Adobe ties documents to back-end apps

Known primarily for its desktop publishing tools, Adobe Systems Inc. is branching out to the backend enterprise, seeking to extend document-based processes to core business applications.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company on Monday rolled out its Adobe Document Server, which lets users dynamically generate customized PDF files from a variety of data sources. Document Server uses XML to integrate with existing workflows and applications such as ERP, CRM, and EAI, according to Shawn Cadeau, director of product management for server products at Adobe.

Adobe's PDF format is a rich information container capable of packaging together multiple file formats into a high-resolution, secure format, he said.

"What you really need in addition to viewing [capabilities], you need data to interoperate with existing applications and infrastructures and that is done through XML," Cadeau said.

In addition, the Document Server includes support for Java, SOAP, Perl, and COM, allowing programmers to develop scripts to automate the creating of PDF using existing tools, according to Adobe officials. The server software also supports XSL-FO (Extensible Style Language Formatting Objects), a standard for describing XML document formatting.

Adobe also introduced the Document Server for Reader Extensions, which is designed to assign usage rights to PDF forms and documents that allow features such as commenting tools, digital signatures, and offline usage. The PDF forms and XML data can be integrated with back-end applications to create a bi-directional workflow, according to Cadeau.

The new offerings attempt to automate disconnected, paper-based processes and integrate them with business applications, Cadeau said.

"Enterprises have invested heavily in integrated transaction systems like ERP and EAI. They are great for managing internal processes, but when you extend that to partners and customers it is done with document processes that are disconnected," he said. "We are leveraging front-end capabilities of Acrobat and Reader with back-end capabilities for process automation."

The ability to integrate document workflows with common applications is very compelling for enterprises, said John Dalton, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

"Enterprises are looking for easier, enhanced ways to automate document intensive processes. They are looking for ways to streamline the workflow and the overall production and consumption of these documents," he said.

The addition of the Document Server products will help push PDFs deeper into the enterprise, where they are already widely used for business transactions because of features such as digital signing, editing, and printing, according to Dalton.

"PDF has a credibility associated with it for business [use]. Cracking that container and making it somewhat more interactive and extensible is a good move," Dalton said.

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