Ode to a Document

Do you work in the document industry? Ever try to explain your job to friends and relatives outside the document business? It’s not easy. Most people don’t understand what it takes to produce and deliver the documents they rely upon to do business and correspond. But they asked what you do, and so you patiently explain. After they finally grasp a general idea about your profession, many of your acquaintances will make a comment about how the world is going all digital and isn’t it too bad that your industry must be disappearing… In honor of all those who have had these conversations, we offer a short poem.

Ode to a Document

Documents are the universal tool for communicating to anyone and everyone. They are often the first impression and constant touchpoint to our coworkers, customers, vendors, and partners. They are not limited to the traditional print device or fax server as they were in the past. They can be presented in our beloved PDF, a Portable Document Format. A term that is often underestimated. It remains our collective tool, displayed on nearly any device, with consistency and accuracy, including a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or large monitor. It can be posted online, emailed, archived, and yes… even printed. So, Documents are not going away; they are just evolving. But remain a critical vehicle for nearly every business process.

Documents Still Important

The digital revolution to which our friends refer couldn’t be happening without documents. Yes, it’s true that many documents today are not printed. Many times, paper may not even be one of the output choices we have. Some documents are never printed. But they are still documents. All the work required to gather data, format pages, and generate documents must still be done. What we know about non-verbal communication between people or organizations we and our predecessors in the document industry learned while working with paper documents. The final form or method of transmission matters little if document originators ignore basic document composition tenets such as document organization, readability, and relevance. Business communications should be clear, concise, and actionable. Document industry professionals make them so. They use tools such as DocOrigin to create documents that meet the needs of their organizations.

A Legal Record

One of the best things about documents is they establish conditions at a fixed point in time. Regardless of subsequent mergers and acquisitions, branding updates, and product upgrades, we expect some documents to remain unchanged once we create them. Should these documents be subject to discovery in a legal action that occurs years after the original creation date, they must be produced as they originally appeared. Organizations often accomplish this feat with document archives full of PDF files or even page images like TIFF and JPG. All the electronic document archives are based on print-related technology. Obviously, storing raw data and then reproducing the documents on-demand would be less expensive and require far less digital storage space. However, producing an exact replica originally created with long-obsolete software and resources would be impossible. Such a method would not satisfy the requirements in a court of law.

Sometimes, You Still Have to Print

Even though documents are evolving beyond the constraints of ink or toner on paper, a need for the “old school print” remains. Not everyone has a computer or other internet-connected device they can use to receive, sign, send, or create electronic documents. As we found when COVID-19 closed the schools, 50% of the schoolchildren in the USA did not have access to the resources required for online learning. Printed pages were the only way to continue to provide education while school buildings were shuttered. The same problem occurs in rural areas that don’t offer residents the reliable high-speed internet connections required for applications such as video conferencing. Some organizations who embraced digital transformation strategies found they still needed to generate paper documents. HTML5 is a wonderful, adaptive way to present data, but it’s not designed for printing. Should documents such as airline tickets or car rental agreements need to be printed as part of a transaction, these companies had to construct the documents in a more traditional fashion.

Print May Be Diminishing, But Documents Evolve

Explaining your role in document creation or distribution may never be simple. But the next time someone tells you that print is fading away, you can remind them of all the ways documents contribute to society — printed or not.