From paper to PDF: The evolution of the edit

There are almost as many research studies that show the costs associated with paper-based processes as there are opinions on which Star Wars movie almost ruined the franchise, so we won’t re-hash what’s probably obvious to you by now: get rid of paper in your business and good things happen! However, as paper continues to disappear from modern offices, some still harbor fears of going fully digital for some well-founded reasons. We’ll take a look at how the process of going from “Oops” to “OK” evolved to what it is today – effortless and efficient – with the ability to quickly convert from PDF to Word (and many other formats) in document productivity solutions like Nuance Power PDF.
The history of the edit, from paper to PDF

We’ve come a long way from the secretary pool and Wite-Out™

Picture this: it’s 1980 and you’re in the office late reviewing a contract a colleague typed up on their IBM Selectric typewriter. All the “t”s are crossed, all the “i”s perfectly dotted, but wait – the latest payment terms you expertly negotiated weren’t included. Your options, neither of them ideal, are to open the bottle of Wite-Out on your desk and painstakingly cover the errors using Rembrandt-like precision; or, to fire up the Selectric and re-type the entire contract.

Back then, a complete re-write wouldn’t necessarily have been the end of the world since many companies employed vast teams of administrative assistants, called secretary pools, that were a shared resource for all departments to utilize as needed.  If you were lucky enough to have one of these available, you could probably count on getting your revised contract mailed out by the end of the day, or perhaps a few days later.


Brownie Points

It’s no wonder then, that startups like Apple and computing giants of the era, including DEC, Wang Laboratories and IBM, were working around the clock to develop a solution to this painful process. It was dubbed the word processor. But change is difficult, and was evident in the fact that Apple president Mike Scott had the following memo, titled “YOU ALL BETTER READ THIS”, typed (yes, you read that correctly) and sent to all employees. Here’s an excerpt from the memo that appeared in a 1981 Inc. Magazine article:

"Effective immediately!!  No more typewriters are to be purchased, leased, etc., etc.

Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let’s all use it!

Goal: By 1-1-1981  No typewriters at Apple. (Ken, get rid of the DEC word processor ASAP)

Brownie Points: Typewriter users giving up their machines in favor of Apple II-Apple Writer Systems will get first priority on new Apple high performance systems."

So even though the research was there, and the company had spent millions of dollars and months developing the innovative new Apple II/Apple Writer word processor, many of the company’s employees did not want to get rid of their beloved typewriters. Why should they change? They believed, in their minds, that they had a perfectly good solution with their speedy electric typewriters and an office supply room stocked full of Wite-Out and correction tape.


Early innovations in editing – Liquid Paper

Bette Nesmith Graham never set out to invent Liquid Paper™ correction fluid, she just knew she was frustrated with the frequent edits she had to make in her job as a typist with Texas Bank & Trust. While on the way to work some days, she noticed how sign painters just covered their mistakes with thick, white paint and then continued on with their tasks.  Bette experimented with fast-drying white tempera paint to cover her mistakes, and it worked like a charm.

The rest, as they say, is history. The business went from her garage to Wall Street, and that magical liquid now sells at retailers worldwide for about $400 per gallon! Of course, you can’t purchase a gallon at retail – it’s normally found on shelves for around $2.50 for 22 milliliters.


The paperless (r)evolution

Over the course of the last 40 years, the dream of the paperless office has progressed, but paper is still a key part of many business processes. While Wite-Out is no longer a fixture on the office worker’s desk, you can still expect to see many printed documents scattered about. Thus, we’ve made progress in the digital revolution, but still have ways to go.

At the end of the day, we are all humans and we struggle with change. Change often brings with it more upfront work to learn new technologies and processes. Also, with so many new initiatives introduced yearly, many employees become jaded around which ones will stick and therefore become laggards in adopting new technologies and processes.

However, the time is now where workers should no longer be resistant to change. Technology has developed to a point where digital has far surpassed what workers can achieve with paper and associated tools. The dynamic nature of business requires speed, compliance and security. Paper just doesn’t meet those demands.

One of the more highly leveraged technologies to lead this paperless revolution is PDF software. Think of your own life – how often do you print to paper vs. printing to PDF?  For many of us, PDF is the default “printer”. We here at Nuance have seen from research we’ve conducted that the number one reason for purchasing PDF software is to have the ability to convert PDFs into other formats, like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and a variety of others.


Faithful reproduction of documents in all popular file formats

With powerful document productivity tools like Nuance Power PDF, converting static PDFs into editable Microsoft Word documents is fast and easy.  It faithfully reproduces complex layouts, even those with columns, tables and graphics using Nuance’s leading optical character recognition technology, which is essentially doing the work that the secretary pool from the 1980s would’ve done but in a fraction of the time. In addition from converting from PDF to Word, Power PDF also supports exporting PDFs to Excel, PowerPoint, XPS and WordPerfect.

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Michael Vincent

About Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Nuance Document Imaging's Power PDF and OmniPage OCR products. As the product expert, his goal is to articulate to customers how the capabilities of these products can solve their business problems, while keeping a close eye on the market to ensure Nuance’s products continue to be positioned for success. Before joining Nuance, Michael held various marketing and product management positions with Lexmark and was also a software developer and consultant early in his career. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Management Science from Georgia Tech and an MBA in Marketing and Leadership from Emory University. He grew up an “Army brat” in Germany, and enjoys traveling, a good EPL or Bundesliga soccer match, and coaching his four sons in a variety of sports and other extracurricular activities.