The answer to the mountains of paper weighing down businesses worldwide is a key part of the digital workforce revolution.

Say hello to the humble PDF. 

Often ignored and generally disrespected, the PDF is gaining new cachet in the enterprise. In just the past three weeks, Adobe, Nuance and Foxit have all upgraded their PDF offerings to make them easier, safer and more secure.

Paper Addicts

Recent research by Fremont, Calif.-based Foxit showed that 92 percent of managers and knowledge workers consider themselves paper document-dependent. This includes 90 percent who say they are dependent on PDF technology to create and distribute documents. Most expect their dependency to continue to increase into the future.

Furthermore, far from decreasing paper use in the office, the research showed that the pace of document creation will either increase (58 percent) or stay the same (33 percent) within their organizations.

None of this is good in a digital world.

“The accelerating pace of digital transformation today has raised consumer expectation to unprecedented levels — and consumers no longer expect to work with paper. Adobe set the standard for secure digital documents over two decades ago with PDF and now the file format is ubiquitous in business,” Jon Perera, vice president of product management for the Adobe Document Cloud told CMSWire.

He said the foundation of Adobe's digital transformation innovation is the PDF — one of the most commonly used formats for electronic documents.

Digital Processes

See that? PDF is effectively linking the cloud, collaboration efforts and document exchange across digital processes.

Talk collaboration and you have to talk security, and PDF vendors have been pretty quick to step up to the mark. Burlington, Mass.-based Nuance, for example, recently released a major upgrade to its PDF technology with PDF2 which provides tools that make it easier to use PDFs in digital processes.

More importantly, it supports Microsoft Active Directory Rights Management Services, so users have access to the most up-to-date security and encryption technologies as well as advanced connections to cloud storage and document management systems.

Taking it globally, this makes PDFs the most widely used document format in the world with vendors in many other business technology spaces looking to convert documents to industry-standard PDF and PDF/A files from a wide range of source file formats.

In the last week, Dropbox simplified workflows and unified workspaces with new document scanning enables mobile app users to capture data anywhere using their smartphone and send that data directly into the Dropbox repository.

“The majority of PDF files are in cloud storage – Dropbox has 18 billion alone. From creatives collaborating on work with clients, to financial statements, health records, and government forms, PDF is the standard for how information is securely captured and exchanged,” Perera added.

Jeffrey Segarra, senior director of imaging product marketing at Nuance, said PDFs also enable digital transformation across the entire enterprise businesses.

“PDF technology impacts digital transformation in two important ways. PDF can reduce or eliminate paper processes in the business workplace. Organizations can use PDF as a communications vehicle, instead of paper, for interactions with customers, vendors and partners,” he said.

“PDF technology can help companies keep digital processes digital — and have those processes not go to paper. Organizations need to tap interactive PDF features, such as fillable forms and hyperlinks that connect PDF files to web content, to lessen the need to print and return to paper.”

The Future of PDFs

The new PDF standard (v2.0) is on the way and with it a number of changes that will pull it and everything that goes with it firmly into the digital age.

“The standard is evolving. In the longer term we will demonstrate to people that there is a lot of life in the PDF standard itself,” Steven Li, CTO of Foxit, told us.

He said by carrying their own identity and by making them communicate at the API level with cloud services, PDFs open innovative new capabilities. In three to five year it will evolve to a state where PDFs will really drive modern collaboration and workflow, he added.

Perera agrees. “PDF documents are becoming more dynamic as people and businesses change the way they work in a 100 percent digital environment. They will carry intelligence with them, whether that be an adaptive form, a digital signature, a multi-faceted design concept or interactive content,” he said.

“Users will have more control over how, when and where they choose to interact with their PDFs across devices. And businesses will be empowered to create digital-first experiences that accelerate workflows and simplify document processes.”

Title image by Brooke Cagle