing this knowledge and experience is absolutely vital. This process of capturing our customers’ ideas and challenges continues to help us to shape HotDocs into a world-class document automation product.
Q: How does your role impact on customer success?
A: I have worked at HotDocs for almost twenty years and have been both a daily user of the software and highly involved in implementations with many of our customers. I hope to use my own knowledge of the product to deliver a great experience to our customers. It is so important to understand our customers’ needs to make sure that we are delivering high quality software that is “best of breed” and meets their standards, varying needs and expectations.
Q: What role is Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) playing in the current product offering at HotDocs and how do you see this tying into future development plans?
A: To define Artificial Intelligence, in my mind it is anything that a machine is doing so a human doesn’t have to. Although we are not an A.I. company, this technology can be applied to anything, as it’s essentially a script that determines certain outputs based on inputs from the user, - just like the answers to a HotDocs interview creating a tailored document.
A.I. has the potential to play a big role in HotDocs future and is already being integrated with some of our current clients. The HotDocs Global Services team currently works with some specific implementations and have recently been involved with third party artificial intelligence tools. For example, they have used A.I. tools to read through whole documents, which then finds common language that can be fed into a HotDocs template.
There are already a number of established software companies providing innovative technology to enable the integration of A.I. technology and automated document production and analysis – these include: Kira, eBrevia, Luminance and LEVERTON.
There are great partnership opportunities in the future for HotDocs with A.I. tools, which will allow navigation of existing document content to help build smarter templates. Artificial Intelligence and document automation will continue to work hand-in-hand to achieve high-quality documentation for our clients.
Q: You have a much broader experience with HotDocs than many, what drives and excites you most about HotDocs?
A: Since starting with HotDocs, there have always been two main drivers which have excited me most about each of my roles.
First, the software itself. I believe it is a tremendous tool that has an exciting ability to deliver excellent results to our customers. One task is that I consistently enjoy is helping and guiding our customers with the product delivery. In almost all cases, our customers are in disbelief at how easy it is to implement our software and the time efficiency of creating a document. As well as this, it is exciting to see the development of the product and the features that can be included within HotDocs to make it more user-friendly. Employees are under more pressure than ever to consistently produce documents that are of a high quality and HotDocs’ user interface is an absolutely crucial element in achieving this.
Second, the team that I work with at HotDocs have made my time here very enjoyable. The collaborative nature and respect that everyone has for one another is extremely high - this helps drive the team to work closely with one another, which enables us to obsessively deliver great results internally and externally.
We are set to launch a new and improved product next year, which will further-enhance our current HotDocs product offerings and features. This powerful document assembly will make our customers’ experience even better by providing an integrated set of tools for consuming and producing document templates.
Finally, each role that I have undertaken at HotDocs has presented a challenge and I pride myself on learning new things and delivering results. I thoroughly enjoy working with the product and I am therefore looking forward to having that oversight and control over the development. This guarantees that our product is everything that we, as team, think it should be, but more importantly, this reflects what our customers think it should be. We are constantly thinking ahead of the curve to deliver maximum value to our clients.
HotDocs provides some of the world’s largest and most reputable commercial banks and law firms with software to automatically and accurately assemble frequently used documentation. Our technology is proven to help reduce risk, boost compliance, improve the quality of loan documentation, save time and increase customer satisfaction.