K2 blackpoint Q&A at MOSSIG

Was a great turnout for MOSSIG tonight – to see the demo+prezzo by Jey Srikantha from jEyLaBs.

Jey covered much of the functionality of K2 blackpoint; there’s just soooo much involved, that it’s tricky to show it all in detail.

Just as a quick overview of what was shown :

  • K2 Web Designer – add a new process, and use a “template” of Approve, Decline, Re-Work – and include some events & user tasks (uses a Silverlight plug-in)
  • K2 Studio – rich-client (desktop) which includes additional designer templates in an Office-2007 style designer
  • K2 Process Portals – SharePoint webparts & site templates for managing the processes deployed within K2 blackpoint. 
  • K2 Worklist + ViewFlow – user interaction and reporting views

While I’d seen much of the functionality already, but was good to see/hear the reaction from attendees – and there were lots of questions.

I wanted to provide a further “take” on the whole blackpoint/blackpearl equation – and “document” some of the questions+answers…>

What is blackpoint and what is blackpearl ?

One of the analogies I like to use (for developers) is the “Visual Studio” approach.   Firstly, think of Visual Studio Express, and then Visual Studio Professional.  Each of these products have a bunch of project-types & functionality that you create.  

And – while the projects you can create in “Express” is limited, you can easily upgrade to “Professional” – and open the same projects and continue – with more features & functions.

The analogy here is :

  • K2 blackpoint is akin to Visual Studio Express
  • K2 blackpearl is akin to Visual Studio Professional

Another way to say it – is that one is a subset – and the other is the super-set :

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Can you include code / is there an API / can you add new activities ?

Some of the discussion related to being able to start workflows via code, or being able to add new activities to the designer, and so forth.  

In essence, what’s the “extensibility” level of K2 blackpoint ?    (for developers)

Much of the answer was simply “uuum, No – you’d need K2 blackpearl for that”.  

And yes, sorry to disappoint, but the K2 blackpoint product is intended to provide a huge wealth of functionality for SharePoint workflow – that doesn’t NEED to delve into any code – and there’s a LOT you can do within the bounds of the functionality.

If you need to “outgrow” the bounds of what K2 blackpoint can provide, then you may need to consider looking at K2 blackpearl instead.

Just like the analogy of Visual Studio – the different versions of the product have different inclusions – eg. if you need Source Code control, you need to use “Professional” instead of “Express”

What’s the upgrade path ?

As above, there (will be) the ability to simply do an in-place upgrade from K2 blackpoint to K2 blackpearl.   This will mean that the new features of “pearl” will be immediately available.  This includes the following :

  • Licensing upgrade – the principle is that this will be a simply “license key” change.  Obviously there will be some licensing fees involved – this can be determined on a case-by-case basis from K2.
  • Installation upgrade – in principle (again), this will be a simple “SETUP.EXE” installation.   At present, this is not really an option – until the K2 blackpearl product has a minor update to include the K2 Studio, K2 Silverlight Designer and K2 Process Portals.  This is expected very soon – the latest I’d heard is that there is a BETA release due in April (ie. next month).  This will also support the 2008 stack (Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 – and Visual Studio 2008) – will be a big release indeed !

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If there are any other questions/comments about the session at MOSSIG – or K2 blackpoint in general, pls. feel free to enter a comment…>

Click here to see some more info :

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Thanks Jey for tonight’s session at MOSSIG…!

🙂

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Updated Beta for BlackPoint (beta 2)

As if there wasn’t enough to read & play with from Microsoft and PDC (Azure, Windows 7, Office 14) – there is a new beta drop for K2 BlackPoint.

It’s now feature-complete, and the RTM should happen “this year” – or so I’m lead to believe.

One of the best aspects is that there is a take-to-market proposition for customers, with a 25% discounting if purchased prior to RTM date.

In case you’ve been living in a cave, and don’t know about BlackPoint :

K2 blackpoint software eliminates complexity and allows users to quickly build workflow solutions and process-driven applications within Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0

Even non-developers can use K2 blackpoint to create new SharePoint workflows that span libraries, sites, InfoPath forms, server farms and organizations; manage approvals; and route documents and list items.

With K2 blackpoint everything can be built without code, and users can assemble new applications from information that already exists and workflows that have already been built.

It’s basically the BEST tool for creating SharePoint workflows – with a bunch of wizards, reports and security aspects – and has an upgrade path to it’s big brother K2 blackpearl.   (This then adds Visual Studio support, and allows for hook outs to other LOB systems such as SAP, and via SmartObjects).

I’ve just installed the BETA on a local VM, and will blog more about some lessons learnt, and the features – especially keen to try out the new Silverlight designer !

Had to install .NET 3.5 – and Silverlight 2.0 (RTM) – and then the install proceeded successfully.

