Tag Archives: livecycle

Adobe sheds more light on its LiveCycle plans–but what is happening to its Digital Enterprise Platform?

When Adobe announced a shift in its business strategy in November, it was not clear what the implications were for the products that were no longer favoured. Since then bits of information have dripped out, presumably as the company itself works out its priorities. In December developers learned that Flash Catalyst would be discontinued and Flash Builder would have features removed. Now VP Arun Anantharaman has posted about what is happening to LiveCycle, the Enterprise Services side of Adobe.

Quick summary: Anantharaman says that the following “core offerings” will be the subject of continuing investment:

  • Modules: Reader Extensions, Forms, Output, Digital Signatures, Rights Management, Process Management, PDF Generation
  • Tools: Workbench, Designer
  • Solutions: Correspondence Management
  • ECM Connectors: SharePoint, IBM Filenet, Documentum
  • Advanced Offerings: Data Services

While it is reassuring to see that Data Services will not be abandoned, and that the most important PDF-based server products still have a future, not everything is clear regarding Adobe’s enterprise strategy. It is telling that Anantharaman’s post is entitled “The Future of LiveCycle”; yet the LiveCycle product page still says that LiveCycle has been replaced by the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform:

The next evolution of LiveCycle is here. The new Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform (ADEP) brings together core LiveCycle capabilities and much more.

So why not a post on the future of ADEP? If you look at the FAQ about ADEP it seems that many of the modules mentioned above have been replaced by ADEP services.

It would also be helpful to spell out exactly what is being dropped, rather than leaving customers to work this out by spotting what is not mentioned. It does appear that the work Adobe has done on composite applications (“Mosaic”) is a casualty. Collaboration services are another obvious omission. Correspondence seems to be the sole survivor from what was three Solutions Accelerators: the other two were “Review and Approval” and “Interactive Statements”.

There is also the question of what is happening with Adobe’s Enterprise Content Management story. In October 2010, Adobe completed its acquisition of Day Software, thereby acquiring REST pioneer Roy Fielding as well as Day’s core product, CQ (Communiqué). ADEP seemed to bring together the CRX content repository which is used by CQ with Adobe’s previous investment in Enterprise application development, as well including the PDF document services that go back many years at Adobe, before the Macromedia acquisition.

Now, Web Content Management is still a focus at Adobe, being part of what Adobe, with its love of the Experience word, calls Web Experience Management. This is from Anantharaman’s statement last November:

we are now planning to focus our Enterprise efforts on products targeting the digital marketer, including the Digital Marketing Suite and Web Experience Management solution.

That suggests CQ and CRX are alive and well at Adobe; but what exactly is happening to ADEP?

I have asked Adobe for clarification of its Enterprise strategy, and while nobody was available to speak to me on the subject immediately, I have been told that this should be possible in a couple of weeks time, so watch this space.

RESTful and modernised: making sense of Adobe’s new Enterprise platform

Adobe has announced its Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management. My tip to Adobe: that is too many words with too many syllables for busy IT people who are trying to get their work done. What on earth is it? The same old stuff repackaged, or something genuinely new?

The answer is a bit of each. Adobe has made several big acquisitions over the last few years, starting with the Macromedia merger in 2005 that really formed a new Adobe, bringing together digital publishing and the Flash platform. In September 2009 Adobe acquires Omniture for web analytics, and in October 2010 Day Software. This last one seems to be having a huge impact. Day’s product is called CQ5 Web Content Management and is built on CRX, a content repository which conforms to JCR 2.0 (Java Technology API 2.0), a Java API. Here’s Roy Fielding, formerly at Day and now Principal Scientist at Adobe, from this white paper [pdf]:

The Content Repository API for Java Technology (JCR) is poised to revolutionize the development of J2SE/J2EETM applications in the same way that the Web has revolutionized the development of network-based applications. JCR’s interface designers have followed the guiding principles of the Web to simplify the interactions between an application and its content repository, thus replacing many application-specific or storage-specific interfaces with a single, generic API for content repository manipulation.

JCR is a boon for application developers. Its multipurpose nature and agnostic content model encourages reuse of the same code for many different applications, reducing both the effort spent on development per application and the number of interfaces that must be learned along the way. Its clean separation between content manipulation and storage management allows the repository implementation to be chosen based on the actual performance characteristics of the application rather than some potential characteristics that were imagined early in the application design. JCR enables developers to build full-featured applications based on open source implementations of a repository while maintaining compatibility with the proprietary repositories that are the mainstay of large data centers.

