Integration and Adobe

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2005 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Integration is all about ensuring that information flows between different services automatically, reliably, securely and efficiently. The various technologies, practices and standards related to SOA all work towards this aim. They tend to work well when computer talks to computer, but are less effective when humans are involved connected to a terminal and even less effective when the human connection is not electronic but paper.

To give a simple example, my telephone bill is sent to me electronically as an email with an HTML attachment. The problem is that different browsers render the bill differently but none of the browsers on my computer render it correctly; in all cases some information is lost. Worse than not being able to read the information is the lack of security; it would be so easy to edit the source HTML and produce what looks like a kosher bill with changes made to costs or the details of calls.

I suspect that most readers of this article will say that Adobe can resolve that problem—and you would be quite right. Adobe .pdf files can be sent so that the content cannot be changed; it will render on the screen correctly, using the free Adobe Reader, and will print correctly irrespective of the printer. Adobe can also extend this security by limiting who can view the document and what they are allowed to do with it. The latest releases of Adobe Acrobat and Reader have added even greater flexibility to this process.

Printed documents of this sort are typically at the end of a business process, but human interaction and paper can occur at the beginning and also intermediary steps of the process. Adobe also has products that help at these stages.

Paper is required in the middle of a process for several reasons including where:

  • a wet ink signature is required on a physical piece of paper
  • there is no automated link between the processes, for example a delivery note sent with an order may not have been sent electronically between the two enterprises.

The traditional solution is manual entry of the information at the receiving end but there is obviously some loss of reliability, efficient and security in the transcription. 2D barcodes are the solution to this problem. A 2D barcode encodes all the information on the form into a black and white pattern printed somewhere on the page. This can be printed by any modern desk top printer, and it has built-in redundancy in the encoding so that the decoding will be perfect or it will not decode at all and would need to be resubmitted. So, for example, if I want to apply for a loan and there is a direct-debit mandate that requires my signature, I can fill in the form on-line, print it, sign it and send it off all in one go. This could be even more interesting when used off-line: a firm’s representative could come to my home and talk me through the product, fill in all my details, print the document, get me to sign it, and then hand over the paperwork to his administrators in one go. At the receiving end the barcode is scanned and all the information on the form is immediately available in digital form.

The 2D barcode is obviously dependent on having a form to fill in and having the appropriate validation to go with it. Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional includes the technology that creates these forms and enables them to run in the standard Acrobat Reader (the word reader to describe this technology has become as outdated as the term browser, because it has now become a highly interactive product). If there is no need to print the form, it can generate XML which can integrate with the normal SOA framework providing secure, accurate and efficient transfer of data between processes.

Adobe has a powerful set of tools to integrate humans into automated processes.