More info here :

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Here’s a few screen shots (from the PDF) – just to get started :

K2 Studio – office-like workflow editor :

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Process Portals – for managing process instances, security, etc :

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K2 Web Designer – process designer using Silverlight – very cool :

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Will update more with other screenshots / review / etc.

K2 blackpoint Webcast

Received an email today about some more webcasts coming up – one is tomorrow (!) :

…we will demonstrate designing a real-world solution with K2 Studio (an Office-style process designer), using SharePoint-specific task wizards and integration with InfoPath Form Services.

The solution will include provisioning sites, uploading and moving documents, creating event items and creating a process report dashboard in SharePoint using K2 Process Portals and cover how to use the K2 administrative tools directly within SharePoint.

Recordings of the meetings will be made available to K2 Underground for those unable to attend.  

Click to see the recording from July 30th : Initial installation, build and deployment experience of K2 blackpoint

The sessions are open to all beta testers – so make sure you sign-up to the beta program – and attend one of the webcasts for more information and overviews.  These meetings will also give you chance to speak directly with the K2 blackpoint Product Team to provide feedback and ask questions.

  • August 13, 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time (-8 GMT)
  • August 27, 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time (-8 GMT)

K2 blackpoint on Channel 9

Channel 9 (MSDN) has some great videos and articles – there’s a new one featuring some of the lads from K2, describing K2 blackpoint – hosted by Kirk Evans.

No-code SharePoint Workflows with K2 blackpoint

…is a tool built upon Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation that allows users to build workflows and process-driven applications quickly with no code. 

In this interview, you will see how K2 blackpoint makes it simple to create a workflow using an InfoPath form, route tasks to a user or group, send an email message, and send an SMS message, all with no code, and done in a very short period of time. 

Click here to see the video (16:52) :

Looking at Blackpoint with Shaun and Sebastian from K2

Some of the topics covered :

  • What’s the difference between K2 blackpearl and K2 blackpoint ?
  • Straight into demo – using InfoPath form – travel request
  • Publish to SharePoint form library
  • Create workflow using K2 Studio – Office-style designer with wizards
  • Process helper – forms library + InfoPath templates + views
  • Drag-drop form template to process – “that’s impressive” from Kirk Evans
  • Approve + Decline actions / outcomes -> InfoPath form – big WOW from Kirk Evans
  • Add user to approve/decline – roles, specific user, or to direct manager (using AD)
  • Originator + manager – another WOW from Kirk Evans (!)
  • Design canvas – for inking – a new use for the tablet
  • Send email + web service endpoint

Amazing to see what can be achieved in only 15-20 minutes – you could have a LOT implemented in a day or two – not weeks, months, etc…

Recommended Third Party Products for SharePoint Server 2007

Yet another recommendation for K2, when dealing with SharePoint workflow. 

This time from a trusted source – Bill English @ mindsharp.com :

Bill English (MCSE, MCSA, MVP, MCT) is an industry leader, author, and educator specializing in the exciting SharePoint Products and Technologies product set from Microsoft.

In this role as Mindsharp’s CEO, Bill focuses on emerging technical changes in SharePoint to ensure Mindsharp continues to provide cutting-edge training and business solutions.

Bill draws on his expertise in knowledge management and collaboration technologies to teach and consult worldwide about powerful customized solutions based on the SharePoint platform.

OK – so what has he said about K2 ?!?

When it comes to SharePoint Server 2007, there is no shortage of third-party products that can help enhance your SharePoint Server 2007 experience and increase the ROI on your product.

In this blog post, I’ll highlight many of the third-party products that I recommend to customers, depending on their needs.

Not everyone needs every product here, but many running SharePoint Server 2007 will need at least some of the products.

Workflows

K2. Need I say more? Simply the best in the field for workflows.

Source : Bill English (MindSharp)

The blog post also covers the following :

  • Collaboration
  • Security, User Account Management and Permissions Management
  • Search and Relevance
  • Document Administration
  • Upgrade and Moving Content

Worth a read-thru for any SharePoint implementations out there.

Click here to read the full article.

More on K2 blackpoint

Seems like there’s a fair amount of buzz about K2 blackpoint, here’s a few other posts/links from out on the interweb:

Some information & details from K2 Insider Edgardo Vega :

  • What is it?
  • What can you do?
  • What do you get?
  • How much is it?

Source : Announcing K2 blackpoint

Here’s a few more links with some good information about K2 blackpoint :

And a few “announcement” posts :

The ‘point’ of origin – K2 blackpoint

Well, it’s a great day when someone asks you “so, what’s happening with that BlackPoint” thingo from K2 ?” – and I can reply “It’s out !”

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SharePoint workflow.  More features.  No code.

