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By Mark Roosevelt

Long before social media began to take over the world, “Can you send me a PDF of it?” began making serious inroads into replacing the phrase “Can you fax it to me?” Adobe has done a fabulous job of making their PDF technology an integral part of our lives. Many corporations base their workflow on PDF-based data entry, either by an employee or a customer. For example, when I recently applied for an insurance policy, I sat down with my insurance agent and together we completed several PDFs. The process was much less involved than before, as the PDF-centric application filled in the many repeated fields on several (formerly paper) forms, including digital signature capture. So, if you’re in an industry that is heavily regulated (e.g. healthcare, government) and/or requires a great deal of documentation meeting very specific guidelines (e.g. shipping), PDF is a logical choice to get things to look exactly the way you (or a government agency) want it to.

When viewed from this perspective, you kind of have to wonder why an enterprise-grade collaboration platform like Lotus Notes and Domino doesn’t play nice with PDF. Newbie administrators and developers quickly learn that getting Notes to print something that you’d feel good about putting in front of a customer requires some freak of nature involving the alignment of multiple planets. You can play with printer drivers, spend a small fortune on custom programming, event resort to outputting to HTML and then printing (which presents its own set of challenges), but if you’re a veteran IT support staffer you’re still left amazed by a result that rivals a circa 1985 dot-matrix printer in quality . Oh, and 72 or 96 dpi — screen resolution — really does look very nice on paper.

Should you happen to succeed and produce PDF output that you’re proud of, the next hurdle to overcome is deployment of your solution. If your solution required a significant amount of programming (e.g. Java), you’ve created a maintenance headache. If you found a canned solution you like, you’ll then need to justify the cost of the additional end-user software installs and/or additional servers many require.

Having had the pleasure of exercising my creative programming skills in a vain attempt to achieve PDF nirvana, I was pretty excited when I was asked to take a look at a product that is designed to address many of these issues while minimizing the effort to do so. The application — PDF Integrator for Notes, or PIN — is a native Notes plugin developed and marketed by Anderson Technical Services. It requires no infrastructure changes (servers or clients), has a minimal impact on application end-users and requires minimal coding to generate PDFs from one or more Notes documents in multiple databases. The icing on the cake: You can use its API to call it from agents, too!

So, how does it work, and is it as easy as advertised?

After installing PIN on your Domino server, you can jump straight into integrating PIN into an application by walking through a tabbed Notes application. To do so, you:
1) select the PDF to be used to format the output
2) specify the destination director(ies) and naming patterns for output PDF(s)
3) specify Databases, Views and Forms to be included
4) for each View, specify the key to be used and map Notes Form fields, Formulas and/or static text to PDF fields
5) link the Notes Forms/Views to each other if more than one is used
6) add a menu item to the form from which the PDF output is launched

Adding the menu button is child’s play for a seasoned Notes developer: Paste 20 or so lines of code into the menu item Action and edit three of them to contain the proper PIN database name, PIN profile name and document key.  For my test this whole process took less than 2 hours on the form I made PDF-ready.

The product has several modules, including ones that allow a Notes database to be updated from a completed PDF (data flow in either direction), integrate PIN into scheduled agents and accessed from a browser-based Notes application. For regulated industries, PIN will be an invaluable tool for the myriad of PDF forms that need to be submitted to government agencies, clients, claims and more.  Pricing starts at $4,995 per Domino server. Having walked through a demo or two with quite complex combinations of input and output, I think with the potential hard-dollar savings in lower developer costs and less data (re)entry, plus the less-easily quantified gains from fewer errors and improved customer service that PIN will pay for itself quite quickly…bringing new meaning to the term “pin money.”

PDF Integrator for Notes website

Watch Video demos about PIN for Notes

About the author
Mark is a 30-year IT veteran with experience in a wide variety of IT disciplines, from sales and marketing to cloud computing architecture,  systems security and complex systems migrations and project management. He’s spoken all over the world on a variety of technology topics, and the consulting firm he co-founded in 1997, Roosevelt Associates, Inc., advises SMBs on IT deployment strategies and best practices. You can follow him on Twitter (@markar00), read his blog (cloudbursts.info), e-mail him directly (mark@raitc.com) or learn more about him on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/mroosevelt).

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