Adobe puts smarts in online documents

San Jose-based Adobe Systems Inc. on Tuesday announced document services technologies that will include XML in PDF files. According to the software vendor, the document services, which were largely developed in Adobe’s Ottawa lab, will help organizations and governments manage business processes and help improve document control and security across the enterprise.

Carl Orthlieb, director of software development for Adobe’s Ottawa lab, said customers typically publish PDF documents such as forms so they can send them to clients or partners outside the company. “But the pain points we’re seeing are around tying those documents back into back end systems.”

For example, he said, a financial institution might mail out a mortgage application to a customer. “There’s a lot of lag time associated with that, and could get lost,” Orthlieb said. The financial institution could post a PDF version of the application up on its Web site, “but customers still have to print it out, fill it out, and mail it back, so there is still that lag time.”

Either way, the information on the paper application has to be manually entered into the back-end systems — there is no way for that data to be automatically extracted from the document.

But with the document services technologies, organizations can automatically process data sent in PDF forms, so there’s no need to re-enter the information into their own systems. Also, data from those systems can be displayed in a PDF file.

Following the mortgage application example, Orthlieb said the customer could fill out the application inside the browser. “There is intelligence embedded into document that would cause it to maybe make some Web services calls to some back-end interfaces in the financial institution. It would look up zip codes or do some validating. The whole experience of the document in terms of the business logic being there to validate that the data is correct is actually there, running on the person’s machine.”

Document services for document control and security will enable organizations to control access to information, create audit trails of record usage, and certify document authenticity with digital signatures, according to Adobe. The firm said users will be able to authenticate who can access data in a document and determine what can be done with the data; verify where the document came from; identify what has been changed in the document; and track who has interacted with the document.

The two components of Adobe’s document control and security technologies are Document Security Server, which covers digital signature and encryption capabilities, and is available now. Policy Server, which will enable the user to control access to documents, will be available in the fall, Orthlieb said.

Adobe’s earlier server offerings were stand-alone products obtained through acquisitions that were not designed to interoperate. The company has now redesigned the products to fit on a new J2EE- and XML-based architecture.

Using Java APIs and Web services protocols, the document services products can be tied to CRM and ERP systems, for example. Also, Adobe is tuning its software to work with products from SAP AG and IBM Corp.

Joshua Duhl, research director, content management and rich media for analyst firm IDC Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said IDC hasn’t sized the growth of the forms market for the last year, but added that there is “a lot of money that people are starting to spend on electronic forms.”

He said other vendors are also attacking the intelligent or active document market, such as Microsoft Corp. with its Infopath XML-based forms creator; FileNet Corp.’s eForms product; and Verity Inc.’s Teleform eForm Option, which has similar capabilities. But Adobe is unique in that it is “doing it in pretty broad manner. It is focusing on the process side of content” — looking at collaboration, security, workflow, and how to cross the boundaries between paper and electronic documents.

For both public and private sector customers, Duhl said he thinks there will be a “huge uptick in business process related activities.” Many enterprises have “largely unmanaged, inaccessible content and there is a struggle to put in strategies” that adhere to specific workflows, he said.

For the public sector, the move to e-government will be a huge motivator to get on board with intelligent documents. The processing of tax, permit or other forms, as well as the need for inbound and outbound communication with constituents, will drive adoption.

On the corporate side, Adobe’s relationships with SAP AG and IBM Corp. will also help with integration issues, Duhl added. “The integration with SAP will allow users to get data out of the SAP system, put it into a form, ship it out, have the recipient interact with the form, and ship it back,” he said. “Tight integration with SAP is a huge opportunity for both companies.”

Other new or recently announced products available on Tuesday are Barcoded Paper Forms Solution and Designer 6.0. Adobe also plans to release updates of its Form Server and Reader Extensions Server. Scheduled to ship later this year is Form Manager, Adobe said.

Pricing for Form Server, for deploying dynamic forms, Form Manager, used to publish and manage forms, and Reader Extensions Server, which can unlock hidden features in the Adobe Acrobat reader, starts at US$35,000 per processor, Adobe said.

Document Security Server starts at US$50,000 per processor and Policy Server pricing has yet to be set, the vendor said.

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