Click here to view the home page : blackpoint.k2.com

For those who haven’t heard about the K2 blackpoint, the easiest way to describe it is that it’s a cut-down version of the flagship K2 blackpearl product :

K2 blackpoint, a subset of K2 blackpearl features and tools, is for SharePoint users that want the ability to build workflows and process-driven applications quickly — without code, without complexity.

As was shown at a recent SharePoint user group meeting, there are a number of workflow solutions out there, with Nintex, Skelta, and the Microsoft offering of SharePoint Designer and WIndows Workflow Foundation (WF).

The K2 blackpearl product stood out as the better choice for an enterprise scale workflow & BPM tool, with Nintex looking rather appealing for SharePoint-based workflow.

That’s all changed now, with the introduction of K2 blackpoint – using the word ‘point’ as it’s a SharePoint-only workflow product.

Let’s have a look at the features that are included “out of the box” :

  • K2 studio – new Microsoft Office style workflow designer tool.  Had posted about this earlier, click here to read.
  • K2 process portals – SharePoint portals to manage processes, instead of the K2 workspace (as with K2 blackpearl)
  • Out of the box reporting
  • Works with Windows SharePoint Services (free) as well as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS)
  • Works with SharePoint Forms Server – or without, by coding ASP.NET pages

So – K2 blackpoint does what it says – SharePoint workflow, no code.  

There’s some buzz on the interwebs regarding the differences and advantages/disadvantages when compared with Nintex Workflow

Here’s a few that are relevant (IMHO) – not the official cross-reference from K2 or anything like that :

Server – K2 blackpoint runs using a dedicated workflow server. Nintex is fully integrated into SharePoint, which means it’s processes are hosted by SharePoint, as with SharePoint Designer workflows.

Licensing – being a separate server, a single K2 blackpoint server can support multiple SharePoint servers, rather than requiring a separate license (costs)

Upgrade – if workflow requirements increase over time, there will be an easy upgrade path to the K2 blackpearl product, including the K2 Visual Studio designer and Visio, as well as K2 connect for SAP, and K2 SmartObjects designers.  If using Nintex, and workflow needs/requirements are greater, then it maybe end up (unfortunately) as a “start-over” task, with an enterprise scale product (K2 blackpoint or K2 blackpearl)

Functionality – K2 blackpoint has out-of-the-box reporting capabilities, and assign-to-Content-Type features.   For users familiar with the new Word-2007 environment, the K2 studio tool will be easy to create & configure workflows, as well as the K2 designer within SharePoint (like the designer for Nintex). 

Extensibility – can easily code webpages and web services using the K2 API, and SourceCode.Workflow.Client namespaces.   And, can use ADO.NET to interact with SmartObjects created by the K2 blackpoint, or within SharePoint.

Integration – being fully integrated to SharePoint means that Nintex resides within the content database.  This can be GOOD, with regard to disaster recovery.  K2 blackpoint has it’s own server, and SQL Server databases, which would require (additional) backup & disaster recovery plans, etc

Click here to view a PDF with the complete comparison document – between K2 blackpoint and K2 blackpearl.

One of the comments that is usually directed at K2 is that “it’s too expensive”.   Well, how’s this for an answer :

TRY IT FREE. BUY IT FOR LESS THAN YOU THINK.

K2 blackpoint will be priced on a per-server model — $5,000 (U.S.) for up to 200 users, $10,000 (U.S.) for up to 500 users and $15,000 (U.S.) for unlimited users.

So – the K2 blackpoint product may be cheaper for a lot of implementations, has more functionality, and scalability, and is a true BPM solution – and is easily upgradeable (to K2 blackpearl) when/if you need to.

Seems like a no-brainer, to me.  But – hey, that’s just me !   

In case you’re wondering, here is a list of what’s NOT included in K2 blackpoint, and requires the K2 blackpearl version :

  • Visual Studio designer
  • K2 SmartObjects designer
  • K2 Workspace
  • Custom report designer (within workspace)
  • Process simulation (coming soon for K2 blackpearl)
  • Code editing, within the workflow designer (would require K2 for Visual Studio)
  • K2 connect for SAP, etc
  • Business Data Catalog, within SharePoint

Click here to view the home page for K2 blackpoint, including :

  • Details on training
  • Video clip showing main features
  • Sign-up for a free trial of K2 blackpoint BETA

And – there’s even a competition to celebrate the launch. 

The prizes are pretty good, just need to do some some searching for “clues”, and enter codes on the website :

  • 1st prize : DELL 30 inch Flat Panel monitor
  • 2nd prize : Canon PowerShot S5 digital camera
  • 3rd prize : Nintendo Wii

Click the following link to see details about the K2 blackpoint Game – get the point(s), win something cool.

Can’t wait to start playing around with K2 blackpoint – looks like it’s going to be great !