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     In the world of HCM Processes & Forms, it seems like most people have all but abandoned Adobe Interactive Forms (aka. AIF….aka.SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe….aka IFbA…..confused yet? haha) as the FPM/Webdynpro form option was released, but there is still some life left in them yet! At TechEd, they announced support at least through 2020!!! As much as I fought, wrestled, and cursed Adobe Interactive Forms over the years (the licensing more than anything…more on that later), I always have had kind of a soft spot for them. There are many things the AIF option does for us that I enjoy (client side script for example), but as much as I want them to succeed, it seems they just keep catching a bad wrap (again, the licensing issue being the most damaging blow) and can’t get back on the right track. But why is this? 

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      During SAP TechEd 2013 in Las Vegas amongst all the chaos and “so much to do, so little time” that is the event, I made a point to check out the Adobe Interactive forms sessions and networking lounge “mini-session”. The Adobe focused information was limited at best, so if you blinked, you might have missed it. For those playing at home, specifically this is SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe – Today and Tomorrow (CD111) and the networking session, “Q&A: SAP Interactive Forms by Adobe – Mobile and Cloud”(SPK9596). Listening to these sessions and questions from the audience as well as my own, my hopes for Adobe Interactive Forms have not exactly been raised much more than they were coming into TechEd. Here are a few of the key points and announcements that were made as well as my own thoughts on each:
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Printing

     Nothing irks me more than watching yet another interactive forms presentation that spends 15-20 minutes covering printing….and yet, they did it AGAIN at TechED this year. I have seen it sooooo many times now that I can almost give that portion of the session! “We provide 20 gazillion standard print forms FREE for you the customer!”…”You can develop as many Adobe print forms as you like with no additional licensing charge!”….”We have a high volume printing solution”…print Print PRINT! Why are we talking about print forms at a session about interactive forms?!?!?! A simple one page mention would suffice. I think we all get it by now….SAPscript  was replaced by SmartForms which has been replaced by Adobe print forms. Am I missing something earthshaking or groundbreaking in the world of print forms? Oh yeh…they feel the need to announce support for some new font or some foreign character format….WOW! Mindblowing!!!!
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Licensing

     This part of the session was for me almost equal parts sad and comical. I have never seen/heard someone speak so much about licensing while really saying nothing about licensing of interactive forms. Feel free to watch it in the session linked above starting around the 24 minute mark. “The print forms part of SAP interactive form is completely free of charge.” (ARGGG!)…and on and on about how you can “cosmetically” change standard forms (change font, color, etc. with no charge..but then we finally get to the nuts and bolts….what we all waited for…”but if you want to develop forms from scratch, or if you modify those standard forms way beyond the cosmetic frame, then they would be uhm…basically…they would become licensable *cough*.” Oh you mean like almost 100% of the people doing HCM P&F?!?! The speaker seemed very uncomfortable in even talking about this, and this was the full extent of the licensing discussion. WHAT??!!? So once again..no new news on the licensing front, and no, I am not the least bit surprised…just disappointed.
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Mobile and HTML5

     This was long overdue but still a pretty exciting announcement. It has long been known that one of the big issues with Adobe Interactive Forms (and PDFs in general) is the limited support on mobile devices. I fully understand the problem as it would be largely cost prohibitive for Adobe to try to develop Reader apps for each and every different device and all their many native quirks. At TechEd, however, they announced a new solution. For mobile devices, the interactive forms will be rendered as HTML5! How this works is that the ADS server will simply detect the client side device and then render the form as needed…PDF or HTML5. As it was explained by the Adobe representative, HTML5 can be thought of as simply another output format for them. They showed some demos that were pretty cool…the same form from ADS in the browser as PDF and on a mobile device as HTML5. Part of me wanted to be very excited about this, but the other part of me was very suspect of it. Ahhhh but of course the devil is in the details eh? Some concerns that immediately came up (and that I asked in some cases)…
  1. What if you want the HTML5 rendered version sent to non-mobile devices (ie. desktop/laptop and not smartphones)?
  2. Can we modify the HTML5 version or is it simply just converted (always?) from our “original” PDF form?
  3. How much overhead is generated in the HTML5 version? (I can foresee a lot of “extra code” added that just increases the file size…think of Microsoft’s “Frontpage” that helped users easily build web pages but in doing so, it added so much extra crap that it was actually doing the user a disservice. I can also see this form churning a LOT when first rendered until (if?) it gets cached.)
  4. What about all of our “in form” scripts (JavaScript/FormCalc)? How are those handled in the conversion? (I actually asked this in the network session and it made the speaker a little uncomfortable. I got the “it depends” answer. He said that “some” scripts would be converted but we might find issues with others.)
  5. Can we do some kind of “render detection” within our form? (For example, if my form is rendered in HTML5, could I have a script to detect that so I could maybe display some additional texts…ex. “You may complete this form, however, your signature will be required on the PDF version for legal purposes.”?)
  6. Licensing? (I have to ask…is additional licensing required for HTML5 rendered interactive forms?)
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ADS in the Cloud

