Archive for the 'K2 [blackpoint]' Category

IT in 2010… is it going to be as we predicted it?

With the new year almost upon us, I’ve been trying to theorise what skills will be required of developers in the next four years.

It is important to take stock of what you’ve got at the end of each year to ensure you offer training and support to the development team to help ensure they are productive with new technologies and tools.

As a developer myself, do I need to worry about keeping my job… ?

Ellen Fanning from Computer World, back in 2006, predicted outsourcing and the need to be business savvy was a major threat to IT workers.

John Newton from the CIO weblog (also from his own blog), back in 2007, predicted that content management would be improved and delivered in more human friendly ways. Business computing would shift to Blackberry type devices. User Interface design would be improved and take ideas from the gaming market.

There are a number of existing/emerging technologies that will impact my organisation in the near future (… I’m well aware that we are behind the curve on most of these, but give us a chance, and we’ll try to keep up :-)). Those are

  1. SharePoint 2010
  2. .NET 4.0
  3. ASP.NET Model View Controller 2
  4. jQuery
  5. Silverlight
  6. Windows Presentation Foundation

I’m sure there are many others.

We’ll also be trying to maximise productivity with our existing tools, such as the K2 BlackPearl / BlackPoint workflow suites.

It is has been a difficult time for many IT workers, when a business looks at what it can cut out of the budget, it usually means laying off staff, or the reduction of investment in their IT systems. Hopefully we can take heed with an article from Judi Hasson, Fiece CIO, who writes that IT is the key to recession recovery. Lets hope so!

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all :-D

SC



Things you should know before you purchase K2 [blackpoint]

  • Only the enterprise version of K2 [blackpoint] will enable you to work with a distributed SharePoint farm (the SQL Server database can be on another server though)
  • It is not possible to deploy K2 [blackpearl] and K2 [blackpoint] on the same physical server
  • If you have multiple WFE for SharePoint, you need to buy an Enterprise license for each WFE
  • K2 [blackpearl] 904 will encompass all the new features available in K2 [blackpoint]

These are a few key points from: K2 blackpoint Licensing, Deployment Scenarios, and Support Information

SpittingCAML



K2 [BlackPoint] - A simple meeting agenda review process in InfoPath… that can even store the completed InfoPath form

Well, I say simple… It is simple to me, as I’ve knocked it up using the Meeting Agenda template (free with InfoPath 2007) with a slight addition of a task action field, and I’ve then knocked together a simple approval and rework based workflow.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_001 
Figure 1: The finished workflow (I’m not going to teach you guys how to suck eggs by going through the creation of it… unless you’d like me too … another time perhaps?)

Figure 1 shows the finished article… I’m not suggesting that this is perfect example of an approval and rework workflow…  it is simply here to demonstrate a point.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_002
Figure 2: Destination Form Library for the creation of the InfoPath form that starts the workflow

I’m using a standard MOSS 2007 form library to store my InfoPath forms as shown in Figure 2. When ‘New’ is clicked, you see Figure 3.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_003
Figure 3: The InfoPath form created when ‘New’ is clicked in Form Library (FormLibrary001)

k2blackpointdemoprocess_004  
Figure 4: The K2 Worklist (which just happens to be in the Process Portal (K2 Management)) showing the new task for destination user ‘Administrator’

As you can see in Figure 4, a task is added to the administrator user task list.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_005 
Figure 5: Clicking on Open will take the user back into InfoPath, or the Actions option will allow the user to action the task bypassing InfoPath - this might be useful if you want people to bulk action things. In this example I should really disallow this option. You can do this as part of the InfoPath client event outcomes.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_006
Figure 6: Shows the opening of the InfoPath form from the K2 BlackPoint runtime services… I’ve configured this on port 8080 (just so you know). This gives me a clue that unlike K2 BlackPearl, InfoPath forms only exist in K2 Server, and not in the form library… which confused me somewhat… or perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick on that.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_007 
Figure 7:  User is able to select an outcome from the task action field as you’d expect

k2blackpointdemoprocess_008
Figure 8: Shows the final resting place of the InfoPath form - this is because of the SharePoint document event I placed in the final activity. I assumed the form would be saved by default, but it doesn’t seem to work that way… but it certainly did in K2 BlackPearl.

