From BPM, ERP, Adobe LiveCycle bridges apps across the board

Flash and PDF combine with J2EE server to streamline IT development and reduce support costs

You probably know Adobe for its Flash creative software, Acrobat document processing systems, and now RIA (rich Internet application) development using Flex technology. What you might not realize is the company's BPM (business process management) strength, with about 1,500 clients employing Adobe BPM enterprise solutions.

True, early BPM success was helped by purchases of Accelio and Q-Link (for forms design and workflow, respectively). But over the past three years Adobe's smartly accomplished two things with all its assets that other leaders in the BPM space – EMC, Global 360, and IBM – have yet to match: provide superb development tools and deliver a satisfying experience to end-users as they interact with applications through rich interfaces.

What Adobe hadn't accomplished, until now, was to provide a unified solution that was easily managed. The company has fused a cornucopia of products, including policy, security, form, print, and assembly servers. The result is LiveCycle Enterprise Suite (ES), the integrated J2EE server, and LiveCycle Workbench ES, an Eclipse-based IDE. Additionally, IT staff can use Adobe Flex Builder 2 with LiveCycle Workbench ES to develop custom application interfaces.

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Because LiveCycle sits on top of your existing customer data, these interfaces form the bridge to content management repositories, sales force automation systems, ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, and legacy applications. More importantly, by enabling easy interaction with these systems, it's more likely that users will not abandon Web technologies for more expensive support routes, such as phoning call centers or submitting paper forms.

To evaluate LiveCycle ES, I deployed the full Business Transformation Edition on a Windows 2003 Server running JBoss. I then set up several Windows XP workstations (connected to the server) running LiveCycle Workbench ES to develop forms and documents, and to design business processes. My first test assembled a mortgage application that might be used by financial institutions. In a second exercise, I created a Flash interface (called a Form Guide) to a Documentum data repository by employing the LiveCycle ES Connector for ECM, which greatly simplified an application found in life sciences where investigators record details of drug trials that are subject to strict regulatory compliance.

Both tests resulted in applications that were easy to deploy and administer with intuitive user interfaces. Moreover, there were no development pain points as I created forms and then inserted the business logic to secure and route them, output to PDF and Flash, and performed related tasks, including e-mail notifications.

Fully equipped workshop
Workbench is an interesting hybrid, one that should satisfy the needs of hard-core developers, more casual forms designers, and business analysts. One important distinction from others' development systems is that you work connected to the LiveCycle ES server; this means you always have access to resources stored on the server (such as images and reusable code snippets) as well as the ability to call services running on the server.

Workbench makes building forms quick for anyone with Acrobat skills. In less than two hours I'd finished my mortgage form – a process that involved dragging objects onto the workspace and adjusting their properties. For even more efficiency, I created fragments (such as footer text) and XML schemas (describing a block of common elements), that others could reuse.

To automate my loan application, I switched to the Process Design view; its visual techniques should make business analysts feel right at home. Working with an interactive process diagram, I added a pool (the overall process) and then inserted swim lanes to define various operations (such as routing the mortgage application based on the amount of the loan requested).

Lastly, I activated the mortgage application as a service – and turning to the LiveCycle ES server console – configured who could access the service. Server administration is browser based, so it shouldn't take datacenter staff much time to manage the system.

My pharma application was based on form guides – alternate views of forms based on Flash that make data capture easier for users. Put another way, you break the form down into digestible chunks, then place detailed instructions on each frame to help users enter data. After building a form guide in the separate LiveCycle Designer ES package, I imported the assets into the LiveCycle ES repository and added the appropriate processes in Workbench ES. While this development requires some understating of advanced system settings, Adobe's done a very good job documenting the steps. Therefore, I believe most developers should be able to handle tasks after a week or so of training.

To round out the pharma application, I called additional LiveCycle services: LiveCycle Forms ES (to render the form guides as Flash files), Digital Signature ES (to certify authenticity), and Rights Management ES (to limit access). Like other aspects of development, I performed these tasks by dragging appropriate steps into the process diagram and configuring each service by adjusting its properties.

Tasks that aren't taxing
Adobe offers multiple ways to interact with forms, including the stand-alone Acrobat Reader. However, I focused on testing LiveCycle Workspace ES, which is the RIA element of the server. After assigning access rights to my pharma application, users started a data-entry process from the understandable Workspace interface. Yet Workspace is equally a portal for employees. In my mortgage application, after a potential client submitted a request, the form appeared in the Workspace To Do section of the appropriate bank officer for action.

I briefly tested two additional components: LiveCycle PDF Generator ES, which creates PDF documents from most any native file format; and LiveCycle Output ES, to make personalized printed or electronic documents. Like other aspects of development, designing in these processes required minimal learning and effort in Workbench.

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This solution rounds out with LiveCycle PDF Production Print ES, where you produce template-driven documents in high volume, and LiveCycle Barcoded Forms ES, for representing forms data with 2-D bar codes that can be automatically included on downloaded or printed PDFs.

With Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, the company leaves your existing content repositories intact. First and foremost, this suite hones in on Adobe's specialty – providing customers and employees with a gratifying experience when using your data-driven applications. In turn, as more people use these automated processes, organizations should be able to reduce paperwork, improve turnaround time for requests, and see cost reductions as labor-intensive support is reduced.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Scalability (15.0%)
Integration (15.0%)
Administration (15.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Features (30.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Adobe LiveCycle ES Version 8.01, Business Transformation Edition 9.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 9.0 8.0 8.2
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