Avoka Blog: Adobe LiveCycle

March 2, 2009

Which “bit” of LiveCycle do I need?

Filed under: Components, LiveCycle, LiveCycle Architecture — htreisman @ 7:45 pm

Overview

LiveCycle has a lot of components, somewhere around 15 last time I counted. Some run on the server, some run on the client, some you cannot actually buy but are bundled with others – it’s really confusing, even for those of us who specialize in LiveCycle. But if you’re new to LiveCycle, we don’t blame you for feeling a little lost.

This blog entry attempts to match up your requirements to the various bits of LiveCycle that you may need.

I want to…

Put a “print and fill” PDF form on my site

What you need: Acrobat.

You don’t need LiveCycle, you just need Acrobat. Create your form using whatever tools you like (InDesign, FrameMaker, Word, even Excel) and convert it to a PDF using Acrobat. Your users can download it, print it out, and use a pen to fill it out.

What else you get:

  • You get the joy of having to open a whole lot of envelopes, sort the contents, and give the illegible hand-writing to someone to do the data entry into your systems.
  • You get the added joy of having incomplete or invalid information in the forms, and having to get back in touch with the user to gather the missing and/or correct information.
  • Sigh…

Put a PDF SmartForm on my site, and allow users to fill it out electronically and print it out

What you need: LiveCycle Designer.

Use LiveCycle Designer to create the SmartForm. If your SmartForm is pretty straight forward, you may be able to do this yourself. Alternately, you may need to attend a Designer Training Course, or enlist the help of an Adobe Partner. <shameless-plug>www.avoka.com </shameless-plug>. LiveCycle Designer is a very powerful tool, and you can do amazing things with it – but if you don’t have a programming background, you will quickly get lost in the more complex aspects of the tool.

What else you get:

  • You still need to have someone read the printed form and enter the data into your backend systems. However, it’s much easier to read a printed form than a hand-written one.
  • OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is much more reliable and accurate with typed forms than hand-written ones.
  • SmartForms can really make it easier for your end users by providing in-line help, can automatically hide those sections of the form that aren’t relevant, auto-complete, auto-fill, and provide other assistance to your users when filling in forms.
  • SmartForms can ensure that the data you receive is complete and error free, by identifying mandatory fields and validations. Forms won’t print until all mandatory fields and validations pass.

Allow a user to submit a SmartForm back to me via email

What you need: LiveCycle Designer

Use LiveCycle Designer to create the form, and add a “Submit by Email” button to your form.

Note: You will receive the form data as XML. You will then need to use Acrobat to re-inject this XML data back into a blank copy of your form. If you want to avoid this manual process, and allow your users to submit the form directly as PDF, you will need Reader Extensions for your SmartForm or Acrobat for your users (see below).

Allow a user to submit a SmartForm back to me via the web (i.e. http or https) avoiding manual data re-keying

What you need: LiveCycle Designer, some server infrastructure

Just use LiveCycle Designer to create the form, and add a “Submit” button to your form.

Notes:

  • You will need to create a Java servlet or ASP.net server or PHP server or some other technology to actually receive or process the incoming submission. This means that you will need to get programmers involved – they can use the tools of their choice – it’s just the usual web request “thing”.
  • Alternately, you can use a LiveCycle server to process the incoming http request. You will then be able to process the incoming request in a completely graphical “workflow” environment without any coding. You will need to acquire a copy of:
  • LiveCycle Foundation (at a minimum). You cannot buy Foundation, it is bundled with other LiveCycle services, so you will need to pick the most appropriate one. Contact info@avoka.com for advice.
  • Avoka’s Process Invoker. This is the “bridge” between the incoming web request and the LiveCycle engine. http://www.avoka.com/avoka/addons.shtml#invoker
  • If you want to turn the submitted XML back into a PDF, you’ll need either LiveCycle Forms or LiveCycle Process Management.

Allow a user to save a partially completed form offline or call a web service from within a Form or Submit or Send a form as PDF rather than XML

What you need: LiveCycle Designer and LiveCycle Reader Extensions for your form, or Adobe Acrobat for each of your users.

Using the free Adobe Reader, your users can save a copy of your blank SmartForm to their machines. But once they start entering data, they can’t save that partially completed form (they can only print it or submit it). There are also a number of additional capabilities that can only be performed in Acrobat (and not in Reader), including:

  • Invoking a web service from a form (for example, to convert a dollar amount to some other currency)
  • Commenting on a form
  • Digitally signing a form
  • Submitting or sending a form as PDF (a normal submission just sends the XML data contained in the form, but not the form itself)

If you want to allow your users to save a partially completed form, or perform one of these other actions, then you can purchase “Reader Extensions” for your form. By applying Reader Extensions to a particular form, this temporarily extends the capabilities of Reader to allow these features for this particular form. You can purchase Adobe Reader Extensions from Adobe Enterprise Partners.