So how did I get the InfoPath form to be stored in the Library at the end… well the next screen shots and explanations will tell you how! I must admit, I thought it would do this automatically, but both the Beta 2 and RC versions of K2 [BlackPoint] behave in this way…

As you may have noticed in Figure 1, I added a SharePoint document event to the end of my workflow. This is also shown in Figure 9.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_009
Figure 9: Shows the SharePoint document event on the final activity that saves the InfoPath form. I’m using the Upload Document Event Action.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_010
Figure 10: Shows that I’m going to be creating this uploaded file from a K2 Field. This is very important, as K2 BlackPoint is now being told that the file stream is not from a disk, but from the database

k2blackpointdemoprocess_011
Figure 11: When selecting the K2 Field, be sure to select the Root node of your InfoPath form. The Root node will be the name of your Template (in most cases). My Template XSN was called MeetingAgenda001.xsn before it was integrated into the workflow.

k2blackpointdemoprocess_012
Figure 12: I am building the Filename of the output file using the meetingTitle field from my InfoPath template

k2blackpointdemoprocess_013
Figure 13: To ensure an unique filename, I utilise the Process Instance ID

k2blackpointdemoprocess_014
Figure 14: Be sure to space out your dynamic fields, I’ve used a hyphen. Also be sure to add the extension to the end. For InfoPath, the extension required is ‘.xml’ (well, of course it is!)… You then end up with files named like they are shown in Figure 8

Of course, you may not have to do all this stuff… I might have an incorrectly set-up version of K2 [BlackPoint], but thinking about it, it does make sense to me.

  1. InfoPath forms are ‘protected’ from unauthorised modification as they are stored in the database
  2. InfoPath forms are only stored in the library when they are in a complete state (because you decided when they would be stored!)

This is definitely an improvement on how BlackPearl handles them, as they are editable (through other means… e.g. text editor) when they are mid workflow, and it was a concern of the customer.

Anyways, I hope this helps others understand how to do this sort of thing. Post a comment if you want more explanation on anything, but of course, check out K2 Underground first!

SpittingCAML



Documenting Workflow

You may have customers who let you decide what they want, as they don’t know themselves! This is not necessarily a bad thing as pretty much whatever you deliver will be an improvement on what they’ve got (something, in the place of nothing)… however increasingly you’ll come across an intelligent (In their eyes) customer. Intelligent customers like to tell you what the solution is before you’ve even produced a requirements document, you wont be able to get any requirements from them because all they want to do is sit behind the development team pointing and shouting at what they want them to do. Okay, so how do you make the most of an intelligent customer?

In terms of workflow, you can enable customers to document their workflow in a meaningful way.

By meaningful, I mean, in the place of twenty poorly described and wooly requirements, a picture of how the system needs to work, essentially and pictorial requirement… perhaps you can even let your development team see it! :-)

The first thing you need to do, as an organisation or department is to choose a notation, that you can use on the whiteboard, use in PowerPoint slides… and more importantly can train others to produce and understand.

Two common notations spring to mind,

  1. Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN)
  2. Unified Modelling Language (UML)

Before you make your choice between these two, or another of your favourites, it’s very much worth having a read of:

  1. Process Modeling Notations and Workflow Patterns by Stephen A. White, IBM Corp.
  2. Advanced Unified Modelling Language (UML) Tutorial - Workflow Model
  3. UML Activity Diagrams as a Workflow Specification Language by Marlon Dumas and Arthur H.M. ter Hofstede

Happy modelling

SpittingCAML



Case Management: the K2 roadmap for accelerated business process management

An organisation’s information system is made up from the mental concepts and frameworks of the participants in the organisation, the data passed to and between the participants (processed along the road), and the resulting individual perceptions and understandings of the situations leading to individual actions. These actions are expected to lead to the fulfillment of shared goals.

Actions are geared towards goals using:

  • common understanding
  • good communication
  • common culture, languages and conventions
  • compatible frames of reference
  • common data and metadata

ogdenstriang
Figure 1: Ogden’s Triangle (1956) shows the relationship between data, information and what is going on in the real world.

Figure 1 highlights the obvious.. but it helps us to think about the way we store ‘data’ in our organisation. It is in the ability to ’symbolise’ information from raw data that affects the performance of the organisation to properly understand the real world.

Okay, so that’s the theory! How do we put that into our organisation? K2 have come up with a possible solution. It will ensure good communication, a common framework, and consistent metadata.

K2 refer to their solution as ‘Case Management’. To paraphrase the K2 literature in front of me:

Case management refers to a pattern of working for knowledge centric processes where skilled workers assess large amounts of related information typically a mixture of content (e.g. Documents, Images, physical evidence, records and data) which is used to make a series of discretionary decisions about next steps and associated outcomes. Such case processing typically involves interaction between individuals and organisations and can take place over days, weeks or even years.

