Receiving Deeds in PDF/A Streamlines Public Administration

Michele Piva, Infocamere

When legislation and practice converge, complying with the regulations is simpler. That’s been the case with the deeds that firms deposit with Infocamere, the Italian Chambers of Commerce Companies’ Register. Computer documents from 2009 on have to be produced in PDF/A format. Infocamere carries out systematic compliance checks on them using procedures from callas software, which has been entrusted with the prompt validation of the files sent to the register.

Michele Piva, head of marketing for the document area of the Italian Chambers of Commerce IT department: “We’re dealing with a standard that was already widely in use before the Ministerial Decree (of December 10th 2008 sanctioning the use of PDF/A) came into effect, exactly because it is derived from the PDF which firms had been widely using for some time”.

Leading edge standard

Of the possible candidates for the long-term archiving of electronic documents, PDF/A won out over XPS (XML Paper Specification), TIFF G4 and JPEG. PDF/A was set as the standard ahead of the legislation. Infocamere has invested in it both for the necessity of making available documents that must keep their legal integrity and value over time – considering that the elimination of paper is a must in public administration – and because it considers that, as it is a reinforcement of PDF, the shift over to it could be taken for granted.

And the statistics are indeed showing this: whereas from the beginning of March to the middle of April already 47% of the deeds presented to the Companies’ Register were compliant with the new measures, the documents deposited in the following month and a half achieved a format validation of over 58%.

Looking in particular at company constitution deeds (excluding documents classified as ‘other deeds’), the most frequent file formats received by the Chambers of Commerce from amongst the over 580,000 documents analysed in the period under consideration were in a PDF/A compatible format. And for a good 89 of the 105 different Chambers, the percentage of valid files is over 80%. This shows that the adoption of the PDF/A is being generally and rapidly confirmed over the whole of Italy.

According to the ISO 19005-1 standard, PDF/A offers a mechanism “for representing electronic documents in a manner that preserves their visual appearance over time, independent of the tools and systems used for the creation, memorization and rendering of the files”. In other words, the PDF/A files are self-contained and, since they incorporate the information (content, colour, image, text and so on) necessary to display the document, they do not require any additional data for its correct visualisation. However, exactly on account of this property, the format must exclude certain functions allowed in normal PDF files such as transparency and multimedia content, and cannot include macro-instructions or rely on links to external resources.

The validation check

In order to facilitate the file production operations, Infocamere has chosen the easiest level of compliance to the standard – which corresponds to the sub-category PDF/A-1b, for which no explicit logical structure is needed. Despite this, Infocamere has noted that there are some recurring errors: on the one hand, the poor indexing and aggregation of the deeds attached to the form; on the other hand, the widespread habit of creating a copy of the document which then doesn’t have the original’s representation (and its metadata) and so loses its validity.

It is a common misunderstanding that if a PDF is visualised “in PDF/A form”, this means that the PDF fully complies with the PDF/A standard. This is a source of a widespread error and can happen even with Adobe Reader 9. Thus the only way to ensure adherence to the standard is the validation control.

To check this, it is necessary to use products such as Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro or pdfaPilot from callas software. The alternative is the free service, accessible from the tools section of Infocamere’s WebTelemaco site, which employs the same tool used by the Companies’ Register office and which enables the validation of any document whatsoever supplying the result online, complete with details of any non-conformities encountered.

Negative outcome – rejected form

For the validation procedures, Infocamere has used the server version of pdfaPilot and has developed an application which makes appropriate calls to it, determining the correspondence to the PDF/A-1b specifics. A good number of the people Infocamere works with, from service professionals to notaries and accountants, get a great deal of benefit from the tool on WebTelemaco. And, once Infocamere has received the files, the checks are regularly repeated. If the outcome is negative, the form is rejected.

The management application was created over the space of three months following approval of the Ministerial Decree and required an investment of around 30,000 Euro. This expense has already been repaid by making available a standard that guarantees long-term document validity and integrity: a guarantee of uniformity to a defined standard and, therefore, also of quality. Among the further benefits, apart from the return on investment, is the improvement of cash flow. Compliance to the standard ensures homogeneousness, which is a key element for its subsequent conservation and concession – on payment – to distributors and information agencies who use it for commercial purposes.

About PDF Association

Founded in 2006 as the PDF/A Competence Center, the PDF Association exists to promote the adoption and implementation of International Standards for PDF technology.

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