K2 and BlueThread sign bundling agreement

Some more about BlueThread, from the recent K2 Networker newsletter (July 08)

BlueThread Technologies has always used K2 software as the workflow engine of its enterprise content management (ECM) solutions.

As a result of a new bundling agreement, BlueThread will now directly integrate K2 blackpearl into its SmartDesk software.

“In addition to users realizing productivity improvements, the K2/SmartDesk bundle offers clients a simple and cost-effective means to upgrade to K2 blackpearl.

Clients can quickly configure process- and content-enabled business applications without writing code.

IT can now focus on ECM application rollout and the development of unique, client-specific functions and not be burdened with the overhead of supporting custom, one-off business applications.”

Mark Brazeau, BlueThread president and senior principal

And – there’s a further reading also (case study + press release) :

  • Case study – how Integrated Behavioural Health used K2 and BlueThread software to speed claims processing, improve customer service and increase efficiency.
  • Press release – how Bridge Finance Group used K2 and BlueThread software to automate its loan processing business and meet critical, 24-hour service-level agreements.
Advertisements

Bluethread – K2 + SharePoint

Was passed a few videos from a buddy at Microsoft, covering the new solution application stack from Blue Thread.

They’ve taken SharePoint – and K2 blackpearl – and created a full-blown enterprise solution for customers.  

SmartDesk is a highly optimized and dynamic ECM end-user interface leveraging Microsoft’s technology stack.

Through configuration, it’s designed to aggregate work and required content in an optimized paradigm so users can make better and faster decisions.

Interesting to see a partner taking K2 and creating a solution / product – rather than a customer using K2 within their organisation.

Just have a look at the architecture involved – amazing !    … and K2 is only a small part of the overall solution :

image

You have to really see it in operation – there’s a few videos from Micheal Gannotti.

Microsoft Partners BlueThread and K2 have come together to in partnership to offer clients one of the most compelling solutions around application delivery on the SharePoint platform to date.

While I was in Tampa I had the opportunity to see a number of applications they have delivered and it got me very excited. Here was a powerful solution that is exactly what so many of my own customers have called for.

In this 3 part video series you will get an overview from some of the folks from Bluethread and K2 as well as see two demo videos around actual application implementations of their solutions (more of these on the way).

Also – don’t forget to check out the new “Geier At Large” video – featuring Jeremy Ragan from Blue Thread Inc – they even offer TIME TRAVEL !!

Will be great to have a deeper look at the new Blue Thread SmartDesk product, looks like it’s going to be a huge hit.  

I wonder if they have a reseller or partner located in Australia – and if not – why not !!?!  

🙂

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 !”

image

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 !

When we set out

Comments from Adriaan Van Wyk (CEO of K2) upon being named as a finalist in the 2008 American Business Awards :

“When we set out to build K2 blackpearl, we set out to create something simple, so that non-technical people can contribute to and participate in the application-building process; and flexible, because business needs constantly shift; and fast, because time is money.

“We feel like we accomplished all of that and that it is a unique product in the industry.”

Will wait and see if K2 can win – on June 12th.

Source : K2 blackpearl named finalist for American Business Award

Wrap-up from MOSSIG

Wednesday night was the symposium on workflow at the Microsoft Office Server Special Interest Group, otherwise known as MOSSIG.

Was a bunch of about 40 folk in attendance – with Subway mini-sub’s replacing the usual nerd-dinner of pizza.  We all filed in to hear about Nintex workflow, K2, Skelta, SharePoint Designer and .NET workflow (Windows Workflow Foundation).

Tim Wragg was the “M.C.” for the night, inviting the vendors/experts to do a quick introduction and overview from each product.

Nintex

Steve Heaney presented the Nintex product, which is a SharePoint integrated workflow tool.  Using a web browser, the user can create workflows using pre-defined activities, with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface.

The main target audience is for business users, although there is extensibility capabilities using Visual Studio and .NET code (WF).

Skelta

Next up was Vinay Joseph from SDM, showing the Skelta product.  A quick demo-by-screenshot run-through showed the full BPM scale of the architecture.  Able to run on SQL Server or Oracle, and rich activity monitoring and KPI-driven initiations, as well as business rules engine and workflow server.

