Here is a scenario: You’re asked to convert 200 Word documents from your network drive or PC into PDFs. You could individually open these documents in Word and hit ‘Save As…’, but this would be a tedious exercise. What if you’ve finally saved the 199th document and suddenly you’re asked to convert 200 more?

Then you remember that you have a SharePoint corporate intranet…

As one of the leading Enterprise Content Management Systems, SharePoint has been renowned to serve corporate intranets, extranets and public-facing websites of all sizes, but it also has a little-known feature called Word Automation Services.

Word Automation can open the following document types:

  • Word 2007 onwards (.docx, .docm, .dotx, .dotm)
  • Word 2003 (.doc, .dot)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • Web page files (.mht, .mhtml)
  • Word XML documents (.xml)

…and convert them into:

  • Word 2007 onwards (.docx, .docm, .dotx, .dotm)
  • Word 2003 (.doc, .dot)
  • Rich Text Format (.rtf)
  • Web page files (.mht, .mhtml)
  • Word XML documents (.xml)
  • Portable Document Format (PDF)
  • XML Paper Specification (XPS)

The real fruit in all of this is in the ability to save files into a different file format. In essence, Word Automation Services performs the ‘Save As…’ functionality of Word for you, which is very handy due to the popularity of PDF documents.

Combining this with a neat little extension for Microsoft Office, this opens up a world of scenarios, such as:

  • A retail company generates invoices from each sale, which are recorded in a database. An automated process can take the database record, merge it (via Open XML SDK) into a document template stored in SharePoint and send this completed document to Word Automation Services to be converted into a read-only PDF.
  • A company has documents in a company are required to go through managerial approval before being exposed for public consumption. A SharePoint 2010 workflow can be created to send approval tasks for the documents to the assigned manager, and once approved, the workflow will send the document to Word Automation Services to be converted into a PDF before being stored in a SharePoint document library, ready for public consumption.
  • A company needs to close off a project and archive all associated documents once the project has been completed. The documents live on the SharePoint intranet. A custom button called ‘Archive’ can be created on the ribbon which will take all of the project documents, send them to Word Automation Services to be converted into read-only PDFs and send to a separate archive document library for future reference.

The best part about Word Automation Services is that no code is required to use this feature – it can be incorporated into SharePoint workflows without writing a single line of code. However, it’s flexible enough that it can be called from code if you need it to do something a bit more powerful, such as creating templates and then converting documents to PDF. If you’re a bit more technically minded, we can show you how to set up Word Automation Services in SharePoint 2010 and call it from code.

Next time you’re faced with the common but arduous task of converting documents, remember that SharePoint can do so much more for you than simply storing documents.