The Quality Gate in the digital age – safeguards the quality of your documents

Safeguarding document quality is vital in any business, especially when it comes to sharing documents or digitally archiving them, and specifically if the documents might one day be needed for an audit or a legal issue. The PDF Quality Gate has been developed precisely with this in mind.

Documents that can no longer be opened, are not conform, are rendered incorrectly, or are inadvertently changed due to inadequate protection – these are all common problems faced by companies today.

Most of these issues arise from the fact that businesses don’t just work with documents from internal sources: through dealings with partners, customers, public bodies, and other organizations, they constantly receive new documents that have to be processed.

So how can the integrity, availability and validity of these documents be guaranteed over the entire life cycle? The PDF Quality Gate is a check-in/check-out counter for incoming and outgoing documents in PDF and PDF/A format.

It safeguards the quality of documents on the basis of three questions:

  • Is it a valid PDF document?

  • Does it conform to the PDF/A-ISO standard?

  • Does it comply with corporate guidelines?

  • Initial validation: All documents created outside the company are analyzed and inspected upon receipt (e.g. by email) to determine whether they are suitable for further processing. The system checks that the file displays correctly and that none of the data contained in it is corrupt.

  • Repair: Incorrect PDF creation, manipulation, file transmission errors, system crashes and many other factors can corrupt PDF documents illegible. Document errors are automatically identified and repaired, and lost content is recovered as far as is possible. Harmful and/or non-relevant content, such as video or audio, is removed.

  • Optimization: The resolution, colors and fonts are optimized depending on what the document is to be used for (archiving, web/email, print), in order to minimize the file size.

  • Conversion: All documents that have been checked, repaired, optimized and converted into the PDF/A-2 standard.

  • Signing: The documents are signed for the electronic long-term archive in accordance with the PAdES standard.

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The framework of the PDF Quality Gate can be tailored to your individual requirements.

Automated quality assurance and quality establishment

One of the main challenges in records management is the standardization of documents from different internal and external sources. Generally, document exchange with customers and partners has very limited regulation.

Type and quality of documents in the inbox are determined externally and originate from various sources. There is a need to validate business relevant documents and, if applicable, apply measures to correct them.

The process to achieve an enterprise-wide quality standard, requires a suitable product and technology. Most effective are centralized services that are used by different departments and always yield the same level of quality. This is exactly where the PDF Quality Gate comes into play. Thanks to its modular architecture, individual configurations can be applied for each process in the enterprise.

The main principle remains the same: In a first step it is validated if the document meets the requirements to pass the gate. If not, the second step is to enhance the document so it does meet the requirements. Error handling is defined centrally - for example, if a document is unreadable, or an electronic signature is required, but is missing or invalid.

  • Create – Internally generated documents from the back-office or other applications do not meet the company’s own quality requirements. They are post-processed accordingly.

  • Capture – Documents from multi-channel capturing are standardized. In a single step, an image from a scanner is converted to PDF/A including appropriate image compression and OCR text. E-mails including attachments are converted for post-processing or archiving in the customer’s dossier.

  • Manage – After assembling dossiers from various sources, the documents are optimized for further processing.

  • Deliver – Documents are prepared for safe document exchange. Where necessary, they are electronically signed and time stamped.

  • Preserve – The documents to be archived are validated against the archive guidelines. The validity of the signature is verified. If a signature is missing, a signature for archiving can be applied.

An enterprise’s information resides partially in the heads of its employees and partially in documents and other non-volatile forms. For many enterprises, business documents represent fundamental elements of many processes. Therefore, ensuring long-term document quality in records management by means of an enterprise-wide Quality Gate is of strategic relevance.

Enterprises giving attention to digital transformation are well aware of this. They carefully keep track of the Portable Document Format (PDF), the de facto standard for document-exchange and archiving.

Records, contracts, dossiers, specifications and many more – they all are digitally created, sent and received on a daily basis or are created in a scan-center. They are processed and eventually archived. Some of them are required again at a later time as part of a customer inquiry, a revision, a legal clarification or an audit.

