Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Notes from April Insider Conference in Denver

I had a fantastic time at the K2 Insider Conference in Denver. Our fearless leader Chris Geier at K2 really put together a top notch conference getting a bunch of really busy people to converge together and share their knowledge of K2. I hope we have another one next year as I will be a first to sign up. It was actually really important that many of us met as K2 BlackPearl has just come out, several us had some implementations under our belts and we needed to discuss what was good, what was bad and get knowledge of what is to come.

There were some things I was not supposed to write about,

Here are some notes I have from the conference:

K2 Website

First if you did not know, their website has been rebranded It is a little brighter now <g>


  • How did they get the "K2" name? It was a build number in one of their very early iterations.
  • Where did "BlackPearl" come from? Adriaan's kid is a big fan of Pirates of the Carribean <g>

New Releases

Build 803 is due out in roughly three weeks. It will have:

  • Full 64 bit support
  • New installer and deployment improvements
  • Better support for internationalization
  • New patches to support

    • Visual Studio Stability (that was needed)
    • Workflow performance (some of the stats were impressive)
    • Reporting
    • SmartObject Performance
    • SmartObject Lifecycle

Build 805 is due out a little after that with support for various other know bugs, performance, TFS integration, and SAP integration.

Build 806 is due in the Junish timeframe and will have:

  • VS 2008 support
  • K2 2003 interop support and migration wizards
  • K2 Studio RTM (looks really cool)
  • Process Portals RTM (was absolutely needed and now provides process managers with a dashboard in SharePoint to see many important information about all processes running)
  • Out of Office RTM
  • Dynamic SQL Service (rolled in from Blackmarket – Seb is the man)
  • Web Service/WCF Workflow template – that is needed!
  • BizTalk Templates for 2006 R2 (I used them with K2 2003 – so needed)

K2 Studio

I mentioned this above but this is a new skin to the develop K2 workflows. This one will have an office look and feel and will empower business developers to compose workflows outside of visual studio. Visio allows you to compose just the workflow but this environment will allow you to create full solutions with a SmartObject designer. When I saw this I finally got the impression that we can now start turning this over to the business users. However many of my workflows still require custom code events which is not possible in this environment. Maybe if it had a way to reference external dll methods.

Process Management

They will be providing a new functionality that will allow you to change process instances that are now in flight in Visual Studio. Several of us had reservations about process version controlling to ensure that developers are not making tons of ad-hoc modifications to their process without making changes back to their baseline. Regardless this functionality is absolutely needed. I see this being very valuable for that purpose. The great thing about this one is that you can apply patches before an error were to occur. I still recommend that if you have areas of highly volatile business rules that you break those out into sub-processes and isolate them instead of making changes directly to the instances in production.

Process Portals

I have known about it for some time however I have not had the time to break open my Tech Preview VPC. I did see it flight and it awesome. Now they have a site template with some new webparts, reporting service reports, etc that allow you to create process management dashboards in SharePoint. All tasks for the current user and all users are finally visible. There is a process overview web part and you can see all running instances. The K2 Workspace is great for developers, administrators, etc. but sending the business users to this portal is much better. I believe I heard them say they plan to create some new versions of the K2 Workspace based on what type of person you are (admin, dev, or business) and I believe that is the right direction.

End Point Publishing

This got a couple of us really giddy. Now we can publish SmartObjects and Processes and WCF endpoints which can be looked up in a UDDI catalog. This will enable other platforms like Java to really easily start hooking into K2.

SilverLight Designer

Yes they are rebuilding their Ajax designer in SilverLight and it really slick. It will allow business users to compose workflows in SharePoint without any client on their machine. It can pretty much be hosted anywhere and has an extensible model. I thought it was really cool how they reversed the paradigm for composing the workflow. Instead of activity/event centric it is based on the user. So a project manager needs to do this while a program director needs to do that. It would be cool of the K2 Studio environment could also adopt this paradigm for process design.

K2 Connect

They are now providing the ability to hook in SAP using their SmartObject architecture. It was really impressive to see how through the GUI they could map into the BAPI, select data fields and surface the data up through a SmartObject. They plan to start leveraging this to access other tradition ERP datasources.

Things I still like to see

  • Tools to assist with the deployment of environments, notifications, custom reports, roles, etc. between disparate environments. It is not uncommon for developers to not have access to production environments.
  • Some better approaches to doing migrations. For instance since the migration tool is still beta for a while and clients want to do BlackPearl implementations allow them to create new BlackPearl servers. Then when the migration tool is prime time, then migrate the processes to a different clean BlackPearl server. Then migrate the processes over to the permanent BlackPearl server (as if you are doing disaster recovery).

Wrox Book

Yes – there is a K2 Wrox that is going to be written. I am responsible for the SmartObjects, Deployment and InfoPath chapters. My hand was sore after signing all the dang paperwork.

There are still tons of other things that were discussed which I will discuss when I am allowed <g>

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