Digital transformation; How to make PDF searchable and GDPR compliant

“Going Paperless” is a frequently encountered buzzword in the era of digital transformation. An important aspect of this is archiving. In the course of progressive digitization, organizations are thus faced with the question of the extent to which documents can be digitally archived and whether physical archiving can be dispensed with altogether.

There are also other questions that arise in the archiving process. For example, how it is possible to ensure that digital documents still comply with legal requirements. In addition, the documents should be searchable in electronic form so that information can be consulted and retrieved with the least possible effort. In the following, I will explain to you which file formats are suitable for archiving and how they can be made both searchable and compliant with data protection regulations.

PDF/A: Standard for electronic archiving of business documents

The PDF/A file format is best suited for archiving, whereby the A also stands for archiving. It is an ISO-standardized format that was developed especially for archiving digital documents. PDF/A was published in 2005 and since then several extensions of the standard have been developed and published. There are now three standards, with PDF/A-4 expected to be released in 2020. The standards PDF/A-1 to PDF/A-3 each still have different levels of conformity. You can read about the characteristics of the respective standards and their conformity levels here.

What makes PDF/A the best file format for archieving

Compared to the normal PDF format, the PDF/A format offers some significant advantages that make it a better solution for long-term archiving of electronic documents. PDF/A is not without reason a widely used file format that is used for archiving in many industries.

As mentioned at the beginning, it is important that archived documents are searchable. This is the only way to retrieve information quickly without having to spend many times the manual work involved in finding the right document. Also data extracted with OCR remains searchable. This means that both the text extracted with OCR and any scanned images are saved in PDF/A format and are then searchable.

If a paperless company is what you aim for, then of course it must also be ensured that the digital documents do not require too much storage space. This is another advantage of PDF files. Because they can be made quite compact thanks to a good data structure and very efficient compression algorithms. If you want to find out more about this, you’d best read on here.

As mentioned before, there are the standards PDF/A-1 to PDF/A-3, which have been developed over the years. They are all valid and compatible with each other. In other words, if a few years ago the PDF/A-2 standard was still used for archiving and has now been changed to PDF/A-3, then the previously archived documents do not need to be migrated. The ISO committee cannot withdraw an older standard, which means that you will not lose any data not will they become incompatible. So with PDF/A you have a secure and always valid solution for archiving.

In combination with digital signatures, PDF/A also offers optimum legal security. This combination ensures that PDF/A documents cannot be modified and is therefore ideally suited for long-term archiving.

Data protection compliance thanks to PDF/A

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) published in May 2018 is a European Union (EU) regulation that aims to harmonize the rules for processing personal data. You can find out exactly which provisions make up the GDPR here.

Since Switzerland is not part of the EU, the GDPR only applies if you process personal data of natural persons who are in the EU and if the processing serves this purpose:

  • to offer these persons goods or services (against payment or free of charge), or
  • to prosecute the conduct of such persons, provided that such conduct takes place in the Member States of the EU

But thanks to the PDF/A format, this should not be a problem. If you may already have stored data and do not know it, this can be problematic if the data has not been digitally archived and is therefore not electronically searchable.

This is why it is so important that you use searchable PDF/A files for archiving, because they can be easily combined with automated anonymization. GDPR should therefore no longer be a problem for you and your data can be archived in the future without any problems in compliance with data protection regulations.

How to create PDF/A files

With all these advantages, the only question that remains is how to create a PDF/A file. Of course this can be done with Microsoft Word if only a few files need to be created. However, if a large number of files are involved, this quickly becomes time-consuming and complex.

Parashift can take over this process for you and convert any images, scans and PDFs into searchable and privacy-compliant PDF/A files that are ideal for archiving purposes. Of course, this is only in addition to the actual core business: structured data extraction.

You can find out exactly how this works for yourself. To do this, simply register for a test account using the banner below, where you can then process documents from purchasing such as orders, delivery bills, invoices, etc. directly without any configuration. And if you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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