When we Adlibbers first heard about Word Automation Services at the 2009 Microsoft SharePoint Conference, we were intrigued… and concerned.
On the one hand, Word Automation Services offers something that would be of value to our customers: Bulk conversion of Microsoft Word files (.doc) to PDF.
On the other hand, it also looked like Microsoft was encroaching on Adlib’s turf, which is automated document conversion in SharePoint.
Now that we understand a lot more about the capabilities and limitations of Word automation services, we are comfortable living with it in the SharePoint ecosystem.
Where’s the Button?
If you are looking for the WAS button on the new SharePoint 2010 ribbon UI, you won’t find it… It is only accessible via a programming interface. To take advantage of Word Automation Services, you will have to find a software developer to code an application using Visual Studio that runs on your SharePoint application server.
Word Automation Services is suited for the task of bulk conversions of Word files to PDF or XPS. Its API allows developers to submit one or more files for conversion. A document queue manager takes the conversion requests and puts them into a queue for processing by the rendering engine.
It is important to remember that this is an asynchronous system; items in the queue are scanned at a fixed interval that can be configured by the SharePoint administrator. The first time I tried it, I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t convert any documents. Finally I realized that by default, the scanning interval is set to 15 minutes.
The High Cost of DIY
The question remains, why would you consider purchasing a product like Adlib PDF for SharePoint if there is a “free” alternative within SharePoint 2010? Well, there are some reasons; Word Automation Services can be considered a viable alternative if both of the following conditions are true:
- You are willing to develop and maintain the software required to integrate with Word Automation Services or pay a third party to do it for you
- Your document conversion requirements are limited to simply converting file formats supported by Word
However, neither of the above criteria have existed for the many businesses, government agencies and educational institutions that Adlib has spoken with regarding the automation of their document-based processes.
Anybody that understands the costs associated with developing, testing and maintaining software knows that it is better to purchase a solution that can be configured to their needs, rather than build it themselves.
We Cannot Live on Word Alone
Business processes rely on more than a single file format. They use a variety of file types and require them to be converted, combined and enhanced to make them useful for people. Their requirements include:
- Ability to convert the entire MS Office suite of products to PDF – Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, Outlook
- Converting scanned documents to searchable PDF using OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
- Combining multiple documents into a single PDF file (e.g. Proposals, Pitch Books, Meeting Books, etc.)
- Enhancing PDF conversions with the addition of headers, footers, watermarks
Overall, Word Automation Services appears to have the potential to enhance Adlib’s ability to deliver document transformation services to organizations using SharePoint; we are investigating how to leverage it to make our product better.