Adobe retools with focus on functions

With end users driving the future of computing, Adobe knew it had to change to succeed in the federal market.

Adobe has spent the past three years focused on understanding the federal market and organizing itself around areas such as key government functions.

No longer did it want to be just a commercial software provider whose products were sold through original equipment manufacturers and resellers.

Adobe wanted to create and tailor new solutions to sell directly to the federal government. To do that, it first had to know the government better.

“We spent a lot of time understanding the [federal] market, organizing around things like service delivery, benefits delivery, health care, things like that,” said Robert Pinkerton, senior director of product marketing at Adobe, who has led the government sales effort since its inception.

Since 2008 Adobe has spent a significant, but undisclosed amount of money seeking answers to those questions. In general, the investments have paid off well, he said.

At the same time, partners like Deloitte Consulting were coming at the same issues from a services point of view.

“The notion of usability and mobility is driving every organization to look at simplification and role-based solutions,” said Jaco Van Eeden, partner at Deloitte Consulting and manager of the user engagement practice.

“How do we simplify your very complicated organization back-end systems?” he asked.

“Although processes have become more integrated, nobody thought through how do people do their jobs more efficiently and seamlessly, especially now with all the complexity of big organizations [such as] the Army and the federal space,” Van Eeden said.

The timing of the Adobe initiative was also fortuitous because the incoming Obama administration was determined to foster greater use of technology, including the burgeoning social media, throughout the federal government and give citizens more timely, user-friendly information.

“We’ve always kind of known that [user-centric computing] would be the next big thing and we’ve been organizing ourselves around it,” Pinkerton said.

So Adobe created a user-centric model of services that it could offer to commercial and government clients.

The software provider also expanded its government solutions product development and marketing teams and made several acquisitions.

In October 2009, the company paid approximately $1.8 billion in cash for Omniture Inc., a provider of online analytics and personalization tools that analyzes how people use websites and examines their Internet interactions.

Last year, Adobe purchased Day Software for $240 million, a Swiss company that manufactures a web content management product for cloud and mobile technology. It enables enterprises to expand their reach to social media and mobile customers through what Pinkerton called "multi-channel digital interactions."

Pinkerton’s group has since grown to about 100 employees in the Washington, D.C. area and he said he is planning to add more technology expertise with an eye to bringing to the federal market whatever the “next big thing” is.

In June 2011, Adobe unveiled its Digital Enterprise Platform, which enables enterprises to build immersive, multi-channel digital interactions for today’s social and mobile customers.

The Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform optimizes customer interactions across all lines of business and government and helps users create personalized, targeted connections and other online and off-line marketing campaigns.

Pinkerton cited as an example the Army’s new interactive recruiting video.

“Literally [the recruit] can see, feel, touch, understand what it’s like to be in boot camp, to fly a helicopter, to be trained in the Army,” he said.

The platform also helps bring together various tasks and technologies that government agencies have in place and creates one seamless system that improves efficiency.

He said the typical government purchase order system involves an order entry system, an inventory system, a production system and maintenance. Usually they run on several different technologies such as SAP, Oracle or even on a legacy system, he said.

But using the platform’s Adobe Flex, a free, open-source framework, and AIR, Adobe's Rich Internet Applications, Van Eeden said he was able to create a new unified work-flow system that runs on all devices, including smart phones and laptop computers.

“Now the user does not have to go back into those systems anymore. They do this full job from a single [front end] screen in Adobe,” he said, adding that one of the benefits of the single-screen system is a 66 percent reduction in the number of clicks needed to complete an order entry.

One southern California utility company reported a 300 percent increase in employee productivity by having reduced the number of steps needed to complete a transaction from 17 to five, Van Eeden said.

Deloitte also used the Adobe suite last year to create a statewide system in Pennsylvania that allows its citizens to sign up for a variety of benefits across all state agencies whether they enroll from a kiosk, a laptop, a smart phone or from a computer terminal inside the state agency.

“We wanted to get rid of all the papers and filings that they had to do so we wanted to leverage information that’s already known by individuals in all the systems,” he said.

Also, Pennsylvania wanted the system to guide users through a series of questions of which the answers would determine the appropriate forms and applications needed, and fill them in automatically.

“The system is extremely intuitive,” Van Eeden said.

“What’s exciting for us at Deloitte is that with this suite I can do a transformation from the front and back [ends], not just like we did in the old days from the back end to the front,” he said.

Another benefit of creating a solution using the Adobe suite is that it can be adapted and customized for other clients. “The reusability factor increases significantly so I don’t have to do custom [programming] from scratch every time,” Van Eeden added.

The quick success of the Adobe suite hasn’t caused Pinkerton and his group to rest on their laurels.

“We’re looking across the board at where the next round of government [innovation] is going and what are the priorities and what the people need,” he said, adding that those goals probably will be included in Adobe’s 2012 strategy planning.

The Defense Department “will be a big growth area for the company. So we’ve beefed up our team there as we see some opportunity in front of us,” he said.

Pinkerton also is exploring what Adobe can do to facilitate greater use of mobile devices by government employees who for security reasons usually do not have access to the same IT tools at home that they have in the office.

“They don’t have access to the information, to the applications, to the tools and the technology,” he said, “and that’s very restrictive.”

Pinkerton said he believes Adobe has the tools and know-how to meet these challenges. But it will require accelerating the effort to take its government solutions unit to the next level by “doing things that I frankly don’t think anybody else can do.”