Automatic document creation
May 8, 2015 2:46 AM   Subscribe

At my company we regularly compile credentials documents. These typically have a picture representing a client we've worked for, and a bit of text explaining the work. Sometimes it's just a big picture if it's being presented. The trouble is, there are loads of them and we have version control issues and problems with masses of conflicting PowerPoint templates due to copy/pasting.

No matter how much effort we put into cleaning and streamlining the library, it still seems to take a lot of work to do something that should be fairly simple. Is there an existing solution that would automate this in some way? Not Sharepoint please.

My ideal solution would be something web based. An administrator would build a collection of set bits of texts and a picture library behind the scenes. Then the user would be able to automatically build a presentation by choosing a client, then they could pick from a few different pieces of text, each one focussing on a different area of the project. They would pick a picture from a library of two or three. They would choose whether you wanted full picture layout or with half a page of text. Once they had say 20 pages built, they would hit COMPILE and it would build you a set of slides - preferably PowerPoint but could be pdf or individual jpg - a choice would be great. The slides would automatically format correctly depending on whether you wanted A4 or widescreen ratio.

Does anything like this exist? I've seen slide management libraries but they did not quite do what I wanted. I don't want to collect versions of slides. I want to be able to build slides on demand from a collection of elements.

Also the solution needs to have a nice clean interface and look good too or my colleagues will despise it.
posted by KateViolet to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What you're describing is sounding like a process problem and not a tool problem. There are a dozen different things that do this work well, but only if you're disciplined in using them.

If you have copy paste and version control issues, can you first identify how those come about?
posted by boo_radley at 7:43 AM on May 8, 2015

Response by poster: It's partly process but partly tools too. We have a library of lots of slides that can be pulled together. These should all be in the same template but actually there are a few different versions. Making them all the same will take forever and while that's being done, new ones will be created so it seems like an endless task. Plus if we ever rebrand, altering all these slides will take another forever so I'm partly planning for the future.
As slides are added to presentations, PowerPoint makes more and more master slides which makes it really hard to keep variation in design under control. We can't just keep destination formatting because then background pictures are lost. Also as there are slides sized for print handouts and slides saved for screen, sometimes they get mixed and logos etc get distorted.
When new presentations are put together, often small tweaks are made to improve the text and this doesn't always trickle back up into the slide library. Etc etc
Many people use these slides and their PowerPoint skills are variable and their time is short...
posted by KateViolet at 8:25 AM on May 8, 2015

My fist advise is to stop using Powerpoint. That just asking for trouble...
As for keeping track of the versions, you need a database. If its just pictures with some info it could be as simple as a photo library with keywords assigned to each image. The date the picture is taken should put them in the right sequence.
posted by Mac-Expert at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2015

You could have a programmer put up a web interface on top of LATEX+Beamer. You'd have to give up getting a PowerPoint file out of it, but then since you're having trouble with people not contributing their fixes back upstream this would prevent them from hotfixing their presentation at all (can't tweak a PDF like that).

You could also try wrapping Pandoc.

This is why software engineers invented templating engines, I just don't know of any existing services that support the sort of front end you want, but it wouldn't be difficult to create (just not free). As with all problems, do you have money to throw at it?
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