Automatic document creation and sharing from Airtable records

@Aaron_Marc_Georgiou,

Sure - give me a shout @ Bill.french@gmail.com.

This thread is fantastic - thank you all! I have a slightly different use case, but wondering if you all have ideas for it. In my work I am regularly building presentations for multiple people to deliver. When we are building presentations, there are three elements that all need to be kept coordinated: the facilitator agenda, the presentation slides that correspond to the facilitator agenda, and the participant agenda. They all have some common elements like Section Names, times, links to resources, and there are some parts that only overlap between two of the three (ex: facilitator notes go on the facilitator agenda AND in the notes section of the slides). Revising the presentations and keeping all of these items coordinated is a major pain because of all the duplicate work that has to stay aligned.

Any thoughts about how I could build a “single source of presentation truth” in airtable that kicked out the different versions of that presentation?

Yep.

This is no different than maintaining the latest version of a report document from a single source of data truth in Airtable. However, there are some nuances in the requirements – for example – are Google Presentations an adequate target for rendering these presentations? Please define “presentation”.

Unlike Microsoft Word (and PowerPoint), Google Apps Script offers a clean server-side interface/SDK for building, manipulating, and updating documents in real-time and from any data source including Airtable. Further, it provides a scripting model that supports templated documents across all Google Drive types (spreadsheet, document, presentation, and even charts). This makes it possible to FULLY automate every aspect of the document process from raw data (in Airtable) to finished native Google documents. The scripting model also supports transformations from Google’s native documents to PDF, Word, PowerPoint, etc.

And just when you thought there might be a show-stopper - Google Apps Script provides a number of SDKs for document delivery - through email, real-time messenging, shared Drive folders, and a few others.

The automation possibilities from Airtable data to the last mile of reporting consumption are pretty much endless. It’s just a simple matter of requirements and code. :wink:

2 Likes

This is fantastic - thanks Bill! Google presentation is actually the presentation tool we use due to the sharing/linking/updating features so that is perfect. I’m going to dig in on this - appreciate the heads-up on the scripting course site. Hope to report back with something good. I think this could be a really great tool for people - thanks!

1 Like

Hello! I may have found a no code solution to this issue by utilizing Airtable > Zapier > Google Slides > Zapier > PDF > Zapier > Email/Upload.
Airtable trigger creates a Google Slides that is 8.5x11 size. Zapier Converts this to PDF. Zapier can then email this out or upload it back into airtable.
Zapier Google Slides Integration: https://zapier.com/blog/updates/840/google-slides-integrations
Slides to PDF: https://www.process.st/help/docs/create-a-pdf-with-zapier/
Hope this helps!

4 Likes

Yep - in today’s API economy there’s an abundance of glues and adhesives which make it effortless to pull together just about any process and data imaginable.

If you’re comfortable with 7+ hops to generate a single emailed report, this is one approach. But you must also accept the likelihood that with each additional dependency, your process inches a little higher up the brittleness ladder. Proceed with cautious optimism. :wink:

It may seem like I tend to discourage these glue-factory solutions, but I’m actually standing on the sidelines cheering with pom-poms for two reasons.

  1. Tools like Zapier, Process Street, and Integromat stand at the headwaters of innovation. They make it possible for domain experts to make stuff work without coding expertise. New ideas and alchemies involving data, content, and process can be explored without significant cost. Mistakes have few consequences and lead to more learning and more innovation.

  2. A significant and growing slice of my integration and data architecture consulting projects come from clients who have hit the limits of Goldbergian-sh*tshows and they’ve had it with reliability issues and the added cost associated with third-party solutions.

Gimmie a Z! Gimmie an A! Gimmie a P! …

2 Likes

API economy ? this link leads to
“API represents all segments of America’s oil and natural gas industry. Its more than 600 members produce, process, and distribute most of the nation’s energy. The industry supports 10.9 million U.S. jobs and is backed by a growing grassroots movement of millions of Americans. API was formed in 1919 as a standards-setting organization. In its first 100 years, API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance operational and environmental safety, efficiency and sustainability.”

:grin:

I must’a been drunk when I copied that link. I probably meant this one.

