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?
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:
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 I think we all get it by now….SAPscript was replaced by SmartForms which has been replaced by Adobe print forms.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!!!!
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.
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)…
- What if you want the HTML5 rendered version sent to non-mobile devices (ie. desktop/laptop and not smartphones)?
- Can we modify the HTML5 version or is it simply just converted (always?) from our “original” PDF form?
- 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.)
- 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.”?)
- Licensing? (I have to ask…is additional licensing required for HTML5 rendered interactive forms?)
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:
- Licensing? or is it a licensing cost + a subscription cost (for the cloud service)?
- How is the connection handled (especially in a secure environment)?
- Performance? (ADS can already be slow in rendering and caching…how much more is this impacted if not on-premise?)
- 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.)
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)
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).