Court Technology Bulletin

Monday, February 7, 2011

PDF/A, more than just archiving

Everyone knows what a PDF document is. But few understand the different versions of PDF and in particular, the national and international standards that have created that govern the format. A brief introduction to the subject is contained in the Future Trends 2010 article: Electronic Documents: Benefits and Potential Pitfalls.

The following article by Thomas Zellerman is reprinted with permission from the PDF/A Competence Center(1) January, 2011 Newsletter lists other aims for the PDF/A standards work that could potentially benefit the courts and legal process.

"The obvious reason anybody looks at adopting PDF/A is because they have a need to keep good archives for a certain time. Good may mean they want to be able to have exact visual reproduction of the documents in the archive, or it may go further and they might want to also guarantee semantic correctness of the documents. Likewise the range of meanings for a “certain time” may span from 7 to 10 years for tax papers, or to forever for libraries or national archives. But in most projects, people remain very focused on the archival side of the problem and the risk is that other opportunities are missed as a result.

That is a shame: taking a step back and looking at PDF/A as an ISO standard amongst many other similar PDF-based ISO standards can show additional opportunities and reasons to standardize on PDF/A.

So lets take a step back: PDF/A is an ISO standard based on another ISO standard, PDF (ISO 32000). This means that PDF/A documents are PDF files on which additional restrictions and demands are
placed. And following that same method, the ISO has developed and is still developing a number of
other standards that can be very interesting for companies looking at PDF/A. Some examples:

  • PDF/X was the first PDF-based standard adopted and further developed by the ISO. As far back as 2001, ISO PDF/X was created to allow the use of PDF files in the print and publishing market.
  • PDF/E is an ISO standard for use in engineering workflows, allowing for 3D drawings in PDF files.
  • PDF/UA is becoming an ISO standard to create standardized accessible documents; allowing for example visually impaired people to use screen-reader applications with PDF files in a reliable way.

Does that mean that companies looking at PDF/A today should instead adopt all of these standards?  Not necessarily, but it would be a good thing to at least look at those other standards and understand how they could play a role.

It is also important when evaluating tools for use in PDF/A workflows. While some tools focus exclusively on PDF/A, there are certainly also tools on the market that add value towards some or all of these additional standards. And if such standards now or in the future hold value for a company, the selection of which tools are used should follow that realization.

And lastly, knowing those other standards is important when building the business case around adoption of PDF/A in a company. Additional demands such as the necessity to print or publish archived documents or convert them into accessible documents may very well change the scope of the project and lend additional credibility to standardizing on PDF/A as a way to prepare for things to come."

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(1) As stated on their website: "The aim of the PDF/A Competence Center is to promote the exchange of information and experience in the area of long-term archiving in accordance with ISO 19005: PDF/A."

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