2 Likes

Hi,

In the course of October 2019, I wanted to practice by first discovering through a practical playground the basic possibilities of a workflow invoking Google App Script that is discussed in this Topic.
I experimented from these links 1 then 2 and I enjoyed starting with a simplistic but functional view of this type of approach before turning to a more systematic and complete learning recommended by Bill such as Ben Collins which is really an excellent reference!
Best,
oLπ

1 Like

Not a replacement for the page designer, but we’ve built an integration with Docupilot. It allows you to generate PDFs and upload them back in Airtable as attachments.

2 Likes

Hi Bill,

This is exactly what I am looking for. I work for a workplace wellbeing provider in NZ and we are wanting to create multi page reports for individuals when needed and have not found the right solution so far! Would I be able to flick you an email to discuss this?

Cheers

Yep - gime me a shout anytime. bill.french@gmail.com

This is a crazy helpful conversation, and I’m hoping you all can help me take my next step along this path —

So far I have successfully created several Google Apps Scripts that grab content from Airtable via the API and generate Google docs from the record data. (STEP 1)

My lingering challenge is how to automate this process for team members who don’t have coding skills, and really can’t (and don’t want to) mess with updating or running Apps from the scripting environment (or look at them, for that matter). (STEP 2)

My current process:

  1. configure a view in Airtable with the data I want
  2. enter related config variables in the main Google Apps Script
  3. run the main script (manually) which generates the appropriate Google Doc

What I want the team to be able to do (without my help):

  1. configure a view in AT (they can handle that)
  2. AUTOMATICALLY (by clicking a button or running an automation/app in AT?) perform steps 2 and 3 (bypassing the manual Apps Script process entirely)

Q1: is this possible to set up in AT and
Q2: ??? how ???

My skill level: I’m not a programmer by trade, but I can write enough Javascript to get to where I am now :slight_smile:

Many thanks for any help you all can provide (looking your way @Bill.French – love your smarts and insights!)

2 Likes

@Alexandra_Scott - our team at On2Air (https://on2air.com) will be launching this functionality in the next 2-3 weeks. It will be part of our new On2Air Action Functions product: https://on2air.com/on2air-actions

Feel free to DM me if you’d like to learn more about it.

Dan,
Openside

1 Like

I had a look at Documint recently, which has an Airtable app, and seems promising. Ideally I’d like Airtable to integrate these sort of features into the Page designer app. The main thing Page Designer is lacking at the moment is for you to be able to vary field sizes based on the content of each record. My projects use a lot of long text fields, which sometimes contain several paragraphs, sometimes only one sentence. If the page designer could adjust each document accordingly, that would solve most of the issues I’m having. I’m generally not to keen on using google due to the sensitive data I process in Airtable, but I recognise it might be the only solution.

2 Likes

Thanks @JonathanB, I will check it out. One of the reasons I haven’t gone the route of some other products like Documint is that the data I’m working with have a lot of complex relationships and require a lot of logic gates to determine what gets grouped together and how (as opposed to things like invoices or sales reports, which most of these services seem to lean toward). And as you mentioned, some of these records contain a lot of content that isn’t always simple to manage for an automated system. Hand-rolling code has been the only way I’ve gotten close to a manageable / sensible output. But it is a lot of overhead for someone who isn’t a programmer by profession. I would certainly welcome a more robust tool set and greater flexibility in Page Designer (someday).

1 Like

I think that’s probably the only solution that is going to suit most users. I too have some very complicated bases and a lot of formula fields, with variation in how much content there is in fields (if any). What we’re doing at the moment is generating emails from automations, using markdown, where the fields used in the markdown are themselves formula fields, so that the email contains only the content you want, based on certain conditions, and if the fields are empty, those fields are not included in the email at all. But obviously the formatting options in markdown are very limited, so a printable pdf that adapts the template used for every record is still preferable.

1 Like

Wow, there are a lot of very complex workarounds mentioned in this thread. Am I the only one that finds these type of “solutions” completely infeasible? :woozy_face:

The whole reason I came to Airtable in the first place was to be able to build what I needed without having to involve an expert programmer. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

@Airtable, PLEASE give us the ability to use Automations in conjunction with Apps!!!

3 Likes

@Cara_Van_Meter If you want Airtable staff to see your comments, it’s always best to contact them directly via Airtable support. Tagging @Airtable doesn’t actually tag a specific account because that’s not an account. That only creates a link in your comment to a group of all Airtable staff in this forum. To the best of my knowledge the members of that group aren’t notified.

Hope this video can help you.

Automate Custom Docs Using Airtable, Zapier & Google Docs

1 Like