Thanks to a statically placed Quality Gate, unwanted complications can be avoided. The Quality Gate implemented previously ensures compliance with ISO standards and enterprise level principles, such as archiving guidelines.

In contrast to this approach, enterprises which treat documents more as a technical means to an end, find themselves repeatedly in one of the following situations:

  • Availability – An appendix to a contract that was scanned years ago cannot be found. Since it contains neither readable content nor metadata, it is not captured by the indexing service.

  • Usability – An old but still valid specification is visually deformed or partially unreadable because corporate fonts are not embedded and have since changed. Even worse is the case where documents cannot be opened at all, because the password got lost.

  • Integrity – A record has apparently been tampered with, since some of the pages are missing. However, there is no way to retrace or prove it.

  • Authenticity – It is ambiguous who is the author of a document and who signed it off and at what time. All this missing information reduces the evidentiary value of the document. Not engaging in a standardized and methodical handling of documents is costly in the long term. It is not just about compliance and adhering to laws, regulations, arrangements by sector and enterprise guidelines. More significant are the immediate interests of the enterprise towards good data quality and rapid data availability - today and in the future. This is a fundamental prerequisite to reacting to moving customer requirements in the digital age.

Real quality assurance versus pseudo safety

Then, there are products, which additionally validate against ISO 32000 or parts thereof. These are generally professional products and cover a reasonably wide range of documents. But even those, pretty much without exception, reach their limits. This happens when erroneous parts of documents need to be validated, for which ISO 32000 refers to other specifications.

Since that includes fonts and compression algorithms of images – two fundamental elements in PDF, it can potentially occur in any document. Referenced specifications quickly add up to several thousands of pages.

The sheer complexity would result in a validation process on a different level of magnitude. It would follow the spirit and purpose of PDF/A to validate those parts as well, since a document with an embedded corrupted font may have severe visual defects. However, for economical and feasibility reasons, the PDF/A standard does not explicitly demand the validation of referenced specifications. As a consequence, manufacturers are barely even considering making the extra effort.

And then, there is the PDF Quality Gate by PDF Tools AG. It does go the extra mile and validates all aspects of a PDF/A document. The PDF Quality Gate implements the true idea of PDF/A. It validates against PDF/A, PDF and all relevant referred specifications. It even goes one step further and allows for enforcing custom requirements. Examples are an exhaustive list of permitted fonts or types of permitted attachments (PDF/A-2 allows only PDF/A attachments, PDF/A-3 allows all attachments). This enables precise implementation of enterprise-, process- or sector-specific requirements and meeting international standards at the same time.

The Portable Document Format was first published in 1993. From there on, the initial idea of a simple, platform-independent digital piece of paper developed further. It soon offered a wide range of possibilities and met requirements from various sectors.

Due to the depth of the format itself and the diversity of software producers, uncountable documents were created, that did not fit the initial idea of PDF anymore. Many documents were no longer suitable for standard business processes because of their content or quality. This was particularly true for archiving. The need for higher quality was recognized and covered by PDF/A. An ISO standard was created for PDF to avoid dynamic or even malicious content or dependencies from external resources.

PDF/A is a subset of PDF, or more precisely PDF/A-1 (ISO 19005-1) is based on PDF-1.4 and PDF/A-2 (ISO 19005-2) is based on PDF 1.7 (ISO 32000-1). PDF/A describes the delta of what part of the PDF standard is required (e.g. fonts must be embedded) and what is not permitted (e.g. LZW (GIF) compression must not be used). The PDF/A-2 specification is a mere 38 pages. In contrast, the ISO 32000-1 and PDF1.4 specifications are close to 1000 pages.

Different products validate the document quality at different levels of depth. Unfortunately, many process owners and document owners become aware of this and its consequences too late. The majority of PDF/A products, particularly with respect to validation, stick to covering just the 38 pages of the PDF/A aspect. This results in short go-to-market-times of products. At first sight, these products seem to cover one’s needs at very competitive prices. However, any thorough product evaluation will remove it from the short list.

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