- Provides good controls over PDF content and design
- makes it easy to create complex PDF documents
- supports automated email forwarding to key personnel
- Relatively basic feature set
- requires a disciplined approach from end users
Adobe's PDF (Portable Document Format) is pretty much ubiquitous these days, its main advantage being that PDFs are hard for users to edit, which provides a measure of control over distributed information. PDF also copes well with graphics-rich material, locking it into a layout that reproduces accurately on a wide range of platforms. Finally, Adobe's PDF reader is free, so there's no cost barrier to access (you can download Adobe Reader here).
To create PDFs, you can use Adobe's Acrobat application or the cheaper Nitro PDF Desktop, or simply save directly to PDF from Corel’s WordPerfect (note that this is not possible with the more widely used Microsoft Word). Zetadocs PDF from Equisys is another third-party solution, and it has a number of advantages for businesses: first, it allows multiple documents to be incorporated into a PDF; second, it caters for networked access to source documents; and finally, it can generate single or mail-merged emails.
Zetadocs PDF is built on the premise that document templates for generating PDFs in a networked office can save time, ensure consistency of document production and deliver straightforward PDF creation tools to users. When deployed across an office network, templates and document formats can be centrally created and managed; all that users need to do is select those they require from libraries.
Template generation is a simple matter of pulling different pre-existing elements together, dragging them from their source files, reordering as required, and then saving as a template with a recognisable name. Email rules can be set up for each template, so that, for example, all invoices generated using a particular template are automatically blind-copied to the accounts team.
To create PDFs from your word processor, you simply generate the original text and print to ‘Zetadocs PDF’ rather than your printer. Microsoft Word users can click an automatically installed toolbar icon to run this process. The Zetadocs client then runs, showing your original document in a large central window, and listing pre-prepared stationery and templates in a window to the right of this. These are applied by selecting and dragging, with a thumbnail of the pages of your new multi-part creation shown in a window to the left of your original text.
Microsoft Word users can add elements directly into a document via a drop-down menu. However, you'll need to input the name of each required element into the partial macro that the drop-down menu inserts at the cursor point.
Zetadocs PDF is a reasonably straightforward application, but to be successful it requires good template administration and discipline from users. It's not cheap, ranging from £750 (ex. VAT) for 5 users to £4,995 for 100 users. However, it could prove useful if your business handles a lot of electronic documents -- particularly customer-facing ones -- that would benefit from a consistent look and feel. Note, though, that Microsoft Outlook is required to make the most of its email capabilities.