K2 Insider Conference

As has been reported by Daniel Gocsman, the K2 Insider conference was held last week in Denver, Colorado.  A bunch of the attendee’s made a trek up to Vail, Colorado for a few days of skiing, before getting into the content & discussion around K2.

The conference began with some drinks & nibbles in the cocktail bar at the Magnolia Hotel, in downtown Denver.   This was a great opportunity to meet-and-greet with some of the delegates, and K2 attendees – with folk travelling in from all around America, and from further around the globe including Australia, New Zealand, England and The Netherlands.

Some of the information discussed was shown with the following logo – meaning “Non Disclosure”.

…but I was amazed at how much we were allowed to show/tell – so read on !

no-blogs

Day One : Tuesday 7th

After breakfast, the conference began in earnest, with a group of only 20-30 people, in a meeting room adjacent to the hotel breakfast area.   This was our home for the next three days – with lots of informal discussions & presentations – the small number of people was great for this style of conference.

Adriaan Van Wyk & Olaf Wagner were the first presentation/keynote – these two guys are the founders of K2 – so they have both a business and technical perspective on K2.   Good to hear some history about where the organisation began – and how the business has grown over the years.

This lead to some comments about the new/changing game at hand – with regard to some initial problems with K2 blackpearl – and “2007” – with the admittance that the company had tried to “over-deliver”, with delivery dates set by what they “wanted” to deliver – not what they “could” deliver.  

This meant dropping features and some bugs and/or problems for customers.   Not the best of times – but “enough of that” – evident by the fact that they are moving forward with a renewed focus.    Refreshing to hear management from a big software company being so introspective – and open & honest – about what went right / wrong / and what’s next.

The feeling was that they “have only delivered part of the vision” – with much more on the horizon.   There are many new features & products on the horizon – as well as some opportunities to reap some benefits – especially the new (beta) product for SAP.  

K2 connect

We saw a demonstration of how easy this product can be to use – with the two-way (read/update) of data within the SAP database.

There are some updated designers to allow for this – with K2 connect working essentially as another type of ServiceObject – and thus SmartObjects is the interface for this.

This includes drivers for SAP, Siebel, Oracle and SQL Server – as well as BizTalk and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).

I haven’t actually used SAP before, but there are some large customers out there – and lots of need to use an integration tool – such as K2 or BizTalk.  

In fact, the K2 connect offering even supersedes the (current) SharePoint Business Data Catalog (BDC) implementation – which ended up being a “read-only” view of data – and extremely difficult to setup and configure.

The use of SmartObjects was the key to all of this – a great data & object-relational tool – so if you’re familiar with how easy they are to create, then you should easily be able to get K2 connect working.  

(The beta version is out already – with the final release scheduled for around Oct/Nov 2008)

K2 Studio

As has been mentioned by Holly Anderson, there is a new workflow designer on the horizon – known simply as K2 Studio.   My initial thoughts on this were mixed, with this new tool being the FOURTH way of designing workflows.

But – after seeing this in action (demo by Adriaan/Olaf), I began to see how this fits in the K2 landscape.  The full-blown Visual Studio 2005 designer might actually be “too much” for some developers & business folk, as well as a large installation set – and expensive too, if that’s all it’s being used for.

K2 studio uses a familiar Microsoft Office 2007 style of designer, with the “ribbon” and the left-hand pane as you’d be familiar with from Microsoft Outlook.

This looked like an easy to use designer – more functional than the K2 Web Designer (in SharePoint), and also without the need to purchase Microsoft Visio 2007 – and a much nicer interface than either of those tools.

I’m a bit excited to have a play with this new tool, still in pre-beta – as part of the Tech preview release.   Will detail more about it, as I discover more.

Process Portals

Within the current “Workspace” website as part of K2 blackpearl, there are a number of reports and screens that can be used to manage and update the attributes of processes.

Adriaan & Olaf next showed use the new “Process Portals” offering that will allow for a more in-depth view of a process.  This is via a number of WebParts (WSS, don’t actually need MOSS) – for various reports and tasks lists.   This is created from as a “site” from within SharePoint Central Admin – and is a “dashboard” for a process.

Not only admin rights, but more involved reporting.   I’m sure there’s some scope to include KPI (Key Performance Indicators) also – these could then be slotted into the process portal to give more visual information of processes underway/completed – eg. $$ amount for expense claims – with traffic lights to show when there have been more than expected.

OK – you want more ?!!?

Silverlight Workflow Designer

This is the “in-browser designer” that will replace the current K2 Web Designer (AJAX-based) – with a focus on “people” rather than “events” as such.  This will be de-MOSS’ed – not a specific need to have SharePoint.   It will be a good complimentary feature set for the K2 Studio product.

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More to come as this progresses – still a pre-beta, and was shown as a working prototype only.  Any release timeframe would be dependant on Microsoft, and the final release of Silverlight 2.0 (obviously).

K2 EndPoint Designer

One of the new areas of .NET is the Windows Communication Framework (WCF).  This is the evolution of COM+ and MTS, as well as Remoting, etc.   Basically the network plumbing and so on.  

K2 is developing a new tool allowing for “End Point Publishing” – in which the developer can publish any SmartObject as a WCF endpoint, and then reference using WSDL. 

This can then be added to a Web Application (for example).  Just need to create an instance, set the folio – and then call “start”.

This is going to be (yet another) easy way to interact with processes, from another .NET, or any other WSDL (web service) enabled environment.

*phew*   Still reading ?

K2 blackpearl simulation

Another product shown was very cool, especially from a monitor & improve perspective.  This is one of the tenets of Business Process Management – not just automation, but then identifying bottlenecks, and improving what processes have been run.

This new “simulation” tool allows a developer or user to open an existing process, and provide some estimates re: resources/decisions.   Then, can see a simulation of how this landscape would change, following some changes to users, processes, etc.   Historical data can also be used as part of the analysis matrix – will be a great utility, can’t wait for that one.

WOW – that’s everything that’s coming – those K2 dev’ers have been very busy.

What about “what’s now” ?

While most of the above is “on the horizon”, there are some more immediate updates due.  Release 803 is in final testing – and should be released in the next month or so :

  • 64-bit support – for SQL, Windows, SharePoint, etc
  • Internationalization support – for non-English languages
  • Deployment fixes & improvements – has been some pain around Kerberos & distributed environments
  • Patches post-SP1 – including Visual Studio stability (with re: InfoPath)
  • Performance fixes – for reporting, and SmartObject lifecycles
  • and …
  • Sales Tools for partners – more about what K2 can bring to a corporate/enterprise

Subsequent future release/s will include some of the above “new” features, as well as some integration points – such as Team Foundation Server, and Visual Studio 2008 (not yet supported).

Jeez – we were all fairly “brain-full” after all that lot.   Amazing to see/hear what the technical path ahead is for K2 – more innovations and some great material for developers.

Adriaan and Olaf were both very passionate and enthusiastic about what K2 is/does – and I can see why !   Will be great to delve more into this lot, there are some beta programs and tech-preview programs.

Once I’ve had a chance to dissect all this lot, I’ll blog observations and findings.

To follow – more about the K2 Insider Conference (Day 2 and 3) – as well as the TenPin Bowling night – some winners and losers !

Here’s a shot of the K2 Insiders (what a good-looking bunch, eh ?) :

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A few were missing from this shot – was hard to track them all down !

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