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Document Flow

Most documents are designed to disseminate information or knowledge, other than the few spreadsheets we use purely for calculation or evaluation purposes. However, even those spreadsheets generally result in a few graphs or tables that will be sha...


October 1, 2004
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Most documents are designed to disseminate information or knowledge, other than the few spreadsheets we use purely for calculation or evaluation purposes. However, even those spreadsheets generally result in a few graphs or tables that will be shared with others. So how do we get these documents to others? In days gone by, we would print them and distribute photocopies to everyone. With the advent of computers at every desk and ubiquitous email, people were able to send the original files to the interested parties. This gives rise to several problems:

Some of these files are HUGE! Including a few small photos in a report can bloat it to 10’s of Mb. Even with compression this is too large for most email systems.

One person uses Office XP, another uses Office 97, while still another uses Corel Office Suite. Even when two people use the same software, formatting can mysteriously change when one opens another’s file. Graphs move, photos disappear, fonts and formatting change — sometimes the recipient cannot even tell what the original intention was.

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As a file is passed along, different people make changes, according to their own ideas. What was the original information or layout?

Security can be an issue for sensitive information, and it is so easy for an errant keystroke to send a confidential document astray — usually to the last person to whom you want it to go…

Fortunately, there is a solution to these problems — print your file as a pdf. Adobe has created the ‘portable document format’ or pdf which preserves the formatting regardless of the machine used for viewing. It allows comments to be added without changing that formatting, and provides security to prevent unauthorized viewing or editing. In addition, it does all this while shrinking the document sometimes by 70% or more. The Adobe program is called ‘Acrobat’ and allows you to convert any files you could normally print. It also allows you to set the security to restrict who can view, copy, edit or print your document. Adobe acts as a ‘print driver’ — the same type of program that allows you to print documents normally to a conventional printer. Once installed, it appears as another printer in the normal list accessible from any program and, depending upon the type of program, may add a toolbar or menu options. Many Web documents are only available as pdf’s, to take advantage of their compact size and the other features mentioned above.

So how do you read a pdf? The beauty is that the reader — called Adobe Reader — is available as a free download. It is one of those great programs that install smoothly, and do not interfere or conflict with other programs. It runs on almost any type of computer with almost any type of operating system, with versions available for even Palm and WinCE devices. If the recipient of the pdf file does not have Adobe Reader, it is available as a free download from the Web. Websites that have pdf files for download usually have a link to download Adobe Reader as well.

How do you make use of this in a business environment:

An internal report can be produced and printed as a pdf, just as a paper copy would be. Distribution via email is simple and cheap. Recipients will see the report as you had intended, and will have the option of printing it or forwarding it to other recipients.

Create a form, which permits text entry only into the appropriate fields. It can be filled out on the screen or printed and filled out by hand.

A sensitive internal document can be secured with a password before distribution. The password can be sent via a separate email, so that even if the document goes astray no one else can read it. The latest version of Adobe uses 128-bit encryption — which means it is very secure. Just remember not to include the password in the same email as the document….

You need to distribute several documents — whether on a website, via CD or other means. As a pdf, the document sizes are much smaller — an important consideration particularly for posting on the Web. Also, you can limit how these documents can be used, by restricting it to viewing only, or preventing printing or even copying of excerpts.

You want to distribute a document for review only to one group, but for comments and editing to others. By creating certificates, you can control the type of access for any individual.

So the use of pdf’s afford close control of your documents while shrinking their size and ensuring that the recipients see the document as you had intended. Pretty good combination of features in one program!

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com