Does it sound like your organisation fits that description? K2 suggest that 50% of the activity in most organisations is ‘case’ based. The word case could easily be replaced by the word ‘project’, ‘job’, ‘task’, ‘assignment’ or ‘issue’ to name a few.

vertical-filing-cabinet-1
Figure 2: Your organisation (a metaphor)

You store your information in a consistent way, whether it be in paper form in a filing cabinet, or electronically in a SharePoint document library or a record management tool.

longstoragefilecabinet
Figure 3: ‘Cases’, ‘Projects’ etc. in your organisation (another metaphor)

People in your organisation separate their thoughts and work processes into ‘Cases’ or ‘Projects’ etc. Progress is measured by tracking each ‘case’ or ‘project’ in the organisation. Metrics are kept to help predict future cases or projects. Governance means that their are strict rules on how information is stored. The CEO needs an overview of everything going on so he can keep the shareholders happy.

Okay, enough of the theory! What does this mean in technical terms? The K2 Case Management suite gives you:

  • A pre-configured portal (SharePoint),
  • A business process engine (K2 [blackpearl]),
  • Records management, by providing seamless communication with Record Centre, HP Trim, Meridio and many others
  • A supporting framework delivering:
    • A collaborative environment to access, implement, coordinate, monitor, report and evaluate end to end business processes, their instances, supporting documentation and records

So What? That sounds like SharePoint and K2 [BlackPearl] with a records management tool thrown in for good measure! Why can’t I just build that myself?!

Yes, that’s true… but there are a few good reasons why you should go for the K2 Case Management suite rather than building your own out of the building blocks.

K2 will be offering ‘accelerators’ to allow organisations to rapidly build their business process with a reduced need to bespoke the out of the box toolset. A capability to provide a ’single-point-of-truth’ for each ‘case’ in your system, even allowing you to surface data from LOB applications such as SAP and BizTalk.

image
Figure 4: A preview of how the the K2 case management suite will look 

These ‘accelerators’ will be available from K2 very soon. My organisation is intending to be one of the first businesses in the UK to utilise it. We hope to be participating in the beta programme. If you are interested in being a part of this, please contact your K2 sales representative, or raise a support ticket through the K2 support system.

References/Materials

A. Hitchcock, S. Leisegang. (2008). Solutions Portfolio Presentation. K2 (www.k2.com).

B. Sundgren, P. Martensson, M. Mahring & K. Nilsson (Eds.). (2003). Exploring Patterns in Information Management, Stockholm School of Economics.

J. Flanagan, T. Huang, P. Jones & S. Kasif. (1997). Human-Centered Systems: Information, Interactivity, and Intelligence, National Science Foundation.

Update: I’m now featured on ebizq.. how great is that :-D… Thanks Dennis Byron for the link back! See what he wrote here

I don’t work for K2, but I do use their technologies… but I guess I can be considered a microsoft junkie!… :-D



Networking at breakfast

It was only my second visit to Cardinal Place near Victoria Station, but I still managed to get lost by virtue of the six or seven exits from victoria tube/railway station! It’s a really amazing building, a glass sculpture! No Microsoft signs are to be seen until you get inside, which I suppose is a good thing, otherwise you’d have people walking in off the street to ask why Vista doesn’t work on their laptop :-D. Also, an excellent breakfast that would impress even the most cynical of IT professional ;-)

Thanks to all those who put together today’s breakfast seminar, whilst I’d seen most of what was presented before, it was nice to talk to lots of like minded developer/analyst types who are going through the same things as my organisation. I’m a strong believer that networking is what allows IT professionals to really consider the bigger picture, organisations the size of mine tend to suffer from ‘group think’… and being stuck in one particular industry taints your view of the world. I certainly enjoyed hearing the views of a ‘change manager’ from a well known publishing company, and talking to some people heavily involved in the world of ‘people security’. Great stuff :-)

I especially enjoyed discussing the gray area between what BizTalk Server can offer and what the K2 product set offers.

Harsha (SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist) from Microsoft discussed the plans for the future in the realms of business process management, and amongst the overarching strategies of ‘cloud’ computing, there was a strong message of community involvement in making business process management something we will all be doing in our sleep in the not so distant future. K2 (and dynamyx) will continue to forge a strong partnership with Microsoft to leverage their technology stack, and to utilise existing infrastructure such as SAP, BizTalk, Microsoft Office, SharePoint and WSS.

Special thanks to Gabriel Malherbe (Dynamyx) who took the time to show me how BizTalk was being used in his demo workflow, and also to Ruan and Rye from K2 for taking the time to discuss our future  organisational requirements.