Alternately, you can purchase a copy of Acrobat for each of your users – this may be more cost effective if you have a large number of forms and a small number of users.

Alternately, Adobe Acrobat provides a “cut-down” version of Reader Extensions built it. It only provides some of the above features, and is limited to a small number of forms and small number of end-users. Contact your Adobe Enterprise Partner to find out whether you can use this feature for your scenario.

Pre-fill a form with information that I already know about the user (or some other information)

What you need: LiveCycle Forms or LiveCycle Process Management

Your user has already logged into your site, so you know who they are and other information about them. When they open a form, it’s “polite” to pre-fill the PDF with information you already know about them, to a) avoid them having to re-key it b) reduce errors in their typing. LiveCycle Forms is a server product that that allow you to inject data into any LiveCycle Form prior to serving it up to your users. LiveCycle Process Management is actually a tool for automating human-oriented activities within your organization, but it also includes a light-weight version of the service that allows you to inject data into a form. Contact your Adobe Enterprise Partner for more information on which of these two services is best for your needs.

What else you get:

  • Common and Foundation

Provide a user with a printable record or receipt of their interaction with my site

What you need: LiveCycle Output

Your user has already performed some sort of interaction with your site (bought something, filled in a html or PDF form, made a booking, or whatever), and you want to present them with a PDF that is a permanent and printable record of that interaction. Build a LiveCycle SmartForm, and use LiveCycle Output to turn that form into a “flattened” PDF form. It’s now a regular PDF document, without the ability to make any changes to the values of any fields.

What else you get:

  • Common and Foundation (see below)
  • LiveCycle Output also includes facilities for printing PDF forms directly from the server to a network printer.
  • LiveCycle Output also allows you to create documents of record in an ISO archiving format.

Digitally sign my outbound documents to give my users a sense of security that it did come from me and hasn’t been changed

What you need: LiveCycle Digital Signatures

With Livecycle Digital Signatures, you can apply a digital signature to a PDF you’ve created with LiveCycle Designer, or any other PDF document. This can be signed with your corporate (or personal) digital signature. The signing process is automated on the LiveCycle server, and can be invoked programmatically from existing applications, or can be easily incorporated into human processes.

What else you get:

  • By signing a document, you make it tamper-proof – if anyone attempts (either maliciously or accidentally) to modify the document in any way, it will invalidate the signature.
  • Common and Foundation (see below).

Enter into binding agreements with my customers or suppliers without paper signatures

What you need: LiveCycle Digital Signatures and Reader Extensions

Create a PDF SmartForm with a digital signature field. Post this form on your web site. When users have completed the form, they can use their digital signature to sign the form, and submit it back to you as a signed PDF. You can use the Digital Signatures service on the LiveCycle server to authenticate the signature, obtain information about the person signing, and validate that the document has not been changed since it was signed.

You can use the signature for non-repudiation – in other words, if the person who signed the document says that it wasn’t them, you can show them their digital signature, and since only they can sign things with their digital signature, it had to be that person.

Note: You will need to have a closed user group where you can roll out electronic signatures. For electronic signatures to be valuable, they have to be issued by a certification authority who make you prove who you are, and will attest that you are who you say you are. (You can create self-signed certificates quite easily, but there’s nothing from stopping me from creating one that says I’m Warren Buffet. A certification authority will require proof that I am in fact Warren Buffet before issueing me a signature in that name. Some countries and organizations are starting to roll out digital certificates more broadly.)

What else you get:

  • By signing a document, your users make it tamper-proof – if anyone attempts (either maliciously or accidentally) to modify the document in any way, it will invalidate the signature. That way you can prove that it hasn’t been tampered with.
  • You can also add a digital signature field to any PDF document on the server (not just SmartForms), and send that to your users for signature.
  • You also get services for encrypting a PDF with a password or certificate.
  • Common and Foundation (see below).

Capture data from a printed PDF Smartform with 100% reliability and without Optical Character Recognition or manual data entry.

What you need: LiveCycle Barcoded Forms

Create a PDF SmartForm with a 2-D barcode field on it. The barcode can store up to about 512 characters of information, and can be set up to automatically capture information from the SmartForm fields as the user types into the form. When the form is printed, the barcode contains all the information entered into the form. Instead of OCR-ing the text in the form, simply scan the barcode and get all the data. 100% accuracy – you get all the data in one scan.

Turn Office documents into PDFs on the server.

