Migrating from Adobe Central Output to AEM forms

Adobe Central Output is a server-based application that enables you to manage your electronic templates in a networked environment. With Central Output, you can generate dynamic and personalized business documents electronically or in print.

The extended support for Central Output is scheduled to be discontinued on June 30, 2016. However, Central Output customers can secure and extend their investments in Central Output processes and assets by migrating to Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) forms.

However, before you choose to migrate to AEM forms, it is important to consider the differences between the two systems, the effort required to migrate, and challenges you need to address. This article will help you answer the following:

  • why migrate to AEM forms
  • how Central Output features are different from AEM forms
  • how to migrate Central Output assets and data to AEM forms
  • how to continue to leverage Central Output system during migration
  • how to achieve Central Output usecases with AEM forms
  • what are the challenges when migrating and their solutions

Note that the article doesn't provide in-depth explanation of how technologies work, and assumes that you have prior experience of document generation using Central Output and some familiarity with AEM, XML and related standards and tools, and AEM Forms Designer.

Why migrate to AEM forms

The primary usecase of Central Output server is to merge electronic document templates with data and send it for high-volume printing or PDF generation. AEM forms can not only help you address this goal, but enable you to you transform complex forms and document transactions into simple, engaging digital experiences for your customers, anywhere on any device.

Some of the key capabilities of AEM forms are:

  • Simplified authoring of responsive and adaptive forms that automatically render as PDF or HTML5 based on device and browser settings.
  • Support for XFA forms templates and XML schemas to create forms.
  • AEM Workflows to automate forms processing workflows.
  • AEM Document Services for creating, assembling, and securing PDF Documents.
  • Forms management capabilities to manage forms. templates, schemas, and related assets.
  • Integration with Adobe Analytics to effectively measure form usage metrics.
  • Integration with Adobe Document Cloud eSign services to electronically encrypt documents containing confidential information.

For more information about AEM forms capabilities, see Introduction to AEM forms.

Central Output versus AEM forms

While AEM forms can help you achieve the Central Output usecases, the two solutions are quiet different in terms of their technological foundations, breadth of functionality, use of standards, and so on. Let us first draw a comparison between Central Output components or processes with that of AEM forms.

A typical Central Output workflow involves designing a form, integrating data with the form, and processing the form.

Form Design

Central forms are designed using Output Designer, which offers a graphical environment for designing both the visual aspects of a form, and the behavioral characteristics of the form. Forms created with Output Designer are saved in an .ifd binary format, and deployed to Central in an .mdf binary format.

AEM Forms Output forms are also designed using the graphically rich environment provided by AEM Forms Designer. The set of tools and capabilities offered within AEM Forms Designer are significantly greater than Output Designer. In many cases, features and capabilities that required hand-coding of preambles or data in Central are now available as equivalent first-class features of AEM Forms Designer. Forms created with AEM Forms Designer are saved in an .xdp format, which is an XML markup format, when they are to be deployed to AEM Forms Output.