Some detailed reporting also, and able to use work calendars, and load-balanced servers with the Advanced Server Edition.

Also uses a web-browser based process designer, although I couldn’t really follow the flow of the one shown, was using a swimlanes view of a process, not standard workflow “flow view”.   I’m sure Skelta has a similar “flow” designer for processes, just didn’t see what it was like.

K2

Jey Srikantha then showed us through the K2 product, covering the abilities to create workflows using either Microsoft Visio, Web browser, Visual Studio, or an office-style designer.  

Then quick run over SmartObjects, process portals, workspace, event bus, and the community aspects to K2 – with the K2 Underground and Black Market.  Looks like an enterprise scale capable product, with many, many pieces to the pie.

SharePoint Designer / Windows Workflow (WF)

Elaine Van Bergen then spoke about some tools that you may already have.  Certainly most installations of SharePoint would be via some form of licensing that would provide for SharePoint Designer.  A point and click designer, but from a Windows App this time.  

There are a reasonable amount of functions available, but certain logic such as looping ain’t gonna work.  Also, deployment to environments such as DEV, TEST, PROD is tricky too – and some security hiccups whereby the user that started the process is the permission set of the entire process lifetime.

However, it’s often a great choice for a quick & simple process, usually the first question is “can I do it in SharePoint Designer”.

If needing “full control”, you can have full reign to create workflows using Visual Studio, and the .NET Framework and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).

This requires certain skills, as the code can be tricky – and it’s not so good if a business user wants to be able to maintain the process definition and business logic, or the activities and business process model need to change repeatedly (or rapidly). 

If only needing to code it once and never touch it, then WF and .NET is a good option.  And there’s lots of code out there, samples, snippets and so on.

But – if wanting to do any reporting, then you’d need to log data to a SQL Server database – using code, and then use Reporting Services to create some custom reports over the database.

—————

So – that’s the FIVE of them (with Elaine covering two really).

Tim then invited all speakers to a sit up front, and begin the panel discussion proper.  

Was a good feature/function-driven discussion, beginning with the value proposition that each offering brings to the table.

There are some topics below without an entry for certain product/offerings, doesn’t mean “no comply, senor”

Just that the conversation jumped around a lot (which is great) – and my notes are a bit scattered in parts (which is bad).

🙂

Value Proposition / Summary Statement

  • Nintex – ease of setup/configuration/use
  • K2 – start small, grow to enterprise/ fully extending MS stack
  • Skelta – framework, embeddable, scalability, completely web based.  Ease of use, minimised code / no-code
  • SPD/WF – free – part of .NET framework. part of Microsoft license – already have in many organisations

Workflow Definition

If you throw back to a 101 thinking, what do you consider workflow to be, from the perspective of your product/offering ??  :

  • Nintex – human oriented WF, but can automate process to do something when item is modified; end to end with no human interaction – eg. Cascading delete
  • K2 – focus on business process, human or system involvement, work between participants & update backend systems, visually looking at current activity, implementing BPM & Reporting – to gain visibility on how to improve and ultimately save money
  • SPD/WF – workflow definition the same “concepts”, more need to think back to WHO will be designing – business user might do in Visio/flowchart, but tricky to understand SPD or WF visually, when compared to screen shots of other (K2, Skelta, Nintex) – they actually look like a workflow (!).   Thus, audience is mainly technical users, developers, etc.  

Target Audience

The next topic for feedback was related to making dynamic changes to a process, such as when requirements change.  One comment was related to “depends on WHO is making the change – sometime a user might change process to suit SPD, for example”.

