PDF Evolves into the Electronic Document Standard
In the last decade, with an ever increasing number of both captured paper and “born digital” documents being generated, PDF has become the preferred choice for many, if not most, organizations for handling their document workflow and retention needs. There are several reasons for the increasing popularity of PDF format in the US and internationally. These include:
- Widespread adoption of PDF format for both electronic and captured paper documents;
- Availability of both Adobe Reader and Acrobat for viewing and editing PDF files;
- PDF support for advanced features including smart compression and digital signatures;
- Effectiveness of PDF in advanced workflows, including automated document classification and routing, using inserted metadata;
- Ability of PDF to reliably support captured paper documents using image with hidden text format;
- Supporting PDF/A as a version of PDF that is specially designed for document archiving.
Unlike most electronic formats, like MS Word and Excel, PDF has the advantage of being an ISO standard. As such, the PDF specifications are published and transparent. This allows 3rd party software to both read and write PDF format. Unlike a typical ISO standard, that might be updated every 10 to 20 years, Adobe has generally been updating its specifications every 2-3 years. While the TIFF and JPEG formats have been virtually stagnant for over two decades, Adobe PDF has been updated 10 times, most recently in 2009.
...Adobe has generally been updating its specifications every 2-3 years...This ability to innovate and update on a regular basis gives a real strong advantage to PDF format.
This ability to innovate and update on a regular basis gives a strong advantage to PDF format. The latest compression technology, including JBIG2 (bitonal captured files) and JPEG2000 (grey scale and color files) has been incorporated into the PDF specifications. The same is true for document encryption and digital signatures. All these features are fully supported within the PDF specifications. PDF format gives the user all the benefits of a proprietary format, with regular updates and incorporation of the latest technology, coupled with the reliability and transparency of an open ISO standard.
Evolution of Document Capture: A Factor in the Increased Use of PDF
Instead of having two distinct workflows for processing documents, one that is paper-based and one that is for electronic files, convert all incoming paper to electronic files via scanning and then use a single electronic-based workflow across all of the organization’s documents.
In this section, we discuss the evolution of document capture and its relationship to PDF format becoming the primary document standard. In the last decade, there has been a strong growth in the use of document capture technology. Whereas ten years ago, when most corporate scanning was highly centralized, today almost every office has an MFP (i.e. - multi-functional print) device that can digitize documents and store or send them in an email. For this reason and others, including the efficiency and cost savings of maintaining electronic (not physical) archives, there has been an incredible growth in the use of document capture.
The ROI argument for document capture is generally quite straightforward: Instead of having two distinct workflows for processing documents, one that is paper-based and one that is for electronic files, there is a simple way to streamline this workflow. Convert all incoming paper to electronic files via scanning and then use a single electronic-based workflow across all of the organization’s documents.
This evolution from paper-based document workflows to primarily electronic document workflows, which involve capturing incoming paper documents, partially explains the rapidly increasing popularity of the PDF format. Imagine a credit card application department in a large bank, with 1/3 of the applications submitted online using PDF forms and the remaining 2/3 of the applications either mailed or faxed in. If these incoming documents, both paper and electronic, are converted into a single process workflow, then PDF is a natural choice. The electronic submissions are likely already in PDF electronic format, and the faxed and mailed in applications can easily be converted to PDF image with hidden text format. In this way, PDF has become the leading document format as it can be used for processing both incoming paper and electronic documents in a unified, seamless way.
As we move into the “digital age”, it makes sense that at some point electronic archives will overtake paper-based archives. The advantage of using PDF as the standard for electronic archives is that it has the benefits of being able to rapidly advance and incorporate the latest technological advances, while still maintaining the ISO certification as an accepted, international standard.