     This was another pretty exciting announcement. We are all familiar with the issue….your BASIS team has to set up one Java server running ADS simply so you can have interactive forms support….those BASIS guys just LOVE hearing that (*sarcasm*)! Well, now they will be offering ADS in the cloud. No need for your on on-premise install and administration. This sounds great…especially now with many customers on HR Renewal using the FPM forms based HCM P&F processes that only require ADS/Adobe forms for printing the FPM form. (argg! I hate that limitation!) This is a really nice option, but again, the devil is in the details. I will be interested to see:
  1. Licensing? or is it a licensing cost + a subscription cost (for the cloud service)?
  2. How is the connection handled (especially in a secure environment)?
  3. Performance? (ADS can already be slow in rendering and caching…how much more is this impacted if not on-premise?)
  4. Can this also be used for a high-volume printing scenario? What about high-volume but only for a limited time period? (I am thinking for example, what if a client/customer needs to print large amounts of forms during only one time of the year….ex. W-2 forms in the US….could they provision ADS in the cloud, use it for the period needed, and de-provision it?… that would be a nice way to use it for only a limited time and not incur the typical hardware costs.)
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Q&A

     If you watch the session video till the end, you will see questions from the audience. Among these (around the 56:40 mark), one person asked why there were no HCM P&F sessions at TechEd. He is told HCM P&F is more of an “application” and AIF is more “technology”…and AIF “enables” HCM P&F….and TechEd does not really have “application sessions”. Huh? I will just pass on this one. (haha)
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      So where do I see Adobe Interactive Forms in the HCM P&F world of the future? Well, for any “new” implementations (those on HR Renewal), I don’t see them in use much at all (unless the “print form from FPM” option is needed, and I see that only as a temporary limitation until SAP provides a better fix…but even then, we are talking about a print form and not interactive). I also suspect a HTML5 (SAPUI5) option coming to HCM P&F soon which will further push the AIF option out of the picture (I think a more pure HTML5 solution will be better than Adobe’s “conversion to HTML5” solution). With the licensing hurdles still in place as well as many clients wanting a better mobile solution, the Adobe Interactive Forms option seems to be it’s own worst enemy. Meanwhile, I am head down in HTML5 work and my own Adobe Interactive Forms development days are just memories of a distant past (duly noted on my resume/CV of course! haha).
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29 Comments

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  1. Philip Johnston

    Chris, a good overview of the session and current state of AIF.  It sure is a shame that SAP and Adobe can’t work on their relationship and get some kind of agreement that simplifies the usage and development of forms for the client.  I have become somewhat of a fan of using the AIF solutions becasue of the rich end user capabilities.  But with the confusion around a future direction, I may tend not to lean towards suggesting AIF and rather opt for other possible solutions.

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  2. Brandon Toombs

    Chris-

    Great post as always.  I share your frustrations with AIS.  One has to wonder what the adoption percentage would look like today for HCM P&F if AIS had not been adopted as the front-end 10 years ago.  Double?  Triple?

    Interesting nugget about HTML5 rendering.  As you said, the devil is in the details but this might have the potential of keeping AIS alive at least over the short term.  SAP still does not have a mobile approval solution for HCM P&F and does not have on their roadmap (at least this was the case when I asked at SAPPHIRE.)

    Keep making waves Chris.  Always a fun read.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Thanks Brandon!

      Yeh, I have often wondered “what if” ….if SAP/Adobe had made the licensing barrier much lower, how widely adopted would it be today? I suspect it would have been HUGE!…Due to licensing, Adobe was not an “enabler” of HCM P&F as much as a “disabler”. Had they got the pricing right, no one would even have considered anything but Adobe (and even patiently waited on things like their coming HTML5/Mobile solution)….as the saying goes…”Pigs get fed. Hogs get slaughtered.”

