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About the contributor
Duff Johnson

A veteran of the electronic document space, Duff Johnson is an independent consultant, Executive Director of the PDF Association and ISO Project co-Leader (and US TAG chair) for ISO 32000 and ISO 14289.
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PDF/A Competence Center at ARMA Conference & Exposition


Scenes from ARMA 2011ARMA International, the professional association for records-managers, held its 56th annual conference and exposition at the Gaylord National Hotel near Washington DC over October 17th and 18th. The PDF Association’s PDF/A Competence Center booth was there to educate vendors and attendees alike on the value of PDF/A in records management and of International Standards for PDF in general.

Staffing the PDF Association’s booth was Duff Johnson, Vice-Chair of the PDF Association and Jeff Howcroft of NetCentric, a partner member of the PDF Association.

Over the course of two days we spoke with dozens of records-management professionals and vendors and learned a few details of interest to PDF Association members.

  • Awareness of PDF/A is widespread in both government and the private sector. The subject arose several times during ARMA’s educational sessions; attendees visited our booth to learn more.
  • Government agencies are looking to International Standards in general as a guide to their technology procurement.
  • The overwhelming majority of attendees stated that they were either already implementing PDF/A or had near-term plans to do so.

Of the questions we received at the booth the following came up several times or were otherwise of note:

  • Is PDF/A a means of making a file unalterable?
  • How can “PDF/A mode” be deactivated in Adobe Reader and Acrobat?
  • Why can’t I add notes to a PDF/A file as I can to all other PDFs?
  • What’s the relationship between PDF/A and digital signatures, and how can both features be accommodated in a document retention workflow?
  • Do I need PDF/A-1 or PDF/A-2?
  • Do I need to worry about the conformance levels?
  • Are wingdings, webdings and other “symbol fonts” permitted in PDF/A?

The greatest problem encountered with PDF/A was the inability (in some implementations) to alter a document marked as complying with ISO 19005. This “feature” was regarded as an unwanted interference in document management workflows. A typical comment: “Why does PDF/A lock the document? What if I need to replace a page?”

Key Observations

  • The “read only” aspect of Acrobat’s “PDF/A Mode” was raised several times, with some booth visitors noting that it made editing cumbersome.
  • Workflows that combine PDF/A and digital signatures are of great interest to records-managers, but require substantial explanation.
  • Conformance Level U is of great interest to records-managers. Once explained, most attendees tended to regard this conformance level (newly introduced in ISO 19005-2) as vital. Some were shocked that the ability to reliably extract text was not included in the conformance level B software they have or plan to acquire.

Tags: ARMA, records management
Categories: Archives & Libraries, Digital Signatures, Government, Legal, PDF/A