Familiarity Breeds Profit
The ubiquity of PDF (portable document format) and the available tools for working with it make the file format an excellent choice for imaging solutions.
It's likely that there is no file format for images that end users are more familiar with than Adobe's PDF (portable document format). From product brochures to job applications, Web sites offer just about every document as a PDF download. An estimated 350 million PDF readers have been downloaded, and PDF's general acceptance and ease of use make it an attractive format choice for VARs.
"The number one reason that we incorporated PDF support was customer pull," says Mark Seamans, CTO and VP of business development for forms processing vendor Cardiff Software, Inc. In government applications, such as DMV (department of motor vehicle) forms, PDF already meets the standards set forth for accessibility because it is universally available. In fact, it is a preferred format in many applications. Seamans says pharmaceutical case report forms, inspection forms, and other regulatory documents have been strong client wins for Cardiff and its integrators.
An interactive PDF form eliminates the need to print and mail a form that would then require additional resources to scan and process. In environments where both paper and electronic forms exist, integrators can create a unified solution that accommodates both. For example, if the DMV offers a change of address form in both electronic and paper versions, both can be identical. The field data can either be processed automatically on the e-form or using OCR (optical character recognition) on the paper form.
This option could also prevent aborted online transactions. Let's say that a customer begins filling out a form, but finds that he does not have all the required information. Rather than abandoning the process, he could print the document, fill it out at his leisure and mail it back. The fact that the format is standardized enables a template-driven forms processing solution.
Though Seamans points out that significant improvements have been made to HTML forms, a PDF form is better able to meet evidentiary requirements. For instance, many online transactions are captured in HTML forms that cannot be recreated when there is a dispute. An interactive PDF provides a "hard copy" of the form while allowing the customer to process data accurately.
There are certainly other file formats that are easy to use and can be viewed with a simple plug-in as well. However, Seamans says Cardiff research shows most business users don't consider it proprietary, despite the fact that it is an Adobe Systems, Inc. product. The fact that most already have and use it makes it less disruptive to end user business processes when a solution is implemented.
Turn Existing PDFs Into Profitable Opportunities
The conversion from PDF also represents an opportunity for resellers to meet customer requirements. "Resellers can make a pretty decent margin selling PDF creation products," says Dan Borrey, VP of VisionShape, Inc. (Placentia, CA). "The reverse is also true. Taking image-only PDF and recreating TIFF (tagged image file format), text, or searchable PDF is an enormous business opportunity."
After all, with PDF as a viable standard for what amounts to a lifetime in imaging years, companies have a lot of legacy data stored in that format. Converting to a TIFF allows processes like OCR while converting to searchable PDF enables users to access legacy PDF documents more easily and bring them back into the realm of active corporate knowledge.
Borrey warns that high-volume PDF creation tools can get a bit expensive. Creating searchable and indexable PDF at a scanning station can also be relatively slow. Borrey advises that using a server-based application to perform the conversion would be much more efficient.
Document imaging is difficult enough to explain, let alone implement, at many end user locations. Despite this, end users are asking that increasingly complex document solutions be as easy to use as possible. Incorporating new and/or legacy PDFs into a solution may be one option that VARs can offer as a way to handle documents that is both cutting edge and familiar to their customers.