Sunday, February 1, 2009

K2 blackpearl and MetaStorm Comparison

There may be time where a company or organization will start looking for enterprise human workflow solution. A product like K2 blackpearl may be considered. There are other products out there like Adobe Forms Server, MetaStorm but specifically I will focus on MetaStorm and K2 blackpearl.

MetaStorm is a product that focuses on Business Process & Analysis (BPA) and Business Process Management (BPM), however K2 blackpearl focuses on BPM to build Process Driven Application. Hopefully by the end of this posting I will make this clear and what is the difference.

Note I did have the opportunity to sit in a MetaStorm demo, review some materials and was able to ask some questions. My knowledge of MetaStorm is no where near as deep as my knowledge of K2. This was the impressions that I walked away with and I will give both technologies a fair shake.

Both products have several similarities:

  • Much of the vocabulary between the products is the same. For instance there are Actions, Dynamic Rules, Activities, Events, Processes, Rules, and the list just goes on.
  • Both provide the ability to graphically model business workflows and to create execution models from them.
  • Both provide the ability to handle medium and complex workflows.
  • Both provide the ability to utilize line of business data across the enterprise.
  • Both provide governance, metrics and business intelligence into the performance of the automated business process.
  • Both provide monitoring and administrative tools to manage processes.
  • Both provide the ability for strong Information Workers to author workflows.
  • Both provide declarative models such that deployed business processes can be changed on the fly.
  • Both provide the ability to access external data to make business decisions.
  • Both provide the ability to manage content and documentation.

The degree by which K2 and MetaStorm supports these feature probably varies; one may do something better than the other but you get the point. Regardless, it is this sort of functionality that will drive you down a path for procuring a workflow product because you are tired of building this from scratch.

Great. After sitting through two great demos, and you will be asking what is the difference between these two technologies? There are some Gartner reports out there, and they go down to the level of trying to compare two. Not to say I do not agree with their analysis (some of the analysis, I am not sure is needed) but really get the impression the analysis was done by people without field experience.

Here are some differentiators for MetaStorm:

  • Currently provides strong designer tools for a trained business user to author simple step approval processes.
  • Provides a mature forms generation tool.
  • Provides enterprise tools for doing enterprise planning and business process analysis and how they relate to automated business processes.
  • Provides the ability to use either SQL Server or Oracle as its server database.
  • Provides more native access to the Java Platform.

Here are some differentiators for K2 blackpearl:

  • Augments the Microsoft application server stack: MOSS, BizTalk and SQL Server.
  • Provides the ability to leverage the MOSS platform to deliver MOSS solutions.
  • Provides ability for lower level of customizations as the K2 blackpearl platform is built upon frameworks by Microsoft (Windows Workflow Foundation).
  • Provides better ability to do complex database integration out of the box.
  • K2 blackpoint provides an Information Worker environment for building medium level complexity workflows hosted in SharePoint.

Reality is:

  • Both these tools provide for better business user participation and tools for developers to create implementations quickly.
  • There is no such thing as a simple workflow. Coders or engineers will always be required to build and manage the processes such that they can scale to the evolving business processes and technologies. I understand the market place is pushing towards this and this is where the battleground is. Forms generation can be done through various tools, but at the end of the day (given my experiences) there is some wiring up the forms and business users are not data architects. I really believe that with products like K2 blackpearl or MetaStorm are used, organizations can spend more time focusing on automating their business rules rather than trying to figure out how to manage transactions…

When it comes down to it:

  • MetaStorm is a forms server; that is their roots. K2 blackpearl does not have a strong forms generation tool. Right now, K2 uses InfoPath as it forms tools that Information Workers can use. InfoPath is not that bad if you understand it limitations. However I had the impression that MetaStorm's form generation was proprietary. Both tools do provide the ability to use other platforms for forms. Both can use, JSP, whatever for their forms.
  • MetaStorm have made an investment in making their application server available through SharePoint. However the problem is that if you have a major investment in SharePoint or MOSS, MetaStorm does not help with the automation of content within SharePoint. All MetaStorm does is open their forms tool through SharePoint and they provide dashboard web parts. K2 blackpearl provides wizards to do everything a user can do to a list item, calendar, document item, etc. K2 blackpearl provides functionality to provision user permissions, site management, publishing pages, etc. All K2 blackpearl data can be exposed through SharePoint in the same manner. It is important to note that K2 blackpearl is NOT only good for SharePoint. We have used K2 to automate business processes that have nothing to do with SharePoint.
  • Both K2 blackpearl and MetaStorm have data integration but in the presentation I saw of MetaStorm I was left believing K2 blackpearl has an advantage with its SmartObject framework. MetaStorm did provide the ability to call out to a web service, stored procedure, or custom code but that is what is expected. K2 SmartObjects really take it to the next level where you can look at business data holistically and define business objects that are not coupled to the business process implementation. Plus there is K2 Connect which can access SAP and they plan to use it framework to access other enterprise servers. MetaStorm does provide data adapters to access enterprise data however they needed to be purchase individually and I did not get the impression they were open to developers to customize.
  • MetaStorm provides this entire business process analysis tool which I did not get to dive into. Basically from what I can glean from their web site and conversations I had, they provide tools where you can capture company initiatives, goals, objects, strategic information, etc. model that with your enterprise and then create executable business models from them. Pretty neat to discuss and K2 blackpearl does not provide this. However, I have not seen lots of demand for this either when working with many of my clients in the past (K2 or not).
  • K2 blackpearl is accessible from a lower level and is a more customizable. MetaStorm's advantage, stated above, is that they do cater to the users who are less technical empowering them to create forms and simple workflows. With K2 blackpoint coming out, K2 has bridged that gap however K2 blackpearl requires a technical person because the best solutions are built in Visual Studio. I believe this to be the advantage of the K2 blackpearl platform – and why I would choose it each time. With K2 blackpearl, I have the ability to go in and do what I want to get the job done.
  • I cannot discuss licensing (even though I got some insight into MetaStorm's in the discussion), however I can say both are different and scale differently from a licensing perspective. What I can say is K2 blackpoint, which is the K2's lighter weight workflow server, is only $10K for doing SharePoint workflow.

To boil this down to an elevator conversation:

  • MetaStorm is a mature forms generation server product that provides the ability to create workflow for forms that reside in their server (and content that resides in external systems).
  • K2 blackpearl provides a platform to build process driven applications regardless of the platform and has a deep integration into the Microsoft application server stack (especially SharePoint, BizTalk,, InfoPath, SQL Server, etc.).

1 comment:

Sergio Del Piccolo said...

Great article Jason, someone asked about me this topic the other day and your post certainly helped.