At a recent education conference, it was gratifying to hear several stories from Acrobat.com users, detailing how they use our applications to work together more effectively.
One of the common threads was the degree to which Acrobat.com enabled the workflow required in developing electronic materials. This was a pleasant surprise to hear – as you’ve probably seen, we focus quite a bit on collaboration. However, we have not yet explicitly developed capabilities that facilitate workflow. This would include things like mapping out the steps in a process, assigning tasks based on roles, supporting complete annotation of the process throughout, etc.
And yet these industrious users had discovered that, even without those administrative features, Acrobat.com nonetheless provided a lightweight and easy way to share documents, and move them through a process en route to publication.
The primary collaboration capabilities we currently offer are described in a previous post, entitled Document Collaboration. The new insight here was the ease with which these users had strung together our applications to get their work done. A generalization of the workflow is shown in the graphic below.
Step 1: First, it’s clear that the documents under consideration in these workflows are essentially text documents. They generally start out in Buzzword, though often they began life elsewhere – in Microsoft Word, or even an email – and then are imported or pasted into Buzzword. We heard from all these users that Buzzword was the ideal place to work through multiple revisions on a document. The ease and value of Buzzword for multiple editors going through several revisions was described in a previous post entitled Email is not a Collaboration Platform.
Step 2. After creating the document, don’t email it as an attachment: just share it with your co-author by clicking on the Share button. You add your collaborators’ email addresses or, if you’ve shared a document with them before, just choose their name off the drop-down list.
Step 3. But document collaboration often involves more than just text documents: our users collect support material in a variety of formats, from graphic images to spreadsheets to forms. Acrobat.com has proven to be a very useful utility for storing and sharing these assets, whether they are imported as graphics into Buzzword, or used on their own – say, in a PDF portfolio.
Step 4. Authors can easily expand the circle of reviewers or editors on their documents – either in Buzzword or in Acrobat.com – simply by sending an invitation to the desired parties. Have you ever wondered whether you’ve sent the document to all the appropriate people? One really useful feature of the Acrobat.com applications is that you can see all the people participating on the document:
Not only that, but you know who has opened the document, and which version they’ve seen. This is incredibly useful when, for example, you’re working under a deadline, and you need to know where all the reviewers stand.
Step 5. There always comes the time where you need to come together to iron out details and open issues. If you’re not all located in the same place, this can be tricky – a multi-party conference call certainly helps, but it’s so much more productive when the participants can all look at the same document at the same time. ConnectNow is invaluable for this – not only does it have screen sharing, but it even provides a conference call number for you to use; or you can use the built-in VOIP capability to share the conversation through your computer. If you’d like to see ConnectNow in action, check out our recorded e-seminar.
Step 6. Now is the time for final edits and polish – whether you return to Buzzword, or export your document to another format (see the entry, entitled A Case Study in Design – Using InDesign, where the process at this point moved to InDesign). In any event, one very effective way to capture and preserve the final artifact is in a PDF document. As mentioned earlier, if you want to package up all the artifacts used in a project, you can use Acrobat to create a PDF portfolio. This is a PDF file that acts as a container for a variety of files – PDFs, Excel files, images, Word documents – and Acrobat provides an elegant user interface for navigating through those files, viewing a preview of each and, if needed, launching them into their native editors.
Step 7. Regardless of the form in which your document ended up, Acrobat.com is a really useful way to upload them and make them available to others. Our preview capability makes it particularly easy to share the contents with others – they won’t have to download many of the files to view them. However, if your audience needs a local copy for viewing and archiving, Acrobat.com offers one-click download capability.
We recognize that there’s much more involved in supporting sophisticated document workflow, and that Acrobat.com has a ways to go before we can fully support all these options. Still, there appears to be a lot of people out there using our free services tio get work done faster and more effectively than before. If you have a document workflow story to share, please add it as a comment, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.