Adobe already has an application platform based on LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, which you will notice now redirects to the Digital Enterprise Platform. Ben Watson, Adobe’s Principal Customer Experience Strategist, explained it to me like this:

The core of the platform now becomes the repository that we got from the Day acquisition. We are also following their leadership around the use of RESTful technology, so changing how we do our web services implementation, how we do our real time data integration into Flash using data services. There’s really four technologies at play here. There’s CQ5, Adobe LiveCycle which is all the business process management on the back end, the online marketing suite with Omniture, and Creative tools which allow to both design and develop all of this content and assets … We had two Java platforms and we brought them into one.


You can read up on the Digital Enterprise Platform here or see a chart of capabilities here. Much of it does look like rebranding of existing LiveCycle modules; but as a statement of direction it is an interesting one.

Is this for on-premise deployment, or cloud hosted? Adobe has a tie-up with Amazon for hosted deployment, though there is no no multi-tenant hosting from Adobe yet; I got the impression from Watson that it is being worked on.

Adobe is aware that it does not stand alone, and there are several connectors and integration points for third-party applications, such as a SAP data services connector.

Adobe also has a series of “solutions”, which are permutations of web content management, analytics, document processing, social media and so on.  There is also a Unified Workspace, currently in beta, which is a dashboard application.

The company’s line is that it is well placed to address the challenge of the mobile revolution, and to bring greater usability and social interaction to business applications, the consumerization of IT.

Although that sounds a strong pitch, melding all this together into something new while keeping hold of existing developers and designers is a challenge. Another issue for Adobe is that the company’s strong presence in design, multimedia and marketing makes it hard to appeal to more general enterprise developers. Nevertheless, the combination of Fielding’s influence and Adobe’s strength in design, documents and cross-platform clients makes this a platform worth watching.

Day Software: another strategic acquisition for Adobe

Adobe has acquired Day Software, a company which specialises in web content management. Its products include the CRX Java Content Repository and the CQ5 Web Content Management Platform. One of its distinctive features is an emphasis on interaction and collaboration. Day’s chief scientist is Roy Fielding, co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation and well-known for his work on REST (Representational State Transfer).

The acquisition gives Adobe a stronger presence in the open source community, and it will be interesting to see if it influences controversial issues like the fact that the Flash Player is closed source, or that some of Adobe’s open source projects are not as collaborative as they could be.

I suspect though that Adobe is mainly aiming to broaden its technology to encompass web content management and to tie it together with its rich client platform, Flash and AIR. It is a good fit, since it is Java based and should work nicely with the existing LiveCycle pieces. We might also expect integration with Omniture web analytics as well as with the content authoring tools in Creative Suite.

Looks like a sane acquisition to me.

Adobe LiveCycle and the Apple problem

Earlier this week I attended Adobe’s partner conference in Amsterdam, or at least part of it. The sessions were closed, but I was among the judges for the second day, where partners presented solutions they had created; the ones we judged best will likely be presented at the Max conference in October.

Seeing the showcased solutions gave insight into how and why LiveCycle is being used. LiveCycle is actually a suite of products – the official site lists 14 modules – which are essentially a bunch of server applications to process and generate PDF forms and documents, combined with data services that optimise data delivery and synchronisation with Flash clients, typically built with Flex and running either in-browser or on the desktop using AIR. These two strands got twisted together when Adobe took over Macromedia.

LiveCycle applications are Java applications, and run on top of Java Enterprise Edition application servers such as Oracle’s WebLogic or IBM’s WebSphere. This does mean that support for Microsoft’s .NET platform is weak; Adobe argues that that Microsoft’s platform has its own self-contained stack and development tool (Visual Studio) which makes it not worth supporting, though of course there are ways to integrate using web services and we saw examples of this. Many of the partners whispered to me that they also build SharePoint solutions for their Microsoft platform customers, and that SharePoint 2010 is a big improvement on earlier versions for what they do. Still, Java is the more important platform in this particular area.

Why would you want to base an Enterprise application on PDF? The answer is that many business processes involve forms and workflows, and for these LiveCycle is a strong solution. PDF is widely accepted as a suitable format for publishing and archiving. One thing that cropped up in many of the solutions is digital signatures: the ability to verify that a document was produced at a certain time and date and has not been tampered with plays well with many organisations.

