Adobe offers smartphone access to workflow apps

Business users of Adobe LiveCycle workspace will now be able to access and act on “task lists” for their projects on mobile devices.

Adobe execs say this new capability, announced Monday at Adobe Max 2009, will speed up and simplify office workflows.

Traditionally, developers have used Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite (ES) server software to build apps that automate a broad range of business processes for organizations in sectors such as government, financial services, HR and manufacturing.  

The latest LiveCycle release – Adobe LiveCycle ES2 – is designed to offer greater functionality to end users, said Sydney Sloan, group product marketing manager. Business users,” she said, “will now have the tools for interaction and collaboration from within the application itself.”

Sloan said as part of LiveCycle ES2 participants in a workflow will be able to access their tasks list on their smartphone. As of now iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices are supported.

Tasks accessed could include travel authorizations, expense reports, purchase orders, or loan applications.

Then from the device, a user could select the appropriate followup action — such as Approve, Reject, Forward, or Delegate – that would keep the business process moving.

Right now pretty basic workflow functionality is being offered. “Users can view a simple PDF form associated with a task,” said Sloan. “But they can’t enter any data into it.” 

Will the lack of more interactive features in LiveCycle Workspace for mobile curtail usage? At least one Canadian analyst doesn’t think so.

The application’s basic functionality makes it eminently suitable for mobile, according to Tim Hickernell, associate lead research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.  

“This, typically, is the kind of workflow people would do on mobile anyway. Most recent studies show line-of-business users aren’t really embracing the mobile form factor for more complex functions, such as detailed reviews and markups.”

So simple tasks – such as Approvals, Rejections, and Delegations – are the natural focus of workflow application vendors when it comes to mobile, he said.

It’s a view echoed by Melissa Webster, program vice-president, content and digital media technologies with analyst firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Webster says even without being able to enter data or otherwise interact, users will get some benefit out of the initial mobile app.

“But I also think users’ appetites will grow pretty quickly, and they’ll want to customize their applications with more interactive, more programmable capabilities.”

Webster’s certain that moving forward Adobe will add to the features of LiveCycle Workspace for Mobile. “It’s an area where we can expect them to listen to customer needs to guide enhancements. They’re very focused on mobile.”

She said Adobe’s also closely heeding recent industry trends, where several factors are conspiring to make mobile enterprise apps very appealing. “These include a workforce on the go, and teams or functional business organizations that are increasingly virtual.”

It’s also so much easier to build and deploy “on device” applications, the IDC analyst said, citing Adobe’s support for mobile in LiveCycle Workspace as an example.

Drag-and-drop for desktop

A “showpiece” offering at this year’s Max – as far as end user collaboration goes – is LiveCycle Launchpad ES2, also announced on Monday. 

Launchpad uses AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) technology to allow users to access LiveCycle services on their desktop, and use these to automate and speed up certain workflow tasks.

One of these is PDF creation.

“If you want to convert a file to PDF you simply drag and drop it into the workspace,” said Adobe’s Sloan.  

But it goes beyond that, she said. If user also has the LiveCycle rights management or security module then those services can be exposed to protect the document.

She cited an example. “Say you want to create a PDF that’s governed by rights set by your policy group. After you drag and drop your initial document into the workspace, it would communicate with the server, generate the PDF, and automatically associate those rights with the document.”

The benefits of this feature for larger enterprises would be significant time and cost savings, IDC’s Webster suggests.

She noted that LC always had server-side PDF generation, but until ES2, lacked this capability on the client side.  

“Users had to buy Acrobat for that, or write an app that communicated with LC server, and that meant custom code, and ongoing maintenance of this code.”

She said it’s much better to have this capability built in. “That way all users can take advantage of it, it’s seamless, and there’s no support/maintenance burden.”

From the end user standpoint, she said, LC Launchpad makes PDF creation very simple, and no user training would be required.

“All this will be very attractive to large companies that want to roll out the capability to lots of users.”

What about developers?

In the past, third-party developers have created LiveCycle applications for clients that did the some of things now enabled by Launchpad ES2. 

For instance, Ensemble Systems, a LiveCycle integrator based in Richmond, B.C. is building a content management system for a large New York-based media company.

All the work is being done using Flex, Adobe’s software development kit for the development and deployment of cross-platform rich Internet applications

Here again there’s a thin AIR client built on LiveCycle, and users can drag and drop documents into it. These documents are converted to PDFs that are policy protected.

David Liao a software engineer with Ensemble Systems Corp. describes how such an application would benefit line of business groups. (Ensemble is a LC integrator that’s also worked with other Adobe technologies – such as Flash, Flex, AIR and Cold Fusion).


Liao said one of Ensemble’s projects is involves building a thin AIR client on to LiveCycle that would significantly simplify workflow.

Typically, he said, if someone wants to send a financial statement or another asset to another person in the company for review, they would e-mail it to them or have to stroll up to the person’s desk.

“With our thin AIR client, you would drag and drop documents into it, enter the recipient’s e-mail address and press Send.” He said even if someone were to intercept the e-mail they wouldn’t be able to open it, as digital rights management is in place.

With LC Launchpad ES2 now offering some of the same functionality, the big question is whether the role of third-party integrators for these kinds of services would be minimized.

IDC’s Webster didn’t think so.

“LC is a framework and product set that still requires implementation,” she said. “There’s plenty of opportunity for the consultants and integrators that implement LC and/or provide add-ons that add value — and that opportunity can only grow as LC gains momentum.”

Info-Tech’s Hickernell agreed.

I don’t think this necessarily cuts up partners. If anything I think it’s an example of what more can be done by any partner using the Adobe Integrated Runtime on the PC client.

Adobe Max continues on Tuesday.


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