What you need: LiveCycle PDF Generator

Pass any common office document (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Open Office, many picture formats and other document formats) to PDF Generator, and it will turn it into a PDF. The recipient will not need to have the original application in order to read the document. Can be easily integrated into manual, ad-hoc processes, or invoked from other appliations in order to automate backend processes.

Add Reader Extensions, and cater for ad-hoc commenting and review processes using the capabilities of Adobe Reader.

What else you get:

  • You can also do a lot of other types of translations, such as images to PDF, PDF to images, etc.

Store any documents created using LiveCycle (or any other document) in a Document Management System

What you need: LiveCycle Content Services or ECM (Enterprise Content Management) Connectors

You may want to store your documents in a document repository for archiving, or so that users can find all document relating to a particular subject or case or client or whatever. Adobe provide ECM (Enterprise Content Management) Connectors that allow you to store, retrieve and manage documents in many different enterprise document repositories. If you don’t already have a document repository, Adobe provide Document Services, a light-weight but powerful and scalable document management system that is fully integrated with the LiveCycle system.

Content services contains it’s own user interface for browsing, searching, editing, and uploading documents called ContentSpace.

Create approval or back-office processes within my organization

What you need: LiveCycle Process Management

LiveCycle Process Management is a state of the art human-oriented Business Process Management System (BPMS). Processes are generally invoked when someone submits a form (although there are lots of other ways of invoking a process). You can then route a form to a manager or process worker for approval or action. You can also augment the data in the form by fetching additional data from other internal systems (e.g. databases), save form data out to internal systems (e.g. file system, document management systems), send and receive emails, add attachments, send reminders, automatically escalate or deadline tasks to ensure Service Level Agreements, and much more.

What else you get:

  • Workspace: An end-user portal where you can initiate new processes, or view your inbox to find tasks that have been allocated to you or a group you belong to.
  • Business Activity Monitoring: Dashboards and reports that allow you to view workloads and throughputs, bottlenecks in your process and much more.
  • By combining with other LiveCycle services, you can archive documents, merge documents together, send emails, etc.

Host documents on a public-facing site, with pre-population, save-online, receipts, branding, online payment processing, versioning

What you need: Avoka Form Center

Adobe LiveCycle provides all the core services to create, host, pre-populate and process SmartForms. However, if you actually want to create a portal for doing all these things, you have to build it yourself in Java or .Net or some other technology – it’s not provided “in the box”.

Avoka Form Center is built upon Adobe LiveCycle. It provides a rich form-hosting portal that allows public or occasional internal users to:

  • Locate forms
  • Fill them in
  • Save partically completed forms in a drafts location online
  • Pre-fill forms based on configurable “profile” information
  • Brand the same SmartForm differently depending on the origin of the request, or the user login details
  • Automate payment processing for forms that incur a cost
  • Provide a history of all submitted forms
  • Provide an automatic receipt on completion

Form Center also provides an extensive administrative module, that allows forms to be uploaded, configured, versioned, branded, and much more.

http://www.avoka.com/avoka_formcenter/formcenter.shtml

What are “Common” and “Foundation”?

Common and Foundation are a set of lower level services that are bundled along with other LiveCycle services. You cannot buy these on their own. Foundation is always included with every LiveCycle product. The Common services that are bundled vary from product to product. Please contact info@avoka.com for more details if you’re unsure.

  • Common includes services for combining multiple PDFs into one, adding watermarks, adding table of contents, headers, and footers, extracting and injecting data and meta-data, encryption, and more.
  • Foundation gives you fantastic integration capabilities with databases, email, file system, messaging and directory services, XML manipulation, and more. This is stuff that the EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) vendors charge you big bucks for, and Adobe gives you for free (with other products).
  • The orchestration engine underlying the whole of LiveCycle provides a graphical user interface for defining your “workflows” – no coding required.
  • The orchestration engine is inherently extensible – we’ve never found something that a client wanted it to do that we couldn’t make it do.
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2 Comments »

  1. […] “a la carte”. To make sure you purchase/install only what you’ll need, check-out this post on Avoka’s LiveCycle Blog. It’s a very useful list to have. Posted by Stefan Cameron […]

    Pingback by LiveCycle Components for your Solutions - Stefan Cameron on Forms — March 5, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  2. Howard,

    Well done – this information is perfect for prospective customers who are in the research phase of their projects and can’t yet engage a reseller.

    I only wish it was available when we did our project a couple of years ago – knowing what Foundation provided would have saved us writing our own .NET workflow to support the forms.

    Thanks,
    John.

    Comment by John Nesbitt — March 5, 2009 @ 2:24 pm


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