It’s always interesting to look at products that you are quite sure you understand well, and to be amazed at how different they are.
This occurred recently when we were asked to look at Adobe’s Acrobat X from a different angle, as a productivity enhancer and collaborative workflow enabler rather than pure document distribution software. Document creation and distribution is of course a core activity for knowledge workers, and an increasingly collaborative one. The question is how best to support this activity, especially as collaboration expands to include more people both inside and outside the organization.
We used our software testing lab to explore typical collaboration and distribution workflows, using Acrobat X in combination with productivity software such as Microsoft Office 2010 and back-end collaborative solutions such as Microsoft SharePoint 2010. The test subjects were knowledge workers with varying levels of expertise. No previous knowledge of Microsoft Office or Adobe Acrobat was required, and all subjects were trained on each workflow prior to the test to eliminate learning curve effects. We also talked to a group of IT decision makers around the world to get their perspective on how much of their users’ time is spent on basic, collaborative workflows.
Adobe has really focused on commenting and collaboration tools in Acrobat X and in particular Acrobat’s integration with the creative process, typically Microsoft Office. The surprise for me was the speed and usability of Acrobat X’s capability to import the comments and collaborative information from groups of users back into Office.
The results of our study clearly show that Adobe Acrobat X can deliver significant productivity increases and cost savings compared to productivity applications and collaborative back-ends alone. For some common workflows, using Acrobat is almost twice as fast.
In case you think that we tested some exotic activities be reassured these are quite basic, core processes that you probably use every day. Here are some samples:
- Review a text-based document with existing comments and add comments
- Review a spreadsheet with existing comments and add comments
- Review a presentation with existing comments and add comments
- Compare two documents and review changes
- Aggregate comments in text-based document into a document
- Aggregate spreadsheet comments into a final document
- Aggregate presentation comments into a final document
In some cases the improvements were quite modest, only 8% on spreadsheet review, but on comparing two documents and reviewing changes it was 60%! Aggregating text document comments into a final document shows an 80% improvement!
You can read all the details in the study we published but the bottom line is that unfortunately the ubiquity of PDF files tends to make IT professionals and knowledge workers alike overlook Acrobat, which has steadily been evolving into a very rich set of collaborative tools. Using Acrobat simply as a means of converting documents to PDF obscures its strategic benefits to an organization. As part of the standard desktop image, Adobe Acrobat X can enable IT to support more efficient collaborative document creation, review, and distribution.
Chris LeTocq, Crimson Consulting Group