Thursday, May 03, 2012

What is LiveCycle ES

I get asked all the time – “What is LiveCycle ES”? This is a question I had to answer while at Adobe but somehow the way this question is answered now has changed from an outsider perspective.   I find myself describing it in terms of business capabilities and value rather than the technology itself. Nevertheless, if you want to know what LiveCycle is, this blog post should provide a solid background.
LiveCycle is an enterprise software system that solves problems pertaining to mass scale processing of Portable Document Format (PDF) documents. While individual users of PDF’s tend to use Adobe Acrobat or Reader for working with PDF, LiveCycle is meant to aid the processing of tens of thousands of LiveCycle PDF documents. Hence, it is an enterprise solution that anyone who currently uses paper forms should look at if they are wanting to streamline the ingestion of data from forms. Likewise, it had many modules that can mitigate problems around PDF such as document security (think of Wiki-leaks).

LiveCycle itself is comprised of several components. I’ll walk through each of these components one at a time. the main component is akin to what many call an Enterprise Service Bus or ESB for short. This includes a set of common services, a common environment of service execution, a registry-repository system, workflow and storage components to name a few components. LiveCycle ES installs as a server and the server can bind to many different types of common enterprise infrastructure components including directories (LDAP for example). Below is a depiction of the server side component of LiveCycle ES.
What is Livecycle - the server component explained.

The server’s core services are all registered in a registry.  There can be orchestrated and used to perform different types of operations on PDF documents and with extensions, to also talk to mobile (wireless) devices.  At the bottom of the Service tier is a Service Provider Interface (SPI) which is where back end systems often integrate.  Systems such as SAP that might consume and produce massive amounts of data for government or finance could link in to this layer to offer PDF forms as a point of interaction with humans, then automatically accept, validate and consume the form data provided by the user.  The users themselves can access data (by requesting a PDF form or perhaps by being pushed notifications of events) via the Service Invocation Layer at the top.  This is a J2EE server and can be set up in many different ways.  One option is often to install it on site however for evaluation, I have found that using the Amazon cloud is one of the best ways for evaluation.  I have experience with this and we have found that while it takes an average first time installation of LiveCycle’s server on Red Hat Enterprise Linux with full SSL/TLS configuration and testing afterwards to take many over 2.5 days.  I highly recommend the turnkey Windows server installation however I do offer a flat fee to install this on the cloud for evaluation.

So what are the core component and services LiveCycle offers?   Here is a brief rundown.  The following is not an exhaustive list, rather an example to help explain what LiveCycle is.

Forms ES – this module can be licensed to automate just about every aspect of forms processing.  The ability to save money over paper forms is astounding. 

Barcoded Forms ES – the barcoded forms module allows forms to be printed with a corresponding 2D bar code that can later be electronically scanned to recapture the form data electronically.  This is useful if you wanted to create something like an electronic voting system that had a fully audit able paper trail or if you needed someone to electronically fill out a form and sign it then mail it in to you for ingestion into your systems.

Digital Signatures ES – since many companies use digital signatures now, often deemed more reliable and audit able than wet ink signatures, PDF documents support this feature.  The LiveCycle Server can perform massive scale operations using the Digital Signatures module like validating 100,000 signatures to ensure certificates have not been revoked.

Output ES – Our put is used often for production print.

PDF Generator ES – this module provides almost every possible method for generating PDF, PostScript, FXA, XDP or other related files.

Process Management ES – LiveCycle ES contains a full blown business process management capability.

Reader Extensions ES – this module of LiveCycle unlocks features in Adobe Reader that enable it to perform more like Acrobat.  These extensions are often cheaper as a solution than forcing all users to buy copies of Adobe Acrobat.

Rights Management ES – Rights Management is one of our favorite modules.  You can use this to protect documents from beign distributed beyond what you want and even expire a document. The perfect solution to Wikileaks! There are many other modules and this is only designed to show you a small cross section of LiveCycle.

So what does LiveCycle look like when you use it?  This is actually very dependent upon your role.  There are Adminstrators and other various types of power users.  This group use the administrative console which is web based.
The Adobe LiveCycle ES Administrator view

Most people who work with received forms or kick off business processes will use the Workspace interface.  This is where privileged users can also receive work that has been queued up for them to work with.

  LiveCycle Workspace

For users who design actual PDF forms, this class will spend a lot of time in the Adobe LiveCycle Designer view. If you have ever wonder “what is LiveCycle Designer”, this is what you will see.

Adobe LiveCycle Designer

Another class of developer users for LiveCycle will bind these PDF forms into Business Processes.  These users will spend a lot of time in LiveCycle WorkBench.  This is an eclipse based environment where business processes can be designed by using assets (such as the form above) in combination with business logic and LiveCycle Services.  This view looks similar to the graphic below.
LiveCycle Business Process view

Finally, the Business process users will also rely on a set of services.  The view to these services are provided via the service registry.  The service registry interface is easy to use and will be the subject of future Educational Series videos that show LiveCycle Help.

What are LiveCycle ES Services? This blog post only covers the basic elements of LiveCycle ES.  To put all the pieces together, this is what a fully implemented architecture could look like. LiveCycle ES Architecture with Uberity Mobile Deployment

As you can see, the development tools also include Java IDE’s such as Intellij and Eclipse.  I have produced a few LiveCycle tutorials on how to invoke LiveCycle from a Java environment using Eclipse and the LiveCycle SDK.  These are available at: The setup video is here:

and a video of how to migrate from EJB invocation to SOAP is here:

Also shown above is the fact that third parties can develop their own functionality around LiveCycle ES.  I've decided to spend some time building mobile interactions that integrate with the Adobe LiveCycle ES3 platform.  

The next time you hear someone ask “What is LiveCycle”, this is a blog postI hope will help others answer that question. As with all our posts, if you do not feel your questions are answered here or want to follow up, please contact us at duane at nickull dot net for more information.  My experience can save your company money. I can show you how a forms initiative will be more successful on LiveCycle ES than any other platform.  Whether it be a PDF form, HTML5 or custom native iOS application, my friends and I are here to help.