In the Age of Digital Transformation, Why Are Organizations Still Relying on PDFs?

The Digital Transformation has marked a radical rethinking of how field service organization use technology to do business, as well as what customers expect around the services and products these organizations deliver. Simply “getting by” with outdated technology is not a viable option for any company that wants to stay competitive and profitable.

Despite this rapid digital acceleration, one holdover from the Jurassic period still remains: the PDF.

The PDF is Clunky, Outdated and Frustrating to Use

In a recent article for NN/g, Jakob Nielsen discusses several usability issues of PDFs, calling them “unfit for human consumption” in this digital era. The 7 concerns he identifies as problematic are:

  1. Linear and limiting: PDFs are typically converted documents that were intended to be printed and were created in print-focused programs like Microsoft Word. Because of this, PDFs usually askew digital best practices around UX or accessibility.
  2. Jarring user experience: There is no denying that PDFs are outdated and clunky. This is even more true for the millennial user who has grown up viewing information on web browsers and mobile devices.
  3. Slow to load: PDFs can take a painfully long time to load, particularly if they’re large files with many pages or images (I’m looking at you, service manuals). Additionally, users can face extra charges if they are forced to download those hefty PDF using data instead of Wi-Fi.
  4. Stuffed with fluff: The creators of PDFs tend to favor quantity over quality. Because they aren’t designed with the same mindset as, say, a web page, they lack the substance that makes digital formats easier to read such as bullets, subheadlines, anchor links, and chunking. This makes it much harder to skim a PDF to look for the information that the user needs.
  5. Cause disorientation: Unlike digital platforms, PDFs lack standard interface elements and navigation tools like floating menus or return/back buttons. Users to struggle to stay oriented with where they are or return to previously visited places, preventing them from navigating through the content with speed or ease.
  6. Unnavigable content masses: PDF users have no quick way of understanding the type of content available in the PDF or getting to the interesting section without scrolling through everything that comes before them. Posters of PDFs mistakenly think that a clickable table of contents will solve this issue, but it doesn’t. Users still have to spend time and effort scanning the table of contents for relevant keywords, hoping that it’s a match. Of course, if users jump to a section of a PDF, only to find it doesn’t contain the information they were looking for, they are then forced to scroll 75-pages back up to the table of contents and try again.
  7. Sized for paper, not screens: As discussed before, PDF layouts are almost always optimized for a printed sheet of paper, so they rarely ever align with mobile devices. Unfortunately, mobile devices are where field service technicians tend to view most of their technical and servicing information. This means a lot of scrolling through a lot of tiny, unreadable fonts, pinching, zooming, and squinting until they find the information they need.

The PDF is Not Fit for Field Service

All of this adds up to one thing: your field service technicians hate the PDF. It makes your workers less efficient, less accurate and more stressed out. The inability to navigate PDFs means finding information is more challenging and time consuming. This leads to failed KPIs, customer dissatisfaction and higher churn rates among your workers.

Unfortunately, organizations still incorrectly assume that posting a PDF online is faster and easier than creating a more accessible way of publishing and disseminating information. Of course, who can blame them? Creating an efficient digital knowledge solution requires a blend of expertise, experience and technology that few organizations possess.

Plus, once its launched, the knowledge will need to be regularly updated and optimized to ensure field service technicians are not working with outdated, inaccurate data. What is the point of saving your field service department time and money by converting to a digital knowledge solution if you’re just going to put it all back into creating and maintaining the same solution?

This is why investing in a provider that has experience in transforming your existing PDFs and other disparate knowledge into a useable, efficient, mobile knowledge solution is the best option. It will save your organization a lot money, stress and wasted resources, while also delivering the accelerated digital transformation you need to stay competitive.

Field Service Technicians Need More Than “Good Enough”

For far too long, organizations have taken the “good enough” approach to knowledge management. Expecting your field service technicians to scroll through hundreds of pages of PDFs to locate important – even critical – information wasn’t ideal, but it was “good enough”.

However, the pressures of an aging workforce, shifting customer expectations and operating in a post-pandemic world have rapidly accelerated the digital transformation. Whether or not organizations continue to take the “good enough” approach will be the different between sinking and swimming.

Bottom line: it’s time to ditch the PDFs for a knowledge solution that works with your mobile workers, not against them.