Digital Transformation

Building a better document template with Microsoft Syntex

By December 28, 2023 No Comments
Microsoft 365: Microsoft Syntex

What do you do if you have nine slightly different versions of the same template document managed by three different people and used to create hundreds of final copies that all require e-signatures and workflow? To start, you might want to read this post – by the end, you’ll know how Microsoft Syntex could solve your dilemma faster and easier than you might have imagined.

To begin, I want to make it clear that, while relatively new, Syntex includes a broad set of technologies, and the content assembly features in this post are just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Microsoft, “Microsoft Syntex is a content understanding, processing, and compliance service that uses intelligent document processing, content artificial intelligence (AI), and advanced machine learning to automatically and thoughtfully find, organize, and classify documents in your SharePoint libraries, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive for Business, and Exchange.”

In this post I’ll provide an example based on a more limited scenario. Future posts will explore broader capabilities, particularly on AI and machine learning aspects, as we progress our customer deeper into Syntex’s feature set.

To get back to our opening scenario, situations like this are fairly common, and can easily lead to content “drift” where template language that’s supposed to be the same across multiple types of documents slowly changes over time, introducing potential compliance issues. After initially solving this problem for a customer, it wasn’t hard to find an example of this at Inviso which was then genericized and used for this post.

For this example, Wexagon is a services company that routinely creates SOWs (Statements of Work) with specific customer and scope aspects along with boilerplate content that’s based on variables such as billing type (Deliverable-based, Run-rate based, or Time and Materials) and cloud service used (Azure or Microsoft 365). Typically, this means one long template document that requires the author to delete all sections that don’t apply, which introduces a training issue and the risk that someone might accidentally delete or include the wrong section. Another alternative is to have a document template for each combination of elements, which gets back to that “drift” issue where boilerplate content in one template might get updated but others are missed.

The solution was surprisingly simple – Syntex allows you to use a single template with all the necessary text but instead of requiring a human to decide what to delete and what to include, the author just picks the type of billing and the cloud service and Syntex automatically includes only what’s relevant. Syntex also includes form-fill type functionality so content that’s unique to each document, such as the Customer Name, Delivery Lead name, Project scope, etc., can be filled in right next to the boilerplate selections. The result is a document that can then be e-signed and/or moved to another folder in the library that separates drafts copies from signed master copies or by type of document based on one of the template choices, e.g. all signed T&M SOWs are in a different folder from all signed Deliverable-based SOWs.

The first step is to have a single document ready that has all the boilerplate text you’ll need. For Wexagon, all the conditional section text was already in one document, so we were able to progress directly to the second step.

The second step is mapping out the conditional sections and identifying the terms that will be used to determine which text to include as well as the text itself. This is important because Syntex uses the SharePoint Term store for the document library as its validation list for available choices. In Wexagon’s case, that meant creating a term group for  Statement of Work  and two terms,  “Billing Type”  and  “Cloud Service” , each with the  appropriate values . The result looked like this:

Screenshot of the SharePoint Term store

Now that the terms are in the Term store we can move on to the third step: creating what Syntex refers to as a “modern template”. This is as simple as making the right selection from the “+ New” drop-down menu:

After selecting “Create modern template” you pick the template file you want to start with. It will have all the blank sections to be filled in and all the boilerplate text to be used in the conditional sections.

With step four, the Syntex modern template document editor opens and displays the template document on the left and the “Set up the template” panel on the right.

Screenshot showing the

From here we can start adding fields for form-fill and creating the text condition and text for the conditional sections. The steps start out the same – Select the text and click either the “+ Field” button or the “+ Conditional section” button on the right-hand panel.

For fields, enter the name of the new field followed by whether it’s a content field (where highlighted text gets replaced by what the user enters) or a form field (which will not replace the highlighted text but rather add the user-entered text after it). Clicking “Next” takes you to a second right-panel screen where you can enter the type of info, with choices like “single line of text”, “multiple lines of text”, “number”, “date and time”, etc. After that, click “Save” and you’re ready to move on to the next item.

Conditional sections are similar; you select the boilerplate text from the document on the left and then click on the “+ Conditional section” button on the right “Set up the template” panel. Note that you can also start by clicking the “+ Conditional section” button (or the “+ Field” button) and then select the text after. Once the conditional text has been selected you give the section a name and hit “Next” to progress to the “Set Condition” screen on the right panel where you use the “Choose a field” drop-down menu to select from one of the terms in the term store (see step one above). From there you choose a condition (exact match, not equal, contain, etc.) and enter the value.

At the time of writing, the “Enter a value here” box is a text box. While that makes sense for conditions like “not equal” or “contains”, it’s a bit counter-intuitive for exact match since you must type one of the terms in the term store without being able to see the list of valid terms. It does have autofill, so if you know the first letter or two it’s not much of an issue, but for a new or infrequent user it makes it harder than it needs to be. Considering how new Syntex Content Assembly is, it seems highly likely that Exact match conditions will be changed to a more intuitive drop-down selection in a future version.

Just as with fields, clicking the “Save” button finishes the new conditional section. Here’s the result for creating a conditional section for the Deliverable-based billing type:

Screenshot showing the

And here’s what the finished modern template looks like in the new modern template editor:

Screenshot showing the finished template with fields for all terms

The final step in creating a new modern template is to click the “Publish” button in the upper right corner. As you might expect from a content assembly tool, you can unpublish, edit, republish, etc. for any given modern template.

So, what does the user experience like? Let’s take a look.

The user goes to the correct document library and clicks on the “+ New” button and then selects the template. For this example, the document library is “SOWs”, and the template is the “Wexagon SOW – Modern template …” but the template name could be any valid file name.

Next, the user sees a similar screen to what the author saw with the template document on the left and the editor panel on the right:

Screenshot of the

As the user fills in the blanks on the right-side panel, the left side will update to show the current state of the content assembly:

Screenshot showing content blocks being filled in

Clicking the “Next” button takes the user to a final proof screen so they can confirm everything looks correct and change the document name from the default template name to a unique name specific to this SOW. Note that if the user forgets to edit the document name, they will be prompted after they click the “Create document” button.

Screenshot showing the final proof screen

For our purposes, clicking the “Create document” button finishes the process and places the freshly minted SOW into our SOW document library:

Screenshot showing the new SOW in the document library

The next logical step would be to build out a document workflow in Syntex so a user could go into the new SOW, make any additional edits or updates (maybe changing the customer contact info), have the e-signature feature create a customer email for signing, and move it into a signed master copy folder once signed by the customer.

If document sensitivity is a concern, another possible next step would be using Syntex’s machine learning feature to learn what an SOW looks like and then identify documents that are highly likely to be SOWs in different folders with different sensitivity classifications and either move them to the central repository and/or reclassify their sensitivity to make sure all compliance requirements are met.

For someone who’s done it before, you can easily complete the above process, even for a fairly complex template, in a few hours. However, if you’d like some assistance with content assembly, or some of the more advanced features, Inviso is here to help – feel free to reach out!

Steven Fiore

Author Steven Fiore

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