While working on the company’s legal documents we realised that there was an important feature missing from Google Docs – Sealion Software’s preferred cloud-based office suite. “Make sure you track all the cross-references!” our legal eagle said to us over and over as we were drafting.

Smart References

Now I hadn’t actually used the cross-referencing feature from their popular desktop word processor. So, it took me a while to realise what I was missing when reviewing and transcribing clauses from one platform to the other. It turns out all the professionals use a “cross-reference” feature to keep automatically numbered list items and textual references to those items in sync with each other.

It was one of those moments when you suddenly perceive that you have been living with a problem for some time, and it’s been growing in the background unnoticed. I’ve never worked on legal documents before but when writing I tend to do a lot of reviewing and redrafting preceding sections of a document as I go. How many times have I changed a section title and forgotten to correct all the references to it? When writing on paper, these problems are just part of the business of drafting. But with a word processor? Of course, this should be automated!

Now I have been very forward about promoting the benefits of moving to a cloud-native, collaboration friendly tool like Google Docs. The days of emailing files around the office for review, forking a new revision for every recipient in the cc box, should be over. But when you find that the new platform lacks a power feature you have grown accustomed to this will be very disappointing. Suddenly there is doubt. Is the move really a step forward if you have to give up productivity features?

Fortunately, this problem is also an opportunity. One of the biggest advantages that Google Docs has over legacy platforms is just how easy it is to extend the editor with Add-Ons. Add ons are a bit like macros from the old windows world. They are written in Javascript rather than Visual Basic and display HTML user interfaces in a sidebar to the main window. The big innovation is that an add on can be shared and installed by others from the Google Marketplace (which is integrated into the editor from the menu system). So when you find an issue like this – you can fix it! Or download someone else’s fix…

I had a look around on the store and there wasn’t anything that seemed to do what I was looking for. There is an AddOn with the promising title of “Cross Reference”, but it focusses on solving the similar problem of referencing the captions on figures and tables. It doesn’t handle headings or numbered list items. So, time to roll the sleeves up and get coding!

It didn’t take long to explore the APIs and navigate the possibilities of the sandbox, and in a couple of days, we had a prototype working. Now our documents are all synced up and word-perfect (remember them?!). We introduced our add-on Smart References to the store last year along with a support page and an instructional video. We’ve been through a couple of initial iterations now and got some good feedback. We’ve added additional features like broken link highlighting and double click-to-navigate on the sidebar. It’s completely free to use and we will keep it that way if we can. It feels good to be giving back to a community that has provided so many free tools that we use every day.

Google Docs is a great example of how a mature cloud platform can be leveraged to become part of an integrated, composable enterprise architecture for a business. It’s not hard to image extending GSuite with not just productivity features but also data-based integrations that streamline business workflows for staff.

So if you are struggling with missing features when migrating to GSuite or Office 365, or if your staff spend a lot of time moving data from core systems or CRMs into word processing documents – why not give us a call?