Free isn’t Free: Beware the Hidden Costs of Commoditized Document to PDF Conversion Software

July 8, 2019

6 minute read

The image shows many hands reaching towards a sign that says free.

Across all walks of life, commoditization continues to accelerate. In an effort to retain market share and compete with nimble start-ups, brands are selling increasingly cheap and basic/stripped down solutions. And while these commoditized offerings may be positioned as less expensive or even free, they can end up costing a lot more than you bargained for.

Whether it’s document to PDF conversion software, BI tools or a suite of accounting management programs, the switch from fulsome solutions to lesser-quality, free replacements is saddled with threats. From switching costs to custom integrations, added maintenance and manual work-arounds—the issues associated with free software are bound to lead to operational disruptions. What’s more, the price to rectify these issues and build up a “free” solution to something that can withstand the rigors of your enterprise will quickly add up.

Not all of these costs are outlined prior to implementing a commodity tech solution, so here’s a deeper dive on what may be lurking behind the promise of “free” offerings.

A Primer on Document to PDF Commoditization

The image explains commoditization in the tech sector.

The image explains commoditization in the tech sector.

With document to PDF solutions, for example, OpenText Documentum customers once relied on embedded enterprise services to deliver automated, high-fidelity document conversion. Today, newer versions of OpenText come with Blazon – a free, commoditized conversion offering. But what happens when this baseline solution compromises document quality, supports fewer formats and has no failover in place? The impact to operations could be steep – and expensive.

While “free” document conversion software holds the promise of being cost-effective, this often comes coupled with compromises to overall quality and value, in addition to a whole host of other hidden costs just to implement the new solution in the first place.

The Hidden Costs of Adopting Commoditized Document Conversion Software

When adopting a commodity solution, some of the pre-implementation costs are well known, such as:

  • The initial purchase price (unless the software is completely “free”).
  • The costs related to doing a thorough discovery on the processes that will be impacted by a new solution.
  • Any vendor fees for testing and validating the software in your enterprise setting.

But when you contrast commodity solutions with their more robust, enterprise counterparts it’s not the same as comparing apples to apples. Businesses cannot simply rip and replace one solution for another without considering the added costs associated with the switch, including:

The image lists some of the added costs associated with free software solutions.

The image lists some of the added costs associated with free software solutions.

1. Re-training

The need for retraining on any new technology solution is sizable but often overlooked. At first glance, many free solutions for converting to PDF appear to have similar functionality to their enterprise counterparts—in the same way that most people switching from Windows to Mac could probably figure out the basics of the new operating system. This can lead companies to assume that adoption of a commodity document to PDF solution won’t require training.

Relying on self-directed learning will produce varying degrees of proficiency across the user-base, resulting in variances in the quality and quantity of outputs, and causing a potentially costly decrease in overall effectiveness.

Retraining helps avoid those pitfalls—but has its own costs. The planning and execution of the training takes time and resources, and in some cases may create delays in business processes and add to the difficulty of implementation. And, the costs of retraining are multiplied when you consider that it tends to ripple outwards from system administrators to infrastructure specialists and all of the front-line workers who will use the software as well.

2. Change Management

If not properly managed, the transition to new document conversion software can disrupt operations, reduce efficiencies and negatively affect staff.

Workflows for converting to PDF can be especially disrupted during the transition phase, where both solutions are in use while the old one is phased out and the new one introduced. Managing these transitions requires a plan to ensure alignment across different departments. For example, if a Life Sciences organization is using two different systems to generate PDFs for an FDA submission, they need to define a seamless process for transitioning from one system to the other because any hiccups in creating these PDFs will come coupled with a hefty price tag in missed revenue.

In addition, commodity document to PDF software solutions typically support fewer input formats and generate a lower-quality output. So a change management plan would also need to address costs for additional team labour when documents need to be manually reworked because the “free” solution cannot generate a high-quality output or doesn’t support a specific input format.

3. Implementation

The actual implementation of a new technology for converting to PDF will further create a cascade of enterprise-wide ripples and costs when teams area ready to deploy it across the enterprise. In the OpenText example, businesses already have a PDF conversion solution in place, but discontinuing that solution and implementing the commodity version will unfurl waves of hidden investments, including:

  • The cost to replace the former system.
  • Cost to integrate with existing ECM platforms and business systems.
  • Impact on internal customer Service Level Agreements (SLAs) due to changes in support agreements.
  • Costs to purchase, integrate, test, deploy and maintain additional third party tools required to fill capability gaps.

4. Re-validation of Technology

Revalidation is the process by which a new solution is tested against a company’s future technology plans. It’s often is handled by a cross-functional team looking at how the solution will perform two to five years down the road, by comparing its capabilities against business needs and technology plans.

The image explains the importance of re-validation when implementing new software.

The image explains the importance of re-validation when implementing new software.

For example, engineering firms rely on PDF conversion solutions with high accuracy so that CAD design projects can be shared efficiently with their stakeholders while maintaining the detailed integrity of the original design. Today, a firm may be relying on the built-in capabilities of Blazon to convert their design files right from Documentum, but this functionality may be short-lived if the conversion software isn’t compatible with SharePoint, FileNet or another ECM solution that they switch to in the future.

Revalidation of a document to PDF solution should also address enterprise requirements with regards to document quality, job management and accuracy – just to name a few. If ignored, low-quality, commodity solutions can cripple critical operations, causing companies to scramble and re-invest in enterprise-grade PDF conversion software that will perform at a level they previously enjoyed.

Wrap up

In most situations, the unanticipated costs of switching to a “free” commoditized technology solution for converting to PDF are far higher than expected, and typically outweigh the outright investment into a more robust solution. Organizations contemplating such a transition can avoid pitfalls to efficiency and expenses by paying close attention to, not just the purchase price, but the sometimes hidden costs, like retaining, change management and revalidation. In the case of adopting commoditized solutions, it really is a case of “buyer beware.”

The good news is you can avoid these risks and ensure your organization continues to receive industry-leading document conversion solutions from Adlib, which can be used across various ECM systems and environments, including OpenText™. Contact us to get started.

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