So, some more thoughts regarding the “who” question with regard to workflow

  • Nintex – business users – their salesman uses internally, created a workflow to follow leads, and create SharePoint sites on commencement.
  • K2 – provides Visio designer for business users, or the web browser, and office-style tools, as well as developers within Visual Studio
  • SPD/WF – would be developers mainly for .NET WF, and even SPD not so well suited for business user

Versioning of processes

  • Nintex – integrated to XOML as with SharePoint Designer, will continue on old process / any new process will have the new version
  • K2 – has workflow server can have multiple versions of workflow, with the ability to download the source code for processes from previous versions
  • Skelta – has a listener to monitor workflows, handle change

Source Code

  • Nintex – can save process definition, and is saved within SharePoint
  • K2 – works with TFS from within Visual Studio.  Can open cross-designer files, between Visio, Visual Studio, web browser, office-style
  • Skelta – saves in database as XML file, independent of SharePoint
  • SPD – is within SharePoint, WF will be in Visual Studio + TFS

Templates

  • Nintex – has some out of the box, but really just as a learning tool to help create a quick process
  • K2 – can’t really “template” a business process, every organisation is different.  Instead, have common building blocks (wizards), and other re-useable pieces like SmartObjects

Integration

  • Nintex – can call other workflow pieces / web services
  • K2 – inter process communication, web services to backend systems, can use SmartObjects, K2 connect for SAP, SharePoint search

Deployment

  • Nintex – can publish to another site, another server, but can’t assign to a particular ContentType
  • K2 – uses MSBUILD packages which can be copied to another server, also environment library & configuration pages for security.  Is able to assign to Content Types
  • SPD – limitation of deployment to multi-server – DEV, TEST, PRODSPD – can’t do across every list

Disaster Recovery

  • Nintex – in SP Content Database
  • K2 – different set of databases
  • Skelta – other database also / Skelta advanced server failover cluster
  • SPD/WF – SharePoint database also

Costs

Didn’t cover $ amounts, more of a discussion between licensed and “free” tools such as SPD/WF; false economy in that you have more developers or consultants, for a longer period of time & thus cost. 

Of course, there may be already some developers in the organisation who can be tasked with such development, and thus would be a valid choice in this instance.

Extensibility

  • Nintex – can code in WF, and use code samples from Microsoft community built custom activities.  SDK pack available, and Nintex-Connect website for community input/response.  Call BizTalk, wait for response
  • SPD – can also be customised, uses same “coded in Visual Studio” .NET WF activities as for Nintex
  • K2 – can create workflows in Visual Studio, and new ServiceObjects, EventBus, full K2 API, and portal site, with black market – components, wizards, templates, connect to SAP
  • Skelta – out of box activities, server events, human workflow, connectors to SAP, Oracle, etc.   API’s can be built / custom activities
  • WF – anything that can be done in Visual Studio.  Is a framework of code / classes / building blocks

Management of Workflows / Capacity Planning

  • Nintex – reporting is coming soon, with avg, max, min, etc
  • K2 – custom reports, report builder, simulations from historic data
  • Skelta – can do KPIs/thresholds to start or react to a workflow

Training

  • Nintex – designed to very intuitive, more often business users need training in “identifying business problem”
  • K2 – training can be a few hours to do initial processes, 3 day training course available
  • Skelta – 7 day (!) training course for business users

—————

By now, the session had moved into the question & discussion stages of the evening – with a few main topics as follows :

Migration

One question was asking “what if I use say, Nintex, and then outgrew, wouold I be stuck, could I upgrade ?”.  

Well, no – not the specific code from one product to the other, but it would signal a need to maybe change your processes.  If you outgrow the “tool”, you’ve most likely (also) outgrown the “process”.

Take the opportunity to review & analyse the process and design using some of the new features of the “upgraded-to” product.   (Or – you simply chose the wrong product to begin with !?!)

User Interface

With a process or workflow operating as the business layer for an application, what about the presentation layer, shown to users/participants – as opposed to the developers/creators of the workflow :

  • Nintex – InfoPath forms (Forms Server), view flow in site.  Can do “Lazy Approval” – reply via email with a Yes or No, for example
  • Skelta – MSN messenger, can send approve, SMS reply
  • K2 – InfoPath, WebForms, WebParts, Windows app’s also – multi-viewer technologies / presence based routing

Bear in mind that you need to be careful on mobile devices, don’t just show a mobile-ised version of a 60 field InfoPath form, for example !

Time To Market

This is another aspect, that I didn’t get time to ask about.   I’d expect that Nintex is a very short production ready timeframe (probably under 10 minutes too).

