Adobe BPM Upgrade Takes Advantage of PDF and Flash

Focusing on customer, distribution and supply chain interactions that cross enterprise boundaries, Adobe streamlines its business process management suite.
Playing to its strengths in "human engagement" through the all-but-ubiquitous Acrobat Reader and Flash Player clients on most PCs, Adobe announced the LiveCycle Enterprise Suite on June 4. It's a major upgrade to what had been a bundle of separate server-based products, including the Policy Server, Security Server, Form Server, Print and Assembly Servers and other components. LiveCycle ES integrates all that functionality into a more cohesive suite while also blending in the strengths of Adobe's Flex and PDF technologies.

LifeCycle ES is aimed at processes that cross enterprise boundaries to reach customers, distribution channels and supply chains. Specific examples include opening accounts, applying for loans, interacting with suppliers or helping citizens interact with government agencies.

"A lot of processes end up on paper or in phone-based interactions once you cross enterprise boundaries," says Jeff Whatcott, vice president of product marketing and strategy. "That's very limiting, so we want to take the cost out of these processes. We're abstracting the structure of the data you're trying to capture from the way it's presented so we can deliver the user experience that's appropriate."

For example, LiveCycle ES supports Flash-powered, wizard-style interactions called "Form Guides" that can be converted back to conventional PDF forms that serve as the record of a transaction - complete with electronic signatures. A Guide Builder environment lets designers reuse form fragments to speed development of new interactions. LiveCycle Data Services handle complex data management tasks and integration with existing applications so you can support database lookups, validations and database updates from current transaction data.

LiveCycle ES also exploits Adobe document output capabilities, so a transaction can kick off follow-up communications (either by e-mail or conventional mail) to finalize required paperwork, confirm receipt of a form or document, or up-sell or cross-sell related products. More conventional BPM capabilities have also been upgraded, with new Flash-powered (read, rich Internet app) BAM and Workbench interfaces aimed at business users and designers, respectively.

Adobe has come up with a more compelling suite that will no doubt be easier to deploy and administer, but it remains to be seen whether enterprises are prepared to replace form- and phone-based interactions with something more "Flashy," dynamic and interactive. It's compelling technology that's well connected with the back end, but there have been plenty of well-intended, well-executed failures aimed at changing the way people are used to doing business.

The new suite is in preview release and is set to begin shipping in July. A standard "Data Capture" edition includes the suite's Forms, Data Services, Barcoded Forms and Adobe Reader Extensions components and starts at $165,000 per cpu. The "Business Transformation" edition adds the Process Management, Digital Signatures, Rights Management and Output components and starts at $275,000 per cpu.