Document Automation, Expert Systems, and Innovation

Document Services

Expert systems—a technological approach to codifying and leveraging a knowledge worker’s expertise, be it a doctor, lawyer, etc.—were an evolutionary step in artificial intelligence (AI).Consisting of a knowledge base (the totality of an expert’s knowledge on a given subject) and an inference engine (the system’s brain, or reasoning center), expert systems were meant to emulate the decision-making ability of human experts.

Enterprise-grade document automation systems, while architecturally different than expert systems in utilizing a procedural approach to codifying business rules, have long been used for a similar purpose as expert systems: capturing and leveraging an expert’s knowledge for the purpose of enabling non-experts to achieve the same results. Document automation systems began service in law firms in the late 1980s but are equally applicable to any business environment (loan departments in banks, for example) where complex legal documentation is regularly produced.

For example, a document automation system could be used to capture the expertise of a senior attorney in a bank’s legal department that would enable loan officers (non-legal experts) in remote locations to generate legally binding loan documents with expert precision. Such a system would work by guiding a loan officer (or clerical worker) through the complex business rules of loan document preparation, providing safeguards, such as range validation, analytic resources, and expert advice at the point of data entry.

Thomson Reuters recently deployed a great example of an expert system built on a document automation platform (in this case, HotDocs). Dubbed Interactive Decision Tools on Checkpoint, the new product provides a topic-driven approach to problem solving (for example, how to maximize the first-year cost recovery deduction for a business vehicle). ADT on Checkpoint guides a knowledge worker to the correct conclusion and does so in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take.

The new HotDocs-based product, which has been available as an add-on to TR’s Checkpoint since January 2011, is powerful, innovative, and offers a great value proposition to tax attorneys and accountancy firms, a fact which did not go unnoticed by Accounting Today, which named Interactive Decision Tools on Checkpoint the Top New Research Product of the year.