When I joined
Macromedia/Adobe Consulting, my role as Practice Leader was to grow a
practice in EMEA around Rich Internet Application technologies. In recent
months, we have taken the decision to bring together the Rich Internet
Application practice with our LiveCycle practice, reflecting the recurrence in
opportunity for us to fuse these client and server technologies together to solve
a number of enterprise business problems. As I assume the responsibility to
grow this combined practice in EMEA, I’ll extend my blogging to share some of
the excitement and thinking we have around how the technologies from our
Enterprise Developer Business Unit – including Flex, Flex Data Services and the
numerous LiveCycle technologies – converge as an enterprise business platform.
I’d like for this blog post to initiate some thinking on
what this might mean.
I expect that people who track this blog – by the nature of
where it is generally aggregated – are already familiar with Rich Internet
Application technologies. I expect these readers already have a strong
understanding of the importance and effectiveness of a user-experience that
enables consumers, customers, citizens, workers or all manner of other
individuals (user is such a non-personal description of the various persona of
people who interact with business through a user-interface) to perform their
tasks with applications that are not only useful, but usable and desirable.
What is LiveCycle ?
These same readers may not be as familiar however with the
LiveCycle suite of technologies. I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail on
this suite of technologies, but would highly recommend a browse through the Adobe LiveCycle section of
our corporate website. Nor am I going to attempt here to be exhaustive of the
business benefits of LiveCycle, but will instead aim to call out some concrete examples
of where the fusion of Flex and LiveCycle allows us to tackle even more of the
business challenges that our richer and more effective user-experiences have
set out to address.
The Business Benefits of RIA…
I’m a great believer in education through example, and
understanding through analogy, so let me try and paint a picture of the current
The ineffectiveness of online application forms not
delivering on the promises of 24/7 at-your-leisure access when delivered in a
browser, is well understood. Take a mortgage or a loan application from your
online bank – these are characterised as frustrating
processes that typically employ between 8 and 11 different HTML pages, where
each page refresh results in 5% of applicants making an abandonment decision.
The problems of page-refresh are well understood – technological frustrations
associated with navigating back through an already completed process or session
time-outs, user-experience frustrations such as being forced to complete the
form in a sequential manner (what I often compare to “reading a book through a
straw”) rather than more familiar “complete the easy stuff and come back to the
hard stuff”, or the situation where you need to go and find some supporting
information, like your social security number. I can pitch this “failed
promise of the Internet” for an hour, so I’ll spare you here.
Rich Internet Applications replace these multi-step, complex
processes with simpler, easier, more effective single-screen or
guided-completion processes, often employing UI metaphors such as the accordion
to deliver a user-experience that more effectively matches the interaction
patterns of real users.
An analogous problem to financial service application forms,
is the same problems manifesting themselves through retail checkout experiences
– addressing these problems with RIA have been shown
in blind A/B tests to improve the appalling abandonment rates of 75% with
increased conversion rates of checkout customers by 50%. So with RIA,
we’re well on our way to delivering efficiencies through user-experience and
design-led solutions that attack the problem from the user’s perspective rather
than a technology perspective.
I’ll talk more of such design-led approaches to RIA
solutions in future blog entries.
…fuse with the Business Benefits of LiveCycle
But typically, the rich user-experiences that we deliver
with RIA are often the beginning of a more complex document-based process, that
inevitably crosses the digital world to a world where people interact through
Let’s consider some of these inefficiencies, by returning to
our loan application.
Immediately you complete your application (and by replacing
that application process with a design-led RIA, there are many more of you that
have completed that application compared to the old days of the several HTML
forms) you enter the world of workflow, and the world of paper.
In fact, many organisations will
insist that you become the protagonist in their paper play. The final step of
your mortgage application will often require that you print your application as
a form, sign that form, and post that form to the bank.
If you print the form, if you sign it, if you remember to
put it in your bag, if you buy the envelope and the stamp and if you remember
to post it, then some days later, once your piece of paper has survived the
postal system and made it’s way to the desk of a loan processing officer, your
application is ready to be processed. Electronically. But it’s a bit paper.
So what are we going to have to do … that’s right, having taken you from the
state-of-the-art RIA-enhanced electronic world back to a piece of paper, the very
next step is to capture that form information digitally again.
So how will LiveCycle help us here ? Well first and
foremost, moving seamlessly between the RIA and the PDF world is a simple and
obvious fusion of Flex and LiveCycle. One of the key aspects to LiveCycle, is
the process of document generation – leveraging technologies such as LiveCycle PDF
Generator to automate the creation of PDF files or LiveCycle Assembler
to “form-stitch” together document fragments to create customised PDF
More effective however, is to remove the paper-trail
altogether, and this is where LiveCycle can really begin to optimise the
behind-the-curtain processes in an enterprise RIA solution. In addition to
creating a dynamic PDF representation of our application form data, LiveCycle
Document Security will enable the customer to digitally sign and encrypt a
document before it is electronically submitted to the bank for processing,
removing the need for manual rekeying when the document is received.
