I’ve long been familiar with two big names in logic-driven document assembly, namely HotDocs, by LexisNexis, and DealBuilder, by Business Integrity. But over the past year I’ve increasingly heard another name mentioned, namely Exari. It’s the name of both a company and its product; the company is based in Australia. A few months ago I made the acquaintance of Andrew Davis, an Exari senior consultant, so I thought it time that I do a Q&A with them. Jamie Wodetzki, Exari’s CEO, was kind enough to indulge me.
Q: What’s your product?
A: Exari is an enterprise document-assembly system—an integrated software suite that empowers non-programmers to create “intelligent” templates (with optional clauses and business rules built-in) and allows anyone (expert or novice) to create contracts and other complex business documents quickly and without mistakes. End users simply answer questions during a web-based “interview” and the Exari server delivers a tailored document in their preferred format (Word or PDF).
Q: Who would most benefit from using your product?
A: Whoever feels the most pain from document bottlenecks. One example is a sales team that waits days (or longer) for their over-loaded legal department to draft a contract; often the result is a lost sale. We can give them a self-service contract solution that lets sales create their own contracts in a fast but controlled way and close deals quickly. Another example is government agencies that are facing increased regulatory pressure in their handling of document-intensive processes. We can give them a way to quickly produce RFPs and purchasing contracts that comply with complex procurement rules. And we can help insurance companies to meet their contract certainty obligations by allowing them to explain to customers before a policy—even a complex one—is issued what the terms of that policy will be. Because it’s 100% web-based and very easy to use, Exari excels in situations where you want to empower business users to create their own documents but you also want to ensure that the language has been pre-approved by Legal.
Q: Would Exari be an appropriate solution for businesses of different sizes?
A: Historically, our customers have been larger enterprises, who much prefer web delivery over Word plug-ins. In recent times, with hosted solutions becoming more common, we can now serve smaller businesses, either directly or through partners. The size of the business isn’t really the issue. What matters is the scale of their document problems and how much we can add value.
Q: Who are some of your clients?
A: Our clients include banks, insurance brokers, government agencies, law firms, investment banks, media companies and more. Some of them are listed on our website.
Q: Have law firms expressed interest in Exari?
A: Absolutely. We have various law firm customers in Australia, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Curiously, since 2005, when we changed our name from SpeedLegal to Exari, law firm interest seems to have grown.
Q: Do you think lawyers are ready to embrace document assembly in general, and Exari in particular?
A: Yes, but only if they are feeling the squeeze. Some individual partners are pushing ahead with document assembly because they are innovators, and they sense that it will be important to their future. But they are still in the minority. What really drives law firms to embrace document assembly is when the client says “we are only going to pay a fixed price for that piece of work.” As soon as this happens, firms need to get efficient, and document assembly becomes very attractive. But until they face this kind of margin squeeze, most firms will take their time.
Q: What distinguishes Exari from HotDocs and DealBuilder?
A: Unlike HotDocs and Dealbuilder, Exari did the hard work of building an XML-based document assembly system from the ground up specifically for the web era. We take Word documents in, and send perfectly styled Word documents out. But within Exari, the whole template document is XML, which has two big benefits. It means we can give end users a transparent interface, so they can preview a document in the browser, interact with it, and see why each clause was included. It also means that our authoring environment gives template authors much greater control and stability, especially when dealing with complex automation tasks (there are always some). So, transparency for users and control for authors—that’s what sets Exari apart.
Another important difference is that HotDocs requires you to automate a template in three steps, rather than two. You need to define all your questions and logic (step 1). You need to apply that logic to your template, e.g., by inserting variables in the right places (step 2). And then you need to design each page of the interview process (step 3). It’s this final step of hand-crafting the interview pages/screens which has given document assembly a bad name. It makes the authoring process much slower and more fragile than it needs to be. And it is totally unnecessary. With Exari (and Dealbuilder apparently), the author only needs to focus on steps 1 and 2. The system automatically figures out which question to ask, in what order, and compiles the interview pages itself. It does this by looking inside the structure of the document (or package of documents). It makes for far less testing and a much shorter development time.
Q: And what distinguishes Exari from the document-assembly components of CLM solutions such as UpsideContract?
A: We don’t know too much about these, other than anecdotal evidence suggesting that they are weaker than even the more basic document assembly products. CLM vendors that fail to integrate best-of-breed document assembly may have a hard time explaining to their users/customers why they can’t have the sort of features Exari can deliver.
Q: Where do you see document assembly going?
A: We think it’s reaching a tipping point in certain industries, thanks to the usability improvements that have occurred in the last couple of years. We are also launching a “round-tripping” feature with the release of Exari V5, which will make document assembly much more useful in scenarios where documents go through random negotiations. There are other exciting things on the horizon, but you’ll have to wait and see what they are.
Q: How can people find out more about Exari?