PDF vs. Excel—Does a PDF Really Secure Your Data?

I recently presented to a Dynamics GP user group on SSRS. It was a very interactive session with lots of questions. (Which was great. I hate when people just sit and nod.) One particular discussion was about the merits of delivering data in Excel vs. PDF. Some folks thought PDFs were more secure because people couldn’t manipulate the data as they can with Excel. Others said their users wanted data in Excel and, therefore, they got it in Excel.

From my perspective, there’s no difference. Why? Because any well-formatted PDF can be turned into Excel in about two minutes using Adobe’s own tool.

For example, let’s take the PDF below. It was created by SSRS over the Microsoft AdventureWorks database.

Can I turn this PDF into an Excel document? Well, if I cut and paste; I get strange results. But with Adobe’s Export PDF service, which they push right in Adobe Reader, I can covert from PDF to Excel (or Word or other formats) for about $25 a year.

When in Adobe, click Tools. You’ll see various options, including Export PDF. Assuming you’ve signed in and have a subscription, simply choose Excel as your desired format and then click Convert.

Abode quickly returns a “Completed” message with a link to download the file.

When you open the file in Excel, you get this:

It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

There may be ways to lock PDFs. But that functionality isn’t part of the PDF creation process in either Crystal or SSRS. So that wouldn’t work either.

My point: Data honesty in your organization must be a function of people and process, not technology. Whatever format you choose, once data is released to your users you lose control of it. Instead, any number you count on must be verifiable back to or produced by a standard reporting software—and not generated from Excel or a manual process. This isn’t an easy thing to do. But you may have no option.

How does your company share data with users? Excel or PDF?


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What does Red Three mean?

First, Red has nothing to do with my hair color. Some of you are of course nodding and saying that given that it’s going gray and mostly not there, that’s a good thing.
Seriously, the red piece goes back to my last job. Until March of 2000, I was the junior partner in a company called United Systems Consultants. That company, along with 8 others, was purchased by netASPx in March of 2000. At netASPx (pronounced net aspects), I essentially fixed problems for the CEO, John Whiteside. I think the title was Director of Strategic Projects. John referred to me as Red Adair. I didn’t know who Red Adair was. Turns out, he was an oil well firefighter as well as the subject of a John Wayne movie. That gives you an idea of the kind of projects I had.

As for three, I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects in my career?in areas as varied as IT, Finance, HR and Marketing. There?s always been one common thread. Projects and people need focus. I find that three is a good number for clear goals, as in truth, justice and the American Way. As I said to someone on a compensation project, I wanted every person in the organization to know EXACTLY why they would or wouldn’t get there bonus each year. And while it was important to get their time sheets in on time, it clearly wasn’t in the top three.


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