      As for their HTML5 piece, I still think a “native” HTML5(SAPUI5) option will be coming for HCM P&F on its own (they left the “stubs” in place for it already) and will make the Adobe solution almost obsolete before it is available. But that is just my own guess. 😛

      By the way, I am an avid surfer so riding/making waves is nothing new to me. haha 😉

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        1. Christopher Solomon Post author

          Wow! Suresh! I know you (your company) has been considering HCM P&F from way back almost to the first days of it (and ignoring it due to AIF licensing costs all along as well haha). You guys have REALLY been sitting on the sidelines waiting to get in the game. Can’t wait to hear how (if?) it all plays out for you.

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  3. Matt Fraser

    Thanks for this, Chris.  Sure enough, our HCM P&F Adobe Interactive Form that we use here (just one!) is a constant struggle for us.  It’s clunky and slow to load, it has client-side Adobe Reader and browser version requirements that cannot always be guaranteed, and over slow VPN connections it’s even worse.  We have one other WDA based form, developed later, with its own set of problems, but at least it loads up in the Portal/browser faster than the Adobe form.  As we have a business push for many more interactive forms, of all types, and we have found development/modification in the Adobe arena to be time-consuming, slow, and painful, we are looking to HR Renewal to bring some much-needed relief.

    We recognize we’ll still need an ADS server even if we convert that one form, mainly for forms-based printing (the annual W-2 run, you called it, as well as monthly pay advices), and yeah, as a Basis guy, I hate that I have to have a whole separate installation just to print a couple forms.  That never felt like much of a step forward to me when that requirement came about.  I also don’t understand why ADS is a required component for any AS Java installation, when most customers have all ADS processing offloaded to a separate, usually dedicated, instance anyway.  So why do I need to download and upgrade ADS on my Portal server all the time?  It’s a huge component and requires a lot of time in JSPM, etc, every time a patch is applied.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to the HTML5/SAPUI5 improvements, even though it will no doubt take us some time to convert existing forms (the business demand will of course be for the new forms they want, so it may be some time before that old Adobe form finally goes away).

    –Matt

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      1. Matt Fraser

        I must admit I don’t see ADS in the cloud as a solution for high-volume print runs.  That would consume a fair amount of network bandwidth to send the print jobs up and pull them back down again.  In addition, there are always security implications with any cloud-based solution, and here we’re talking about people’s paystubs and W-2s, each with highly sensitive personal data on them.  A basic ADS installation, much as it’s a pain to have to have a separate installation, isn’t all that difficult to maintain once it’s configured, and doesn’t require all that much disk space on the SAN, etc.  Since ours is still in 32-bit, as that was all that ADS supported at the time we installed it, I’m now looking for a 64-bit conversion, and at the same time will consider migrating it into VMware and getting rid of the separate hardware requirement that way.

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        1. Christopher Solomon Post author

          Yes agreed….but they DID make a point to mention “ADS in the Cloud” for high volume….like I said, I want to see HOW they plan to make that happen. haha

          And yes, though not listed, I did have concerns around the data issue, however, ADS does not store the data (just merges with form template and sends) so my question is more around the secure connection part (as noted).

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  4. Chris Buffum

    Slacker, Nice write up as usual.

    You nailed it man crazy frustration around ADS for sure.

    I am still pissed I had to install an entire JAVA Stack environment just to print 2 forms for our HCM project – unreal.

    Keep up the good work you guru and Vegas was truly fun, as usual. 😉

    -Chris

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  5. Derrick Banks

    Solomon. Good article as usual and right on point. I’ve done a few projects implementing P&Fs with FPM/WebDypnro and I must say compared to AIF, it’s clunky, slow, and tedious (from a development viewpoint) and has no *** appeal (from an end-user viewpoint). But there is something to be said about “free” which is truly making the AIF a thing of the past with new projects (and even some old ones converting over to WD). In EHp6, P&Fs can now be called from an RFC so its just a matter of time before customers develop their own front-ends to replace both the costly Adobe Forms and the not so pretty WebDynpro forms. I think you’re on the money with HTML5; it could be a great low-cost (from a resource standpoint) and better-looking option for most. It seems that this would also play nicely with SAP Screen Persona which could eventually disconnect the close ties to a portal or HR Renewal in order to do P&Fs. Its all about options even though I still believe AIF is the best option of them all (at the moment). I guess you get what you pay for 🙂

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  6. Rob Greenway

    Chris,

    Please can you confirm -Do you still need to set up the ADS to create print files for FPM forms?   We are starting out using the new FPM forms and I see you can set them up to produce a Print PDF so that you can archive (Which we want to do).  I also see that you need adobe livecycle designer and this leads me to suspect ADS is required also?  When I try and create a print file for a FPM form it also comes up with “Invalid HTTP connection: ADS”.

