Anyone working in today’s business world is familiar with items in Portable Document Format (PDF). For years, this format has been commonly used and the acronym well-recognized — and for good reason. PDFs offer a great convenience. According to Wikipedia, the “PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics and other information needed to display it.” PDFs can be taken on the road, read on any device, emailed to other people and easily printed in a readable format. They are cost effective and environmentally friendly, saving print costs and paper. From a business perspective, the fixed layout also offers a certain level of security, knowing that the content is more difficult to alter.
Yes, love for PDFs is no surprise in the business world. That said, the rise of sophisticated BI and analytic tools is changing how organizations operate and communicate. As users demand more and more out of their analytics, the “fixed-layout flat document” starts to appear insufficient, losing its appeal. Today’s users want more than just static documents; they want to interact with the data contained within the documents. Today’s users demand an Analytical Document Format.
Large organizations have to distribute documents to many internal users on a daily basis. For example, think about account management. For a global organization it’s not unusual to have 5000 or more account managers world wide, many of whom are often on the road with limited or no internet access. They visit clients and have to review account details. Frequently they have to scroll through static PDFs, identify facts of interest and jot down calculations on old fashioned notepads. In some cases, custom complex excel sheets have been built to provide the desired interactivity. But those custom applications cost millions of dollars, and they’re prone to errors. An Analytical Document Format would offer businesses all of these important business functions, but without the inconveniences or costs.
The value of interactive analytical documents is not limited to the workplace. They also have extensive applications for personal use. For example, imagine downloading a family’s credit card statements. Perhaps the parents want to filter out work expenses so they can easily send them to their respective accounting departments. Maybe it would be valuable to sort charges to see when and where the family spent the most, to help identify cost saving and budgeting opportunities. Or maybe there’s a need to filter out specific charges to verify the number of transactions. Whatever the requirement, documents that enable this type of flexible interaction have the potential to deliver significantly more value than static PDFs, especially for today’s increasingly tech-savvy consumer.
One may argue that many of these interactive analytic functions are available online, so what advantage would an Analytical Document Format bring? What these documents can deliver that online functions can’t always promise is portability. In fact, it’s the “P” in PDF that makes it so valuable, and that portability is a critical feature of the Analytical Document Format. It guarantees use anywhere – on a train, on a plane, or in a park where there’s no Internet connection. It’s unreasonable to assume that users will always be tapped into a WiFi network. Today’s BI is mobile, and users want access to their analytics data from any location. This gives rise to the need for an Analytical Document Format that offers portability, interactivity, layout and print capabilities.
There’s no doubt that as users become more advanced, the demand for smarter documents will increase. We’ve already started to see the emergence of these types of collateral, and they’re already saving users money, providing more fact based decisions through the organizations, and delivering more meaningful customer experiences. And the market and potential continues to grow. Not only will these documents reduce costs by enabling self-service, paperless interaction, but they will also help drive customer satisfaction up and even boost new customer acquisition. By the year 2020 I predict that the concept of Analytical Document Format will be far more mainstream, and the old reliable PDF will be a thing of the past.