July 30, 2014

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communications – Part 6 Archiving Standards

In the previous blogs around the Insurance Industry Best Practice for High-Volume Customer Communications series, we discussed an introduction into these best practices, legislative impact on document generation, quality and personalization of customer communications, legislative requirements and trends in archiving. In this post, we are discussing the archiving standards. Please enjoy!

The issue for high volume customer communications has for many years revolved around the formats of information to be captured (examined in earlier blog posts). The quality of customer communications took a significant step forward with sophisticated All Points Addressable (APA) formats like AFP and Metacode and although these formats offer high fidelity printing they are generally unsuitable for archiving for the following reasons.

  • Size of print spool file - print formats generally use a verbose syntax that is more suited to the need for size and speed of processing for the print device rather than being optimised for archival. In particular, print spool files can be very large.
  • Indexing and random access –print files are not usually designed to allow random access i.e. to page 235. Their linear layout makes them unsuitable as an archive standard format because retrieval can be slow.
  • Ease of viewing – although viewing aids exist for many formats they are often proprietary and do not offer sophisticated caching and searching facilities. In addition the size and indexing characteristics of spool files makes them unsuitable for viewing.

In most cases print formats need to be converted to an archive standard format to support retrieval. In the past archival standards have been largely proprietary however new standards have become available since the early 1990’s that support the digital archival of documents.

Some insurers still use print spool files as the archiving format for customer communications. Although these can be used to meet the regulatory requirements it is unlikely that solution is scalable outside of users in the IT department.

Digital Archival Requirements

The use of electronic document creation and archiving practices creates new requirements for digital archiving.

  • Document Authenticity - it must be possible to prove the authenticity of a document, assertions about the contents and origin, such as creator or sender and time of origin.
  • Content/Process Reliability - A system must be in place to ensure the contents of a document are authentic and that it is accurately documenting the transaction or information to which it attests. To this effect, electronic archival capture must be capable directly from the application that original creates the document.
  • Content Security - Archived electronic documents must be stored in a format that offers protection from unauthorized alterations of the document.
  • Persistent Accessibility - Digitally archived documents must maintain a continuous, consistent appearance over time, independent of viewing circumstances. This requires that the format include self-describing information (such as fonts) that can preserve a fixed composition.

Adobe Portable Document Format as a Digital Archival Standards

Adobe were the originators of the PostScript printer language and developed Portable Document Format in the early 1990s as a means by which documents could be viewed on a computer screen much as they could be seen on paper. The idea was popular because it provided a standard way in which documents could be distributed electronically and gained popularity with the rise of the internet. PDF is the first commonly accepted, open-standard solution for digitally preserving and accessing documents PDF is mandated by many government agencies and is the most popular standard for publishing and archiving unstructured data. The vision realized through PDF is a document archival format that retains full fidelity, independent of device or operating system.

In recognition of PDF’s archival attributes and its widespread use, the ISO (international standards organization) is currently in the process of finalizing a digital archival standard around PDF. The body currently reviewing PDF/A specifications is proposing a version of PDF designed specifically to protect archived content.

  • Full Fidelity - Using PDF as the standard format for all content all archival ensures full-fidelity presentment of stored documents. PDF supports a rich set of presentation characteristics that provide a superset of features commonly found in other APA print stream formats. Converting traditional print stream formats into PDF will all full fidelity digital replicas of the original printed document
  • Universal Accessibility - Thanks to the proliferation of Adobe’s free PDF viewer (over 700 million downloads as of Sept 14, 2004), Adobe Reader, and a number of 3rd party PDF viewing applications, accessibility can be extended outside a closed network, across the web to desktop and palmtop computer users. Users can view archived PDF with the confidence that a consistent appearance will be maintained for every user who views a document.
  • Accelerated Retrieval and Scalability - PDF leverages random file access, which is critical for high-volume search and retrieval. Unlike random access, sequential access formats must sequentially parse the entire file until it reaches the data in question. For customers archiving files up to 10 GB in size, the necessity for random access searching becomes clear. This ability allows large reports to be stored in a single PDF instead of bursting documents into individual files. The key advantage is that common resources are shared among many documents (PDF intelligently eliminates redundant object storage and retains these resources within the file). By using single object storage, file systems are spared the overhead of managing individual file objects.
  • Ownership of Open Standard Content - legacy customer communications archiving systems use proprietary formats to access to their content. Proprietary storage requires that the owner of content continue to support the system that created and manages the archive. With PDF, customers can access, manage and transfer their archives independent of any one product or vendor.

Did you miss the previous parts of this Insurance archiving series? Catch up by following the links below:

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communications - Part I Introduction

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communications - Part 2 Legislative Impact on Document Generation

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communiations - Part 3 Quality and Personalization

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communications - Part 4 Legislative Requirements for Archiving

Insurance Industry Best Practice for High Volume Customer Communications - Part 5 Trends in Archiving