Gabriel is also involved in the writing of the first K2 book. I first blogged about it in March 2008, its been delayed till early next year due to wanting to include as many useful chapters as possible. It will certainly be on my amazon wish list. The number of authors has also grown since March, and I’m pleased to see that Sergio del Piccolo and Jason Apergis are also in the mix, as I’ve been reading their blogs since I first got a taste of K2 [blackpearl].

If you didn’t make it to this seminar, I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future, but you missed out on the snazzy K2 USB Stick, which contained the slide deck from today… I will be presenting those to colleagues over the next week or so.. Very useful :-D

… also, for those who don’t know (and I was one of those people)… there are plans for the K2 User group in the UK. Hopefully I will find out more in due course… I wouldn’t mind getting involved in that!

SpittingCAML



Microsoft based Business Process Management - Free Breakfast Seminar - Thursday 30th October 2008

I’m going to be attending this free breakfast seminar this week. I’d love to meet other people involved with Business Process Management and discuss about how you are/or may be using K2 tools and Microsoft WSS 3.0/MOSS 2007 to achieve this. Comment on this post if you are going to be there :-)

This is what the morning is all about: Discover the benefits of embracing Business Process Management using Microsoft based technologies. We will be presenting Microsoft BizTalk Server and K2 blackpearl focused around business-process automation and application-to-application integration.

K2 in Partnership with Microsoft invites you to join us for a breakfast seminar in Microsoft Cardinal Place, London Victoria, London, UK. Breakfast will be available from 8:30.

seminar

Arrival
(8:00 - 8:30)
Light Breakfast
(8:30 - 9:00)
Welcome from Microsoft
Mr Harsha Karunaratne, SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist
microsoftlogo

(9:00 - 9:30)
Business Benefits of BPM
Mr Ruan Scott, K2 VP EMEA
k2logo

(9:30 - 10:00)
Scenario Demonstration
Mr Gabriel Malherbe, Dynamyx Technical Director
dynamix

(10:00 - 10:45)
Q&A
(10:45 - 11:00)
A technical workshop will be held from 11:00 to 12:00.

There is still time to register, simply visit the dynamic register to attend page.

I hope to see lots of you there :-)

See you on Thursday morning.

SpittingCAML



K2 [blackpoint] - the early verdict

Well, what can I say. I’m very impressed! It feels much cleaner, and much more stable than K2 [blackpearl]… perhaps underlying the inadequacies in the Visual Studio 2005 plugins, and the brilliance of the new Microsoft Office 2007 Style K2 Studio (Shown in Figure 1 below).

blackpoint_nicetutorial
Figure 1: K2 Studio, new with K2 [blackpoint]

As you can see, there are a number of ’steps’ along the top which take you through setting up your MOSS 2007 or WSS 3 portal correctly. It is much more simple this way, and ensures you activate the K2 features and webparts correctly.

Clicking on the ‘K2′ logo in the top left, much like in Office 2007 brings up a familiar ‘new’ dialogue where you can start to create a new  project/K2 process (Shown in Figure 2).

blackpoint_niceprojectcreation
Figure 2: New project dialogue

Creating your workflow is as easy as in K2 [blackpearl], and you draw the lines between each process using right mouse button, dragging a line between the items you wish to join. There are familiar options, in fact all the options you would get in K2 [blackpearl], without the option of viewing code or editing the WF objects. I created a simple workflow that sends an email when a new contact is added to the portal site (Shown below in Figure 3)

 blackpoint_workflowdevelopmentpanel
Figure 3: Example workflow

I then deployed the project using the big ‘deploy’ button shown in Figure 3, and it deployed successfully after asking which server I wish to deploy to (Development, Staging or Live etc.) and what to call the version that I am deploying, pretty straight forward, it does all that in K2 [blackpearl]. You then need to create the site that will be hosting your workflow data. Its pretty easy, and you are taken through what to do in easy step by step instructions. Once you’ve created that, you should have a SharePoint web site looking like Figure 4.

blackpoint_workflowsite0
Figure 4: Deployed Workflow SharePoint site 

This is something new, and I really like this idea, as it takes away the having to learn the K2 Workspace supplied with K2 [blackpearl] and gives you the courage to delegate workflow administration to your power users/business analysts.

Okay, enough of that… lets start the workflow by creating a couple of contacts - which should generate two instances of my workflow, and send an email to me.

 blackpoint_contactlist
Figure 5: Two contacts created, with an added ‘workflow column’ that shows a status 

Due to my workflow integrating with the contacts list, K2 [blackpoint] added a nice column to tell me the status of it. This changed from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Completed’… and no email arrived… I wonder what went wrong then?

