The Debeka Group is one of the five biggest players in the insurance and building-society savings sector in Germany, offering a wide range of insurance and financial services.

Now, the group is introducing a central document conversion solution which will process emails and their attachments as they are readied for long-term archiving. Debeka uses PDF/A as its chosen file format. Every day, it now converts an average of approximately 2,400 emails and their associated attachments into the ISO standard for document archiving. Longer-term, Debeka plans to expand the solution step by step to cover additional archiving processes. In total, the group expects that by the final phase, it will need to convert 300,000 to 400,000 documents into PDF/A every day.

Since 2007, Debeka has used jadice server from levigo to manage incoming conversion requests. This is a Java-based platform with centralized document processing components. Debeka integrated a wide range of solutions into this platform to convert documents into PDF, PDF/A or TIFF format, depending on the specific use case.

Originally, Debeka operated OpenOffice and LibreOffice in server mode for this purpose. “Under this process, we had to accept that the converted documents would not fully comply with the PDF/A standard,” explains Manfred Hardt, a document management consultant in Debeka’s head office. “Aside from that, we also regularly saw various recurring instabilities. We therefore started looking for a reliable solution that could deliver documents that fully complied with the PDF/A standard.” In its search for just such a solution, Debeka came across pdfaPilot from callas software. pdfaPilot is based on the same technology used by Adobe in Acrobat. It offers users a wide range of options for processing PDFs. After Debeka decided to implement pdfaPilot, levigo integrated the associated software development kit into Debeka's jadice server.

Users in each individual department are responsible for deciding which documents to convert to PDF or PDF/A. To this end, the company’s groupware offers “Send email to archive” and “Prepare for display as PDF” functions. If there is a need to first agree documents with other parties, for instance, a traditional PDF file is perfectly sufficient. Only once the document is actually ready for archiving is it then converted to PDF/A. In order to achieve this, the jadice server receives a request to generate a PDF/A file.

pdfaPilot then performs the conversion itself in the background. “We are now ready to switch our entire IT infrastructure to a service-oriented architecture,” says Manfred Hardt. Acting as a kind of monitor before the archiving step, pdfaPilot checks whether documents meet the PDF/A standard and performs any necessary changes or conversion. Michael Karbe, Managing Director at Actino Software—Debeka’s implementation partner—says, “Debeka now uses the PDF/A-1b format, which also ensures that documents can be read by absolutely any system. However, it always has the option of using PDF/A-2 in future, in order to minimize the size of the archived files using the compression functionality integrated into this standard.”

The new service is also used to sample files produced by other PDF/A conversion solutions that Debeka sometimes uses in specific cases, to make sure that these solutions are working reliably. For example, documents coming from Output Management are converted very effectively to PDF/A using its department-specific solution. “While it was theoretically possible to join up our own conversion solution here, it would have unnecessarily broken up the functional architecture of the system in question,” says Mr Hardt. “Ultimately it would not have added any extra value.” However, because the documents created by this solution are still checked by the levigo/callas conversion solution, Debeka still gets extra assurance that these conversions are similarly clean and standard-compliant.

Based on its early experiences, which have been significantly better than those with previous software solutions, Debeka is also planning to use pdfaPilot for other purposes. “Together with Actino Software, we are looking into automatically deleting our company’s internal metadata from documents,” says Manfred Hardt. “After all, we must never hand over sensitive data like employee IDs, phone numbers or other details to third parties.”

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