Analysis: Adobe Upgrade Steps Up BPM Competition

Adobe today released significant enhancements to its Adobe LiveCycle server platform, including a new component-based workflow and embedded business activity monitoring capabilities aimed at "closed-loop" process improvement.
Bolstering its enterprise-level process management capabilities, Adobe today released significant enhancements to its Adobe LiveCycle server platform. Key improvements include a new component-based workflow and embedded business activity monitoring capabilities aimed at "closed-loop" process improvement. The upgrades push Adobe deeper into process automation and backend server-based technology and will stiffen competition with giants including Microsoft and IBM.

Aimed squarely at document-centric processes, the LiveCycle server platform brings automated routing, rules and backend data-filling capabilities to Adobe's front-end forms. Those front-end forms capabilities are Adobe's strong suit, exploiting the broad acceptance of the PDF format and the more than 500 million copies of the free Adobe Reader client that have been distributed worldwide.

The LiveCycle upgrades include a graphical process design environment offering the Visio-like modeling paradigm familiar to most workflow systems and business process management (BPM) suites. What sets Adobe's approach apart is the combination of process notation and coding through modular Quick Process Action Components (QPACs). LiveCycle will ship with 50 out-of-the-box QPACs, including common process tasks such as "send an e-mail," "integrate with database," "route to person" and "kick off Web service."

Appearing as icons that can be dragged and dropped into place, the QPACs represent not just a visual representation of the process, but also the code that would otherwise have to be created by IT behind the scenes. The icons can be used and reused to quickly assemble complete processes, and Adobe plans to foster the development, sale, sharing and reuse of additional QPACs through developer forums and industry-specific partnerships, particularly in the financial services, manufacturing and government markets.

Significantly, a QPAC will also tap Adobe's Reader Extensions server so organizations will be able to extend form-based processes beyond the firewall while still supporting secure access, rights management, e-signature and form-filling capabilities through free Adobe Reader clients. Offline form filling is a significant differentiator for Adobe's forms environment versus server-connected browser-plug-in and HTML-based forms.

The QPAC approach is similar in some ways to the prebuilt process templates offered by many BPM vendors, but Adobe contends it will bring business users that much closer to drag-and-drop assembly and process modification without help from IT. Adobe is also bundling Java-based (JCA) adapters from NetManage to speed integration with leading databases, EDI gateways, mainframes and enterprise apps such as SAP and Seibel. Adobe has prebuilt integrations for Corticon and iLog rules engines as well.

The other major advance in the LiveCycle upgrade is the inclusion of Celequests' business activity monitoring (BAM) solution (on an OEM basis, so it's seamlessly integrated into the product). The BAM capabilities will tap into process and backend system data to report and correlate metrics and deliver key performance indicators and even kick off subprocesses and services tied to thresholds and alerts. This delivers on the concept of closed-loop process feedback and continuous improvement.

The new version of LiveServer will start at $65,000 for a single CPU or 150 named users. Options include a Barcode server supporting "roundtrip" documents that can be printed, mailed, signed and reunited with electronic workflows. Server options are also available for digital rights management, security and policy controls, and Adobe Reader Extensions.

Adobe sites Microsoft InfoPath and BPM pure-plays as expected competitors, but LiveCycle will also go head-to-head with forms solutions from IBM. The two companies are still partners, technically, but IBM's purchase this summer of XForms technology provider PureEdge and Adobe's deeper foray into process management clearly puts the two companies on a collision course. In prominent projects including a major deployment with the U.S. Army, IBM partnered with PureEdge, favoring its own workflow and process management components. Adobe says its platform is designed to integrate with ECM platforms to add record/content lifecycle management capabilities.