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PDF Document Management Trends Among Software Developers

PDF Document Management

While PDFs may not have entirely replaced paper as the format’s creators originally hoped, they have gone a long way toward becoming a universal standard for documents that can be opened and viewed almost anywhere. But while most web applications and software platforms allow users to view PDFs, providing the ability to edit those documents presents a much greater challenge for developers. 

In order to learn more about what software developers need when it comes to PDF document management features, Accusoft conducted a survey of developers across the country about their PDF editing capabilities. The results highlight an ongoing need for flexible PDF integrations with the ability to unlock the potential of today’s innovative applications.

Today’s PDF Capabilities Are Falling Short

There is a sizable disconnect between the PDF features that are available in most applications and what features developers believe would add value. Although 70% of software developers think PDF editing capabilities would enhance their product experience, only 23% of developers currently offer that functionality within their applications. 

Unfortunately, even when software provides PDF editing tools natively, they frequently fall short of user expectations. According to survey responses, every developer whose application offers PDF capabilities expressed that those features are “workable,” but could stand to be improved.

What’s Being Edited?

One of the advantages of the PDF format is its ability to contain many different types of content. Most users are familiar with PDFs that contain fillable forms, but the format can support multiple content layers, which is partly what makes it so practical as a means of distributing and viewing documents. 

For applications that do offer some form of PDF editing, there are a few specific content types that typically need to be manipulated. Tables and other data are usually generated in other formats and simply added to the document for reference, but 33% of developers still believe they should be editable within the application. Graphic heavy content is less critical when it comes to editing, although 17% of respondents think the option to make changes should be available natively.

The biggest area of need, however, is text. Perhaps quite predictably, the ability to edit document text is incredibly important for many end-users, which is why 83% of developers see the text as the top content type in need of editing tools. Text editing isn’t something that only end-users are asking for. Organizations that need to upload or manage content on the back end frequently want advanced capabilities that allow them to edit PDF files directly without having to use a front-end user interface. That’s why 70% of developers expressed the need for PDF editing tools that can handle both approaches to editing.

Unfortunately, editing PDF text is one of those programming challenges that is much more difficult to solve than it initially appears. It’s hardly surprising that 73% of respondents identify editing text within a PDF file as their biggest pain point to solve when it comes to PDF document management.

Implementing PDF Features

Although PDFs have been around since the early 1990s, the specification document that shows developers how to create, read, display, convert, and edit the file format is a dense volume that weighs in at over 900 pages. Learning the nuances of the format and understanding how to build software that manipulates it, is a complex challenge that can take many years to master. The typical software developer working on a new application has rarely spent a lot of time working with the specialized viewing, markup, and conversion technology used to manage PDFs.

Since 73% of software developers rely primarily on their in-house teams to implement new features, PDF capabilities are frequently pushed down on the priority list or take much longer to implement than necessary. Considering how important PDF editing features are to the success of today’s applications, however, there appears to be a troubling disconnect in the way development teams are approaching the problem. 

This disconnect involves a few specific challenges:

Lack of Focus

When a developer decides to address every issue in-house, it can be difficult to prioritize which features should receive the most urgent attention. Since PDF editing is seldom regarded as a core feature of an application, it can be difficult to direct valuable resources toward making necessary improvements. Innovative features that make the application stand out in a crowded market are always going to receive the most attention from the team. Over time, however, this lack of focus can begin to undermine the software’s overall user experience and begin to diminish its value as a product.

Missed Development Deadlines

Every moment a development team spends working on PDF features represents time and resources that are not being spent on an application’s core differentiators. And if less progress is being made on core functionality, there is a good chance that the development process will drag on longer than it should, causing the project to miss deadlines or potentially fail to meet its go-to-market date. Development delays also mean longer test cycles, which can drag the process out even longer. In a worst-case scenario, missed deadlines give competitors more time to bring their applications to market, potentially giving them an insurmountable head start in the rush to gain users.

Lack of Sufficient Skilled Developers

Unless a software team is developing an application specifically for managing PDFs, it’s unlikely that many of those developers will have extensive experience with the unique characteristics of the format. While there are many open-source tools available for viewing and working with PDFs, even those solutions require quite a bit of development work to adapt into a workable integration for commercial software. Hiring a dedicated PDF specialist with the experience to implement those features rarely makes sense due to budget limitations. That means that most of the development work will be handled by people who may be very capable developers, but will have to spend a lot of time and energy learning how to implement a solution from scratch.

Third-Party Integrations

Given all the challenges facing internal software teams, it’s remarkable that only 17% of developers use third-party integrations to implement PDF editing features. Rather than learning how to build PDF capabilities from the ground up, they could instead turn to a proven, secure solution that takes only a short amount of time to deploy and provide a level of functionality that comes from years of dedicated development. A PDF solution provider has already worked out the challenges associated with natively editing documents within an application. They’ve also devoted their resources to improving their document capabilities and expanding features to offer greater flexibility.

More importantly, a good third-party provider also offers extensive support during and after the implementation process. If the developer needs to add a new PDF feature to their application or if they encounter a recurring problem, they can quickly resolve the issue by working with their provider rather than wasting valuable resources trying to identify and fix the problem themselves. That combination of expertise and service means that developers can spend more time focusing on their application’s unique features rather than continuously wrestling with PDF-related challenges.

Enhance Your PDF Capabilities with Accusoft

With more than three decades of experience managing documents and images, Accusoft has been building innovative PDF solutions since the format was first introduced. Whether you need to add flexible front-end viewing and editing features to your application or are looking to add powerful programmatic PDF capabilities into the back end of your software, we provide a wide range of PDF solutions that address multiple development needs.

To learn more about how Accusoft can solve your PDF document management challenges, talk to one of our PDF specialists today and find the integration that works best for your software project.