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Day 2 Hightlights from the Adobe Industry Analyst Summit

This is the second, and last day of this year’s analyst summit. The focus has been less on LiveCycle, and more on the Flash Platform and the SaaS offerings (“cloud,” if you prefer), Connect and Acrobat.com. Here are some highlights:

  • The morning opened up with a quick overview of the Flash Platform, Adobe’s RIA offering done by David Wadhwani. With this context setting done, Geoff Cubitt from Roundarch came up to talk through several RIA applications they’d built for customers, of particular interest an Air Force application to keep track of all those planes and other equipment. The interesting part of this demo was seeing the old application that had been “modernized” into an RIA: in summary, it was terrible looking, not really even graphical. Steve Fisher from SalesForce.com was up to talk about RIAs in their land, but most of that was under embargo, so no summary for you. Steve did mention that there were over 120,000 custom apps in SalesForce ecosystem, which is a big pool to apply some RIA lipstick too, if they don’t have it already.
  • In a talk that made me think back to the “hey, we got design game!” of MIX09, Adobe’s Steven Webster spoke about the consulting engagements Adobe does to get better UX into customer applications. All of it was the sort of “how to build better looking and usable applications” stuff you’d want to see. Where it hit a road-bump, of course, was in the skills gap between run-of-the-mill developers and genius designers. Put another way, the question is how you balance the cost in time and money to get highly usable UIs against the benefits you get from that work. The “poor internet application” bunch likes to jump in here, and it’s classic passionate, young developer vs. grizzled, enterprise developer framing. Those two IT folks who “almost always look and smell different,” as Adobe CIO Gerri Martin-Flickinger put it in another context. Another common discussion that hooks up here is the idea of businesses wanting to extremely short-cycle software development that has as close interaction with (paying) customers as possible. That is, never mind the boil the ocean SOA projects of old, for example, can we just get some Facebook integration to sell to our customers? That’s still sort of vague as, well, marketing positioning, but the strategic use of RIAs for companies seems to be leaning towards “for things your customers will be working with.” As with much of this type of talk, this applies to RIAs in general, not just Adobe.
  • Webster was hitting up the usage of “Experience Oriented Architecture” (XOA) pretty hard, which is an interesting meme to keep on the look out for. This is in contrast to the system-centric approach, and so on. Some UX chatter there for ya.
  • The rest of the afternoon was consumed by every analysts favorite topic: cloud computing. Arun Anantharaman spoke to Connect, while Erik Larson spoke to Acrobat.com. I won’t summarize the overviews they gave, but below are some highlights, esp. from Q&A.
  • As ever with anything that smacks of Office, Erik emphasized a couple times that they weren’t seeking to be a drop-in replacement for Office. Instead, the Acrobat.com people wanted to focus on “core collaboration use cases,” or something along those lines. I’m never a fan of the “we don’t compete with [insert the market gorilla]“: pretty clearly, if you’re working on documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, you’re competing with other software that does the same. Sure, you may provide better features, but any given Office-using office user has a limited amount of time, and that time (translated into license-spend) is what you’re competing against.
  • That said, the “core collaboration use cases” the Acrobat.com team has been coming up with are very compelling. The effect of collaborating in real-time around an office worker (or “information worker,” if you like the dressed up term) artifact seems to be speeding up how long it takes for everyone to lob in their input and thus, get to a finished artifact. You know, like a presentation. As Erik said, his team was able to put the finishing touches on the presentation he was going through (?) in a short 15 minutes because they were all there, looking at and editing it at once. This is opposed to the time-shifted collaboration office works would usually go through emailing around a copy of the presentation.
  • In the cloud Q&A, James asked about Adobe’s thinking with respect to using a cloud offering as a monetizable runtime. As you may recall from the notes on yesterday, getting runtimes, containers, or just pieces of code that Adobe can collect revenue from is a key business problem for their RIA stack ongoing. As I like to tell people, while developers and even general IT folks have been trained – by open source, mostly – to get as much free, on-premise software as possible, that procurement modus operandi doesn’t seem to have spread to SaaS, managed services, and, yes, “cloud computing”…yet. Sure, the pricing may be cheap, but it’s more expensive than zero. After some back and forth, Rob Tarkoff stood up to address the general topic. “Clearly, I’m going to do more than monetizing the development tool[s],” he said. And while they may not have that monetization nailed down to a public talking point yet, he was clear that Adobe is not interested in IaaS cloud plays, saying “putting data-centers in Iceland is not in my strategic budget right now.” I’d expect to see Adobe partner with IaaS people and even PaaS folks (as they currently do with the likes of EC2, SalesForce, and Intuit). But, I’d also think there’d be some of their own PaaS tooling – a collection of common middle-ware services that you’d want in this whacky new RIA world.
  • During lunch, Adobe CIO Gerri Martin-Flickinger gave her (now, I guess) annual analyst summit talk about how Adobe is using all this internally. All of the internal applications she demos are always a breath of fresh air for what you’d expect from internal applications: a nice RIA directory with pretty deep functionality to relevant back-ends, an RIA front-end for Adobe’s service desk that uses Connect to do remote trouble shooting, and so forth. Narrowing down on the service desk demo, I got to wondering how it was that Adobe IT had figured out this nice approach that the countless service desk vendors out their had (obviously) failed to deliver to them. How is that Adobe IT figured it out and built it, and all those service desk people didn’t? This isn’t any sort of back-handed commentary. The point is that making that leap to focus on “user-centric” (usability, looks pretty, simple, scenario-driven over all other concerns) vs. “system-centric” (vendor-centric, fully/overly functional, “compliance,” process, and security over all other concerns) design seems like the core issue to solve with getting more Flash Platform and Adobe adoption outside of the walls of Adobe. Adobe’s pitch is that their UI technology will build better applications – getting people to somehow value that “betterness” and put in the time and money to RIA-face their applications is the shift that, it seems, Adobe IT has internalized, but I’m not sure there’s a repeatable way to get the rest of the world to internalize that thinking and, thus, buy more Adobe kit.
  • Finally, the last session of the day for me was on the LiveCycle Solution Accelerators.

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    As the Adobe folks put it, “[s]olution Accelerators are deployable code and best practice methodologies to help customers reduce development time and increase the quality of their applications.” Another interesting angle here is that these Accelerators help glue-up the Adobe Stack to specific industry verticals. I’m not sure where in hi-tech marketing land this idea of an “Accelerator” comes from, but it’s interesting to see if in various ISV’s portfolio. Microsoft, over in the Server and Tools Business has a successful and nice revenue stream from it’s own Accelerators. IBM, of course, is going hog wild with a “bigger” approach to this kind of vertical focus, productizing “accelerators” for whole industries with its industry frameworks programsenterprise software marketing strategy at it’s finest. For me, if you wanted to see how the LiveCycle-shaded part of the Adobe Stack is used, these are the things you’d slog through to start to get a sense.

There was another break-out session, but the majority of it was under embargo. As a teaser to other content, I recorded an interesting RIA Weekly episode with Matthias Zeller on the topic of where he’s hearing customer interest in for enterprise RIA; I should have that up soon.

Disclosure: Adobe is a client, as are Intuit and Microsoft.

Categories: RIA.

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