Here’s a quick flavour of some of the solutions we saw. Ajila AG showed an application which handles planning permission in parts of Switzerland; everything is handled using PDF form submissions and email, and apparently a process which used to take 45 days is now accomplished in 3 days. Another Ajila AG solution handles the electronic paperwork for complex financial instruments at the Swiss stock exchange. Ensemble Systems showed an e-invoicing system which includes a portal where both a company and its suppliers can log in to view and track the progress of an invoice. Impuls Systems GmbH used PDF forms combined with Adobe Connect Pro conferencing to create online consultation rooms and guided form completion for clients purchasing health insurance. Aktive Reply built a system to replace printed letterheads for an insurance company with 10,000 agents; not only does the system save paper, but it also synchronises any address changes with a central database. Another Aktive Reply application lets lawyers assemble contracts from a database of fragments, enforcing rules that reduce the chance of errors; we were told that this one replaced a complex and error-prone Word macro.

OK, so why would you not want to use LiveCycle for your forms or document-based workflow or business process management application? Well, these solutions tend to be costly so smaller organisations need not apply; and I did worry on occasion about over-complexity. More important, the whole platform depends on PDF, often making use of smart features like Adobe Reader Extensions and scripting. After all, this is why Adobe added all these abilities to PDF, despite security concerns and the desire some of us have for simple, fast rendering of PDF documents rather than yet another application platform.

PDF is well supported of course, but once you move away from Windows and Mac desktops, it is often not the official Adobe Reader that you use, but some other utility that does not support all these extra features. In many cases it is not just PDF, but Flash/Flex applications which form part of these LiveCycle solutions. Adobe understands the importance of mobile devices and I was told that more effort will be put into Adobe Reader for mobile devices, to broaden its support and extend its features. Reader for Android is also available, as an app in the Android Market.

That’s fair enough, but what about Apple? Curiously (or not) PDF is not well supported on the iPad, though you can read PDF in Safari and in mail attachments. This is not Adobe Reader though; and given that PDF now supports Flash as well as scripting there seems little chance of Adobe getting it onto the App Store. Flash itself is completely absent of course.

Lack of compatibility with Apple devices did not seem to be a big concern among the partners I spoke to at the conference. Many of the solutions are internal or work within controlled environments where client compatibility can be enforced. Nevertheless, I can see this becoming an increasing problem if Apple’s success with iPhone and iPad continues, especially in cases where applications are public-facing. My suggestion to Adobe is that it now needs to work on making LiveCycle work better with plain HTML clients, in order to future-proof its platform to some extent.

Pros and cons of Adobe’s LiveCycle services in the cloud

Adobe has fully released LiveCycle Managed Services, offering a hosted platform for LiveCycle applications. The software is configured and managed by Adobe, but runs on Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) virtual servers.

LiveCycle is a suite of applications which I think of as two things combined. On the one hand, it forms a server platform for business process or workflow applications based on Adobe PDF forms and documents. On the other hand, it provides data services for Rich Internet Applications, usually but not necessarily to client applications on the Flash runtime, either in or out of the browser. It is a little confusing, but these two aspects are essentially the old Adobe Enterprise platform merged with Macromedia’s work in support of Flash, combined into one suite after Adobe’s takeover of Macromedia in 2005.

The usual arguments in favour of hosted services apply and this is a smart move from Adobe. Still, customers are currently forced to use Amazon for the actual virtual servers, even though others such as Rackspace Cloud Servers are substantially cheaper than Amazon EC2. Is that a problem? According to Adobe’s John Carione, senior enterprise product marketing manager at Adobe, “when we were evaluating vendors, we think that one of the areas Amazon excels in is around security.” I noticed that the security topic also occupies around one-third of this introductory video, suggesting that this remains a significant barrier to adoption for many potential customers.

So how will managed LiveCycle work? “We’re providing a fully managed service, and part of that is going to be delivered with what we’re calling  the Adobe Network Operations Center … which is going to provide 24×7 monitoring of the applications, backup and recovery, upgrades. They’ll be one contact at Adobe to talk to about everything,” says Carione. Apparently the Network Operations Center is based on a piece aquired with Omniture last year. Ominiture was a web analytics business which was based on hosted applications and services; maybe that was an important factor driving the acquisition.

When I asked Carione about ease of scaling, I got a slightly defensive answer. “This is a v1, we have the opportunity for customers to buy additional instances. In the future we’ll have more of that dynamic scaling.” Another issue is integrating with on-premise resources such as databases and directory services, which Carione says is a matter for business integrators; in other words, a significant challenge. And what if Amazon goes down? Carione did not answer directly, but said that 99.5% uptime is guaranteed.