Customer Communications Management (CCM) is a hot topic these days, given the seemingly ubiquitous need among organizations to batch process information that has been customized for individuals or specific groups and distribute it in multiple formats—everything from email to Twitter feeds.
CCMs and XML
CCM systems are generally based on an XML editor. The idea is to begin with a document—maybe a Word file or PDF file—and build in some basic document automation characteristics, such as simple merge fields, and maybe some conditional logic and/or computed values. Variables in the automated XML file are then mapped to corresponding fields in an existing database. Running the XML file against the database produces customized output, which is then pushed out through various types of filters, each of which transforms the XML file into something specific, such as a Facebook or LinkedIn post.
The CCM/Document Generation Overlap and Differences
The overlap between CCM and document automation technology is obvious—the concept of building business rules into a document for the purpose of producing event-specific output. But CCM systems and document automation systems have two significant differences:
- The key functionality for CCMs is multiple output formats, not powerful document automation. Consequently, CCMs are designed for relatively simple documents having just a few merged values and fairly simplistic automation. In other words, it’s not likely that a large enterprise—a global bank, for example—would want to transform a sophisticated loan contract into multiple output formats. Document automation systems, in contrast, are designed specifically for the heavy lifting of automating and generating ultra-sophisticated legal instruments and outputting them in their native format—MS Word, WordPerfect, or PDF.
- CCMs work by importing a word processing document directly into an XML editor, where it then undergoes the automation and output transformation processes. Because XML editors, by their very nature, are not capable of handling all of the complex and idiosyncratic formatting characteristics of Word and WordPerfect, many such characteristics are lost during the import process. In contrast, enterprise-grade document automation systems, such as the industry-leading HotDocs, work inside the word processor. In other words, anything that can be done in a word processor can be done in HotDocs.
CCMs provide a powerful solution to today’s complex IT communications problems. But when it comes to complex document automation, they’re generally the wrong tool for the job.