    Rob.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Yes. To PRINT from a FPM based form, you STILL have to develop(with LiveCycle on local install) an Adobe print form in parallel which is used for the “print” (spool). Therefore, this DOES require ADS set up. It is a BAD solution and hopefully just a temporary one until/when SAP comes up with true FPM/WDA print functionality.

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      1. Rob Greenway

        Chris,

        Thanks for clarifying this.  So to archive or print an FPM you must design the layout twice?  Once as an FPM form and again as a print form?  The print form can’t just render the same layout as the FPM form?

        Rob.

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        1. Christopher Solomon Post author

          For archiving, not so sure…you can save the “data” of the form (it is just XML)….but if you want to store a “hardcopy” of the form with the data in it, then yes. For printing though, it is definitely a “yes”. And that is exactly what is crappy about this (hopefully temporary) solution…you have to layout your FPM form but then you also have to layout a static/print Adobe form layout in parallel (and the two will most likely NOT look the same as they have different capabilities….Adobe can look way more “form-ish” than FPM layouts). So you are kinda doing double work where the form part of the process is concerned (config, backend services, workflow and all the other HCM P&F pieces of the puzzle don’t change).

          And as your question….”the print form can’t just render the same layout as the FPM form?”….well, one would think this was easy eh? But apparently, right now, it is not. (keep in mind, we are talking about a specific “print” function within the content window of the browser and NOT the browsers own “print” function….you could of course print from your browser and capture the screen….this is different than pressing/clicking a “print” button within the HCM P&F window that sends the request to the SAP spooler….so it is a complex situation in that regard.

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          1. Rob Greenway

            Chris,  Thanks for the clarification and the not so good news.  I was looking for a quick solution for all the forms we have but you’re right the interactive form and the print form will be a slightly different and it is something we have to do.

            Rob.

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  7. Rob Greenway

    Chris,

    I see in your ADS in the cloud section you mention its required.  So if ADS is required just to archive does this mean adobe license costs too?  Or is that only for Interactive forms?

    Rob.

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      Additional licensing costs are only for “custom” Interactive Forms (not print). Archiving is a whole other discussion (what, how, where and why you want to archive).

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  8. Kevin Deuel

    Hi Christopher,

    Sorry to be posting a comment to an older blog, but, I wanted to ask about the HTML5 rendering for mobile? Do you know if this has been implemented? is it a configuration we can currently make to the ADS?

    We are testing our Portal for Device frameworks and in testing so far, none of our forms work on tablet or smartphone. They do not even render at all.

    Thanks,

    -Kevin

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    1. Christopher Solomon Post author

      haha No worries! I like zombie movies too! 😆

      I am not sure about full HTML5 handling for forms for HCM P&F (as I mentioned, due to a lot of the scripting we tend to need, not sure if this can be done). I am hoping to find out more at TechEd && D-Code this year but not holding my breath.

      And yes, you’re testing is correct. Not really viable for mobile devices….hence the push for FPM-based forms (which mobile devices can handle in most cases).

      Unless/Until a true “responsive” solution for HCM P&F comes about, I would look at your mobile needs for HCM P&F on a case-by-case basis and consider building your own solution using SAPUI5/OpenUI5 and communicating with the backend to interact with the process (SAP has opened this up…I wrote another blog about starting processes from “anywhere” but the same thing can be done to “jump into” a process as well),

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      1. Kevin Deuel

        Great, thanks for so much info Christopher! I will check out your other blog.

        We discussed a bit today about our options going forward. I believe I will be at TechEd this year too, so will be interesting to find out more.

        oh, and love that you threw out the clip to Little Rascals (Our Gang)….classic my friend, classic.

        thanks again,

        -Kevin

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  9. vivek amrute

    Hi Christopher,

    We are doing fresh HCM implementation using HCM Forms. What is the best option as of today to print HCM form ?  In earlier replies you had mentioned possibility of some better option to get added.

    1. print as it is

    2. Print with some fancy Layout

    Vivek

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