Something very interesting is happening to the humble document. Paper-based for centuries, it’s finally beginning to turn digital — and as it does so, it’s morphing into an entirely new form and function. The old-school electronic document is going the way of the horseless carriage. Today’s business users need something much more powerful than a mere digital doppelganger of yesterday’s paper documents.
Some observers think of next-generation document collaboration tools such as Dropbox Paper, Box Notes and Salesforce Quip as ‘Microsoft Word killers’. To frame what is happening in such terms is to miss the point. An entirely new document metaphor is emerging, making yesterday’s document creation tools irrelevant. Microsoft Word won’t perish in the heat of a competitive battle for supremacy, it will quietly slope off to extinction in its own evolutionary backwater.
Two separate document tools in the Salesforce ecosystem that both had upgrades this week provide useful pointers to the digital transformation of the business document. One is Conga Composer, a third-party tool for integrating Salesforce data into documents for presentation to customers. The other is Quip, the collaborative document tool acquired by Salesforce last year, which streamlines internal collaboration.
Quip as a canvas for collaboration
While Conga still works within a classic document structure, Quip’s latest makeover emphasizes a fundamental break with traditional document formats. Its mission is similar to those of Box Notes and Dropbox Paper, which both, as I recently outlined when comparing the two, act as a connected canvas for collaboration. Nothing illustrates this better than the new checklists and reminders Quip has embedded into its documents and spreadsheets.
This new functionality in Quip means that as well as embedding links to other documents and adding inline @mentions to notify colleagues or assign tasks to them, there’s now a calendar function for setting reminders and due dates (see screenshot at top of story). These reminders can either act as standalone due dates for individual tasks such as updating a document or reviewing a spreadsheet row, or they can form part of a checklist used to manage an entire team project. This is functionality that used to require an entire separate application, now embedded as a feature set within a multi-purpose digital document.
This week’s announcement also confirms the forthcoming availability of Quip Connect, which next week will introduce features originally trailed at Dreamforce last October. This brings live data from Salesforce into Quip documents, as well as making Quip functionality available directly within Salesforce applications. Delivered as a Lightning component that can also be built into custom applications on the Salesforce platform, it lets people attach Quip task lists, documents and spreadsheets to Salesforce records to help manage their work.
The Quip user interface has also had a makeover to its sidebar and contextual menus to improve usability. More radical changes may be waiting in the wings, after last month’s acquisition of three-man design studio Unity&Variety, whose principals previously worked alongside Quip founder and CEO Bret Taylor at Facebook, where they subsequently worked on the 2014 redesign of Messenger. Taylor told TechCrunch:
The team … was working on a compelling productivity tool, so we are buying their IP and team. They are going to work on their existing tool and contribute to Quip broadly.
Conga aims to sway enterprise
Meanwhile Conga this week launched an enterprise edition of its flagship Composer application, adding extra security, integration and customization features designed to appeal to the large enterprise market. Dating back more than a decade to the birth of AppExchange, Conga doesn’t offer Quip’s dynamic collaboration, but its ability to embed Salesforce data into “pixel-perfect” mailmerged emails and documents helps streamline business workflows. It hopes to add an integration to Quip in the future.
Financial services software vendor Misys uses Composer alongside DocuSign to automate and track the process of notifying customers of their annual maintenance fees, as the company’s contract quality assurance analyst Ryan Sullivan once explained to us in an interview:
The data is sitting there in SalesForce. Conga allows us to manipulate it and integrate it into a Word document. Then we use DocuSign as the delivery vehicle … In one afternoon myself and one of our Salesforce administrators were able to do all the configuration to not only integrate Conga and DocuSign but also completely set up the process.
This week’s announcement extends Composer with the ability to access multiple external data sources, including ERP, custom apps and databases. It also adds API capabilities so that Salesforce users can access document templates directly from non-Salesforce applications from within the Salesforce environment. Integration to third-party data encryption services and the ability to add custom branding complete the line-up of enterprise-friendly features.
Documents are moving away from their origins as paper-based artefacts. At first, they became electronic, but there was little change in their structure and function. It’s a different story now that they are becoming natively digital and fully connected. Documents are adapting to all the possibilities that open up in this new environment, transforming how we work with them and conceive of them.
The transformation enabled by Conga Composer is one of function rather than form. This is an application that deals primarily with customer-facing documents that convey offers and contracts from one organization to another. It’s a context where the document must act as a reliable container for a specific transaction, which requires a fixed format. But Composer fully exploits the ability to add automation and interaction around that fixed format, not only when it inserts the data to create the document, but also in linking up with other services such as DocuSign to track and execute it digitally.
Quip is able to take the transformation several notches further, reimagining form as well as function to enable more fluid internal collaboration. I prefer to think of this as more of a canvas than a document precisely because its strength comes from it having no defined format. A Quip document represents multiple dimensions of connection between people, documents, tasks, records and time. Some of its outputs will include finished documents of the type that a tool like Composer will then distribute in a well-defined, structured workflow, whereas Quip is designed to serve the fuzzy, ad-hoc workflows that are characteristic of productive team collaboration.