I returned to the Workflow web site, and clicked to see the instances I just created. The excellent view flow feature from K2 [blackpearl] is available. It shows me that the error is in the email sending section (Figure 6).

blackpoint_viewflow
Figure 6: The view flow, from the workflow web site

I investigated, and used the Management Console that is available in the SharePoint administration site. This is yet another feature that has been integrated (shown in Figure 7). Excellent :-). No errors here, so I checked the event log on the machine. It would seem the runtime services hadn’t been installed correctly. The application pool had an invalid identity, so I fixed that, and tried again.

 blackpoint_managementconsole
Figure 7: Management Console integrated into SharePoint administration

I went back into the Workflow web site and clicked ‘retry’ on the instances that failed… sure enough, email arrived as expected! (shown in Figure 8) I cancelled a few that I had created trying to diagnose the faults, using the ‘cancel’ option.

 blackpoint_itworked
Figure 8 - the email arrives 

Brilliant, my workflow appeared to work. Looking around at what I can do, I think the export to excel reports are really cool. (shown in Figure 9)

blackpoint_nicereports
Figure 9: Excel reports 

Interesting, however, is it correct? I cancelled two, but where are the ones that completed? Do I need to have a terminate event on my workflow? I’ll do a little more playing around. If you know, please comment on this blog post.

I think this could be a very useful tool for our organisation, and best of all, the training required is greatly reduced since it’s all SharePoint based now, and our staff already know SharePoint.

SpittingCAML



K2 [blackpoint] - the trial begins

Last week it was proposed that my development team should have a look at K2 [blackpoint]. Management’s motivation seems to be more money related rather than feature related since K2 [blackpoint] is cheaper per user than K2 [blackpearl]. My organisation already have a number of K2 [blackpearl] workflows in use, and I really like it… so I was a little unsure about what K2 [blackpoint] could offer us.

Its billed as SharePoint workflows, more features, no code… should us developers all quit now while we can and leave all the development to our business analysts?

We’ve had a number of disastrous attempts at getting our power user and business analyst users involved in developing their own stuff without interacting with the developers… should we trust them with more power? and allow them to build their own WSS or MOSS workflow? The jury is out! :-D

Things to point out:

  • It is currently only available in beta version (version 4.8130.0.0)
  • There is an upgrade path to K2 [blackpearl] - great :-)
  • Business analysts and users of the K2 toolkits are secure in the knowledge that the tools are familiar, as they look very similar to the Office 2007 suite.

Installation footprint (Hardware):

  1. Minimum: Server with processor speed of 2.5 gigahertz (GHz)  or higher
    Recommended: Dual processor, 3 GHz or higher
  2. Minimum: 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM
    Recommended: 2 GB recommended
  3. 3 GB of available hard disk

Installation footprint (software)

One of the following operating systems (for the server)

  • Windows 2003 Server with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Windows 2003 Server R2 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)

For use of email notifications (one of the following three):

  • Internet Simple Mail Transfer Protocol/Post Office Protocol 3 (SMTP/POP3)
  • Internet Message Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4)
  • MAPI-compliant messaging software

The following windows components:

  • Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0
  • Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC)
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)

The following .Net components:

Browser:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or higher (IE 7 is recommended)

Additional applications:

Database technologies:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services

Take note of all the required Service Packs, as K2 will only be able to support your installation if it was installed with the correct prerequisites. Windows 2003 Server MUST have all the latest security patches. SQL Server 2005 will work in pre SP2 mode, but wont be supported. Report Viewer must be SP1. These are all things to investigate if your beta install fails to work or install before calling for help.

More detail on the installation prerequisites can be found in the K2 [blackpoint] Release notes, where much of this information is from!

I’ll be reporting back on how my organisation gets on with K2 [BlackPoint].. good luck to everyone else who’s embarking on the same journey.

SpittingCAML



Another reason to ditch vanilla MOSS Workflow and create your own!

Its been a while since I can sit down and go through my blog subscriptions. One of note was also raised by Jason Apergis in his excellent MOSS Workflow history best practice article.

The 60 day automatic purge of workflow history! This has quite a big impact in lots of my organisations workflows. Perhaps we were a being naive in assuming that we could use the out of box or ‘vanilla’ behaviour of SharePoint history keeping.

Have a read of Dave Wollerman’s Blog, and his post entitled: Huge MOSS Workflow Issue… What is Microsoft Thinking!!!!

It seems this information has been common knowledge since last year, but its the first I have read of it!

Luckily, with K2 [blackpearl] and K2 [blackpoint] it is relatively easy to store your own historic information, with not too much of an overhead, either using SmartObjects or by storing it in a Custom List. The possibilities are endless.

SpittingCAML




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