How to Get Your Documents Under Control

An events-planning business moves from a time-consuming, manual process for creating documents to one that uses HP Relate templates.

By Stephanie Overby
Thu, December 19, 2013

CIO — Here's how an events-planning business moves from a time-consuming, manual process for creating documents to one that uses HP Relate templates.

The Project: Implement software to design and deliver documents incorporating customer data at a growing regional events planning collective.

The Business Case: Event Connections has a variety of revenue streams: a concierge program that helps people plan events like weddings and conferences; a membership program that assists 80 event-industry vendors with marketing; and its own meeting-and-event-space leasing program. Each of those businesses has unique document-generating needs, such as creating leases and membership agreements, and drawing up food and beverage contracts and event time lines.

Founded in 2011, the company has grown fast. But creating those documents (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, interactive PDFs) was a time-consuming, manual process--one that fell to company leaders. "We had to handle that at the executive level because there was so much potential for error," says Cam Sells, the company's COO.

First Steps: Sells had explored a few options in the past but found them too rigid. Then she tested out Hewlett-Packard's HP Relate software at a conference last April. "We needed a solution that was flexible enough to create lots of different kinds of documents, pulling data directly from Salesforce.com," says Sells. With HP Relate, she says, "There were no limitations."

The company rolled out the tool the same month. "The learning time was very quick," says Sells. "And you don't need any development assistance, unlike the typical IT project that can take six months or a year."

It takes a few hours to create a document template (identifying the forms and data required), but anyone can do it. Document generation--a task that's now handled by the administrative team--takes just a few minutes. "That frees up our executives for doing things like looking at strategy, business development, and growth," Sells says.

While the original plan was to use the software for leases and contracts, the company has been experimenting with using HP Relate to create other branded materials, like time lines for event planners. "Anything you can imagine can be put together in a template from customer data," Sells says.

What to Watch Out For: Prior to implementing HP Relate, Event Connections had two databases--one for Salesforce.com and another that generated its invoices. "Everything had to be entered twice. There was no consistency," says Sells. "Any time you're running two databases, you never have parity."

Rolling out the new documentation platform was a good excuse to move to a single data source, but replicating the processes from the invoicing database was difficult. "We knew what we needed documents to look like and what data we needed to have, but we had to keep going back into Salesforce to make sure it was producing the data correctly," says Sells. The second database is still running in parallel (some historical data has yet to be replicated), but will be retired this year.

Taking the time to think about what the business requirements are before jumping in to build a document is also important. "Take a really good look at what your needs are first, so you're not doing it again and again," Sells advises.

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO.com's IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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