K2 & Skelta look similar, with more hours & days required depending on customizations and integrations.  And SPD would be a quick deploy & up-and-running.

The longest (by a decent amount) would be the WF custom coded option.  Aside from the complex code that has to be written, as with any code, development & deployment – there will be a longer time to dev, test, etc.

—————

Some great topics, not just to hear how the products stacked up, and their abilities, but some key workflow “concepts”, and even back to simple application analysis & design, architecture & infrastructure – and coding/development and deployment.

Like with any development project, there are options and better/best/not-so-good ways to do something – depending on the situation at hand.

With regard to workflow, there are considerations like :

  • Which tool will meet the needs now, and future – as there’s no real upgrade path
  • The “who” focus is key – who needs to update a process, may determine the tool choice also.
  • The “when/how often” will/does the process change will also be a factor

These sorts of questions & answers will need some business analyst time to identify firstly the business environment – and then the tools at hand (as was covered during the panel session).

Thanks to all the presenter/panelee’s – and for Tim Wragg for deftly steering the discussion along.  

Now that you’ve read all the way to the bottom (!), there are some downloads from the evening available. 

There is the Workflow Panel Session PodCast of the entire sessions (40 MB – mp3 format), and you can grab the slide decks from Skelta, Nintex and K2.

Best of Tech-Ed 2008 Developer Awards

K2 blackpearl was named a finalist in the “Best of Tech·Ed 2008 Developer Awards” in the “SharePoint” category by Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine.  The Best of Tech·Ed 2008 Awards recognize companies who offer innovative products in the industry.

The judges reviewed more than 65 products and services submitted for the contest and chose 13 finalists to be interviewed at the Tech·Ed 2008 Developers Conference in Orlando, Florida. 

For SharePoint Development, the finalists are K2 blackpearl (K2), PointFire (IceFire Studios)and Office Canvas (Neudesic).

Looks like PointFire is a multi-lingual WSS tool from Finland.   Their website is unavailable at the moment, so can’t look into it any further.

Office Canvas is a SharePoint add-on for creating composite business applications. These applications provide workflow, reporting, and custom user interfaces for SharePoint List data, business data (via BDC), and external services all through an intuitive design canvas.

Looks like K2 will be the winner among this lot – although Office Canvas looks pretty cool.

Winners will be announced on June 5 at an evening reception for all of the finalists.  Click here to see all finalists, in all categories.

Source : K2 blackpearl a finalist in the Best of Tech-Ed 2008 Developer Awards

Workflow special at MOSSIG

This coming Thursday, the MOSSIG user group will have a session dedicated to workflow, with the variety of options within the Microsoft stack.

This is in a similar vein to my previous session about SharePoint out-of-the-box workflow, SharePoint Designer, Windows Workflow and K2 (was actually K2.NET 2003).

I’m not actually presenting, although will be attending to add some comments & answer questions – let me start by saying “No, it’s NOT too expensive !”    (that’s a pre-emptive strike/reply to the guys from Nintex)

Will be interesting to hear about Skelta also – I’ve only heard the name in the past.  I tried to speak to someone at Tech.Ed about it – but they weren’t too interested in describing what it does.   I asked them some questions, but the answer was just “it just does the same thing as K2”.    *shrug*

Anyway, here’s the details about the forthcoming MOSSIG Workflow Panel Session :

Its such a continuously hot topic, workflow scenarios exist in every business today and we’re really spoilt for choice with the options that are available to us on the Microsoft stack.

So what do you use? SharePoint, Visual Studio?

What about 3rd parties like Nintex, K2 or Skelta?

Its not so much what’s the best product, but what to use and where.

So join us for this expert panel session where we’ve invited our workflow experts from the MOSSIG community & vendors to share their knowledge & partake in the discussions as we flesh out all those common workflow scenarios we face.

We’ll also open up the floor to our members to share their knowledge and pains and make this a session not to be missed.

Your panel experts are: Rai Umar, Elaine Van Burgen, Steve Heaney, Vinay Joseph & Jey Srikantha

Click here to view details, and RSVP.