Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yesterday I saw a great webcast about K2 [Blackpearl] given by Adriaan Van Wyk, CEO of SourceCode Technology Holdings. For those of you who haven’t tried it, K2 is a Business Process Management (BPM) or “workflow engine”. BlackPearl is pretty exciting stuff because it is built directly on Windows Workflow (WF), Microsoft’s new workflow framework.
K2 has just released a public Beta 2 version of their engine. Beta participants will receive a 25% discount on all Blackpearl software if they order it before 30th June 2007 (but licencing info won’t be made available for a few more days!). RTM is expected within a few months.
Key points brought up from the webcast:

  • BlackPearl is heavily integrated with the Office 2007 stack, including SharePoint. K2 workflows are hosted in SharePoint libraries just like the out-of-the box MOSS workflows are; the appropriate workflow actions are easily available from the Actions menu; workflow tasks appear in Office 2007; and so on.
  • Workflow development “scales” according to technical ability and need. A Business Analyst can draw up a general business process using Visio and deploy to SharePoint. A developer can import that workflow into Visual Studio, add more complex logic, and then re-export the changes.
  • Related to that last point….the K2 Studio is now fully integrated into Visual Studio – so no mucking around in a separate IDE!
  • All K2 BlackPearl workflows are xoml files (the WF format).
  • All workflow actions are fully surfaceable using an API, which means you can easily incorporate them into your other applications.
  • K2 provides the source code for its templates, allowing you to poke around and customize as required (although whether they will support any template changes you make remains to be seen!).
  • Exporting K2 2003 workflows to a target server was a bit difficult. Now you can publish your workflow as a CAB file, which combined with an XML configuration file for each environment means you can deploy K2 workflows with no K2 software installations required at all on the target servers! This will really please server administrators. During the webcast Adriaan demonstrated how you can extract a K2 workflow CAB file using a command line on the server.

Some other nice features:

  • There is a Forms Generator tool to autogenerate .aspx pages from K2 workflows. Autogenerating InfoPath 2007 Forms will not be possible at RTM but hopefully shortly thereafter.
  • Workflow process information can be surfaced in SharePoint using the Business Data Catalog.
  • Smart Objects allow you to keep your BPM data outside of K2. This is a great feature because you can reference the Smart Object’s unique ID in the workflow, but update the rest of the SmartObject’s properties over time, and all workflows using that SmartObject will still work. This simplifies maintenance of data structures.
  • Reports are generated using Report Definition Language, which means you can create and customize them using Reporting Services technology.
  • A Context Grid allows K2 to make decisions based on the runtime environment, such as rerouting tasks or messages based on a user’s availability (perhaps determined by Live Communications Server).
  • Black Point is an AJAX designer which is hosted in MOSS. This component allows business users to generate and modify workflows without even leaving their browser window.

Workflow is a vital component of the SharePoint story – enabling customizable, real-value business solutions in a reasonable timeframe. You can already develop workflow using Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer, but a sophisticated product like K2 really takes much of the pain away, allowing you to focus on the business requirements. K2 continues the trend towards declarative software development.

With SharePoint 2007 and workflow forming a solid platform, I think we’ll soon see a new kind of Extreme Programming: one developer and one business analyst paired together at a computer, happily rolling out business solutions.


  1. "SmartObjects" are my favourite as they form the basis of a reusable enterprise objects library. They are version controlled , secured and ready to be used in all kinds of applications.

  2. Hi Jey, I haven't had a chance to actually use the beta yet, although I can't wait.

    My limited understanding is that you might refer to the SmartObject's ID field in a workflow. Because the ID would remain constant over time, you can add more properties as your data evolves, while the workflow will continue to work. Am I on the right track?

    Adriaan also mentioned the Artifact Library, which encourages reuse. I think a killer combination in the future will be a developer + business analyst creating and combining K2 workflow building blocks for deployment with InfoPath or MOSS front-ends.

  3. May I know the webcast URL? I wanna watch it too.

  4. Hi Ken, the webcast is hosted on the K2 website at

  5. Hi Nick

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