April 20, 2017

A Brief Evolution of PDF in Transactional Enterprise Content Management

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Back in the day, not all that many years ago, transactional Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems such as IBM Content Manager OnDemand (CMOD), ASG InfoPac and ViewDirect, CA View, etc, were almost exclusively Print Stream centric.  The two biggest players and printstreams were IBM and compatible vendors with AFP and Xerox with LCDS and Metacode.  This makes sense when you realize these systems were developed primarily to digitally archive vast amounts of print data either for internal archive and consumption or to provide a regulated and required history of customer facing communications such as statements.

Much development, expertise, business and operational process, optimization as well as many tools grew up around that model. The model persists today and still represents perhaps most of this market, at least for large, Fortune 1000 companies.

In the mid-90s, Adobe introduced the Portable Document Format (PDF).  It matured in capability and performance over the years and became an ISO standard by 2007.   Long before it became an ISO standard, it was becoming an ad hoc standard for “portable” documents particularly in the PC and distributed or “open systems” world.  As more development, expertise, optimization and tools for PDF were available, a sea change began to occur.

Technology across a broad front began to promise and then enable a new model of digital delivery rather than just traditional print and mail delivery of customer facing content.  Rather than printstream centric, the new digital delivery model was digital consumer and digitally viewing centric.  Before long, AFP and LCDS/Metacode were joined by PDF as well as HTML and later XML as recognized output formats.  This new generation of output formats was more flexible and dynamic, easier to work with and repurpose and it easily lent itself to more standardization.

The Transactional ECM vendors adopted accommodation strategies initially as an adjunct capability to the dominant printstream model.  Some, like IBM began to invest in enabling and exploiting this new digital presentation medium in their CMOD product with the PDF Indexer.  They continued to build upon this by adding capabilities such as

  • Multiple Iterations of performance enhancements
  • PDF Resource Management like their AFP products for processing and storage efficiencies
  • Adobe PDF Page Piece Dictionary support for even greater performance and storage efficiencies

One significant business problem that is reduced or eliminated by employing a digital presentation model such as PDF involves client viewer technology and administration.  Adobe Reader, Acrobat, etc is pretty much universal now.  Xerox printstream viewing has always been problematic and fraught with peril.  AFP requires a special viewer or browser plugin which then needs to be maintained and distributed across an enterprise to all workstations.  Employing PDF as the presentation medium as either “native” or dynamically transformed at view-time eliminates this vexing operational and administration burden.

With these Adobe and ECM vendor enhancements, PDF has been able to deliver more and more of the promise of better portability, more standardized and higher quality and ubiquitous digital presentation.

PDF is now more dominant in terms of adoption by number of organizations than that of the previous printstream usage.  Because so many large enterprises still produce massive amounts of print, the printstream model has probably still not been eclipsed when counting number of “pages” produced overall.

Who among us has not viewed PDF content from a provider of goods and services – cell phone bill, cable provider bill, banking and financial statements and check images, health payer Explanation of Benefits, etc?  Many of the documents that most consumers view online were either “born PDF” or dynamically transformed from one of the printstreams into PDF on-demand.

At Crawford Technologies, we know AFP, Metacode, PDF and almost any other output format.  Crawford Technologies (CrawfordTech) is a leading provider of both printstream and PDF enabling products and transforms for many years.  I like the analogy of a “swiss army knife” for the many enabling tools that CrawfordTech offers in the Print, digital, ECM and Customer Communication Management (CCM) industries.

CrawfordTech has deep expertise in both the traditional printstream centric model and the PDF digital presentation model, as well as the unique ability to move between them with unparalleled flexibility as business requirements dictate.