However, if the bank does require receipt of a paper
document with an ink signature, the manual rekeying can still be eliminated. LiveCycle
Barcoded Forms automate the capture of user-provided data from printed or
faxed forms, by representing that data as a 2-dimensional barcode that can be
easily and rapidly scanned, removing the processing and errors associated with
manual rekeying of user-supplied data.
Once your loan application is born again as an electronic
application form in back-office systems it must be processed; typically this
processing is a complex hand-off of your application between different
departments, or different people within a department. Perhaps you have to be
credit-scored, before your application is then allowed to proceed to the next department,
who are responsible for checking your employer references. A gap in your
employment perhaps triggers the need for a letter to be sent to you requesting
further information – otherwise, your application progresses to a decisioning
process that determines the maximum amount of loan you will be offered. You
are then sent a letter either approving or declining the loan, and this kicks
off another step in the workflow, where your approved loan exists for 30-days.
After 30-days, your loan is no longer valid, until another credit-check has
been performed. And all the while, you have no insight as to where you are in
the loan approval process, or indeed whether your loan has even been received
What we have here, is an example of a complex workflow
associated with a transient document – your loan application – as it moves
between a variety of systems and people. LiveCycle Workflow
Server allows us to streamline these human-centric processes, allowing
either the visual or programmatic assembly of “workflows”, which allow your
electronic application to move quickly and securely through an organisation.
Meanwhile LiveCycle Policy Server
could be employed, ensuring that information remains confidential, specifying
not only who has access to the document, but what they can do to the document,
when they can do that to the document (for instance, once the customer receives
their loan approval as a PDF, can they update their mobile telephone number
in-site, but not change their address), and for how long they can make these
changes. Furthermore, Policy Server will allow all these security policies to
be updated even once a document has been issued – revoking access to a loan
approval after 30 days, or even confirming that the user has printed the loan
application approval, removing the need to send them a paper-copy in the post).
And what of keeping you, the customer engaged ? A Flex
application upon a LiveCycle workflow, leveraging Flex Data Services, can offer
real-time notification to a user as to the receipt, the progress and the
success of their loan application. The enterprise technology stack enables a
two-way communication between customer and bank, not a one-way flow of
information into a black hole.
And the list goes on…
As I said earlier, I have no desire to be exhaustive in my
overview of LiveCycle technologies in this post, but I hope that the above
real-world scenario outlines how – effective as a Rich Internet Application can
be – we can offer significant additional return on investment when the RIA on
the front-end is supplemented with the process automation, document generation
and information assurance services that LiveCycle can offer in the back-end.
And it’s not just in financial services; think of all the
online processes that you have considered that can be improved and innovated
upon with RIA technology – not just financial services and online banking, but
travel booking, online check-in for flights, retail commerce, making a movie
reservation, booking seats at the theatre, hiring a car, submitting your tax
return, filing your expenses for approval, etc, etc.
As limited as you are by your imagination, think how many of
these opportunities for insanely great user-experiences also result in
something physical and tangible in your hand as the result of a process of
automations, approvals, workflows or generation of documents.
Like account statements. Like travel itineraries. Like
boarding passes. Like movie or theatre tickets, with barcodes that can be
scanned at point of sale or point of entry.
Think of how a richer user-experience can not only benefit
business with increases in conversion rates, increases in the effectiveness of
cross-selling and up-selling, increases in repeat-business or increases in
customer acquisition through customer evangelism. Think of how a richer
user-experience can benefit from the efficiencies of automatic and electronic
Think of the value you can begin to offer your clients, and
their customers. Think of how Flex and LiveCycle might work together for you.
A couple of years ago, I was using the phrase “Enterprise RIA”
to define the kind of online applications that could benefit from a richer
user-experience while performing complex integration with new and existing
systems and infrastructure. The fusion of RIA and LiveCycle dramatically
lowers the barrier to delivery of these enterprise RIA, upon a recurring
solution platform for enterprise business applications.
I’m tremendously excited about the solution opportunities
and business problems our consultants are going to be delivering with the
combination of Flex and LiveCycle.
In future blog posts, I’ll speak more of how some of these
integrations can be achieved technically, whether you are a J2EE architect that
wants API-level access to these services, or someone who would rather
orchestrate these solutions in a visual development environment, and integrate
them with your Rich Internet Applications.
Additionally, I’ll be aiming to share some of the leadership
our User Experience practice, and RIA and LiveCycle practice consultants are creating
around Flex and LiveCycle.
I hope this blog post lifts the lid on a whole new world of
enterprise RIA development, while kick starting your thinking about the
solutions you could deliver, and the skills you could leverage or the
partnerships you could create in order that you are more suitably positioned to
deliver these solutions.