The latest version of Adobe’s LiveCycle document management server offers a useful example of the changing role of software developers. It illustrates how the term `application development’ is drifting away from technology-oriented code-cutting and towards becoming a branch of business management.
LiveCycle is aimed at managing the lifeblood of most business processes, document handling and the workflows that stem from it. As Adobe’s northern European MD, Gary Fry, said, “the typical application is tasks like loan applications in a bank.” Despite whatever automation can offer, this still ultimately comes down to processing forms-based data.
The key here is automating and integrating the workflow of the processes as much as possible, which is Adobe aims to address with this update. The main addition is the introduction of Q-Link Process Application Components – or Q-PACs. These are the fruits of its acquisition of Q-Link last year, and there are an initial batch of 50, all aimed at providing the code for a specific workflow function, such as managing the routing of a document outside a corporate firewall.
“We will be developing others over time,” Fry said, “but customers can develop their own as well. It is not part of our business model, however, to act as a broker for third party Q-PACs, though there will be an Open Forum for them within our developer community.” The company is also teaming up with third parties to cover specific workflow requirements. These include Celequest in performance management and ILOG and Corticon in Business Rules Management.
The Q-PACs fit in with a growing trend towards componentising traditional code-cutting tasks. In this case, a developer will now be able to construct it with a component, or set of them, instead of spending time coding up a specific workflow function. If the function cannot be constructed in that manner, then it only needs to be coded once, subsequently becoming re-useable as a Q-PAC.
This illustrates the changing role of the developer, for it makes it possible for business managers, particularly if they fall into the `power user’ category, to create and / or adapt workflow practices of their own using the Q-PACs. The upside of this is that it can create a business capable of reacting more quickly to change. It also means that the role of the developer is taking one more step along the road from code-cutting `applications development’ to business process development.
Fry was at pains to point out that LiveCycle is not aimed at cutting developers out of creating workflow processes, but more towards up-skilling them. “We have a Professional Services organisation that is specifically aimed at pushing up the skills of our customers,” he said.
Adobe has already spotted one possible business governance weakpoint. This is the fact that compliance with an increasing range of regulations and legislation is now a pre-requisite of sound business management. The potential therefore exists for business users to change workflows and related processes and breach compliance.
“Each business sector has it own rules and regulations,” Fry said, “so LiveCycle can be configured to adhere to them. It is also possible to set up different levels of user, which can control the degree to which any individual can change the forms or workflow. Business managers and developers can have full control, while low level staff may only be allowed to modify on-screen cosmetics.” ®