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Consider, if you will, a small irony. While PDF was conceived as a universal document format, financial services organisations, for many reasons, haven’t been able to make it available on every desk, reducing the broader deployment of this very useful ‘universal’ solution.
Previously, because of high costs, a business may have purchased a small number of relatively expensive PDF licences, turning those few users into a resource to be used by other parts of the business. The ‘PDF factories’ within these companies soon started to experience a decline in their own productivity as their colleagues interrupted them with PDF-related requests. They often took time out of their own jobs to help resolve their colleagues’ problems. This was one of the reasons why the ability to put a PDF solution on every desktop became all but irresistible for practically any type of business, and not just those in the financial services sector. Today, a further driver results from the digital economy, combined with the exponential growth in smartphones and other portable devices that underpin the Bring Your Own Device model.
Combined, these have fuelled the requirement for an affordable universally portable document model. However, against this need for a PDF solution on every desktop, private and public sector organisations of all types and sizes are still feeling the economic squeeze. This means that IT departments are looking closely at how different PDF licensing models impact cost, as that will have a significant bearing on an organisation’s ability to deploy a PDF solution enterprise-wide.
Shackled by the past
Undeniably, one of the key issues with the broader uptake of PDF, is linked with its history. Initially developed as a way for the print/publishing industry to share content, PDF became ‘tied’ to Adobe and Acrobat. As that software grew more feature heavy, all most business users really needed was a way to convert documents from various sources into a file that was easily shared with colleagues, suppliers and other stakeholders.
Over time, various products have sprung up which offer more ‘office-friendly’ ways to benefit from PDF, from a raft of freeware utilities that offer the most basic word-to-PDF conversion for casual or one-off users, to the likes of Nuance Power PDF 2, a software solution that matches paid-for competitors in almost every respect – apart from, crucially, cost.
Reasons to be cheerful
Of course it takes more than cost savings – even in this day and age – to drive a business to swap one industry leading solution in favour of another. As mentioned, the PDF market includes a number of freeware and shareware products, but it is fair to question how these would stand up to ‘serious business use’. In a financial services market - where strict compliance within governance frameworks, robust document security, powerful redaction tools, and digital paper trails are essential – it is important to ask whether freeware and shareware solutions can meet the market’s considerable requirements.
Putting an enterprise-grade PDF solution on every desktop is an investment worth making though, as turning paper records into digital documents rids organisations of the paper that can be damaged or destroyed during a disaster, or that can become lost in day-to-day work operations. This approach can not only improve business continuity but also overall business operations in document-intensive environments. For instance, with some PDF solutions, digital documents can be created so content within the documents is searchable which makes finding information a lot easier than hunting through filing cabinets.
The ‘P’ doesn’t stand for ‘Proprietary’
The days of PDF being a proprietary Adobe offering are long gone, as the format conforms to the ongoing ISO 32000 open standard introduced in 2008, making it suitable for use in government, healthcare and business alike. But somehow the perception has remained that PDF is inextricably linked to Adobe and therefore it is not as universally ‘useable’ as other major office file formats. In fact, just a few years ago, it wasn’t at all uncommon to hear office users refer to PDFs as ‘Acrobat files’. When was the last time you heard anyone use that phrase? The PDF – this almost unimaginably portable, flexible document format, conceived before the wider world was ready to fully grasp its potential benefits - is certain to become ever more widespread in an IT eco-system spreading onto tablets, phones and other ‘non-compute’ devices at a startling rate. Perhaps the irony that plagued PDF in the past is now coming to an end, as new, affordable PDF solutions finally enable the universal standard to flourish.