Saving Digital Documents for Decades – What You Need to Know About PDF/A


Businesses are getting rid of filing cabinets and opting for better security and search-ability with PDFs. Businesses are forgoing traditional archiving formats, such as microfilm and paper, and are increasingly opting for electronic formats to store valuable information securely.

Why? Digital storage makes retrieval faster and is often less costly. As a larger portion of documents are “born digital” it also makes less and less sense to print those documents for long-term archival or records management needs.

That's were PDF/A comes in. The PDF/A file format is an archival format that makes storage and accessibility flexible and convenient. A PDF/A is an archival Portable Document Format (PDF) that is designed for preserving and archiving electronic documents for long-term use.

This unalterable file format maximizes self-containment, device independence, and self-documentation and comes in several versions, including the most common versions, PDF/A-1a (accessible) and PDF/ A-1b (basic). This standardized file format offers several benefits you can leverage, too. Here's what you need to know.

You Can Optimize Your File

Unlike TIFF file formats, which treat all electronic files the same way, you can optimize electronic documents saved using a PDF/A format so that it treats the file as structured data that is extracted or as an image file. For example, you can have the file format optimized to facilitate voucher information or set it up so that it supports scanned checks. Because PDF/A files are required to be self-contained, they can be accessed and displayed years later in their original format even when using a different software program since all the necessary data is embedded within the file.

If you've ever tried to open an old word processing file using the latest version of Word, you understand why it's beneficial to have the file carry the code within it so that it can be opened and viewed without alterations to the document itself.

It Cuts Out the Need for Manual Searches

Searching for information in a pile of paper is laborious and takes up time. But with a PDF/A file, you can store information, such as keywords or the author of an electronic document, and set it up for automatic classification based on the preferred metadata. This helps you save time when you're conducting an extensive search and takes out the need for an employee to search for information manually.

Requires a Small File Size

When you save important documents as a PDF/A file, you don't need as much memory as traditional PDF files or TIFF files. With a PDF/A file, you can also maintain the quality of your document while only using a small percentage of memory. This makes it ideal for adding documents as an attachment to emails without taking up large amounts of storage space. Keeping an electronic copy of important documents also helps your business stay in compliance with local and federal document management laws and company policies, such as financial documents or health records that require archival formats. The unalterable nature of the PDF/A format also contributes to records management and compliance requirements.

Final Thoughts

Preserving electronic documents calls for going beyond saving valuable and sensitive information as traditional PDF files or TIFF files. When you use PDF/A formats, you can securely store important documents in a format that supports compliance and long-term preservation.

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About The Author

Lane focuses on fixing businesses broken business processes. He is Advanced Systems Document Management Director. What does document management actually look like? Watch this free demo to find  out.