Composability is a paradigm shift – Chris Keyser on The Architecture Journal

Chris Keyser the lead architect for Microsoft’s Global ISV team wrote an article on the MSDN architecture Journal 10 on composite applications. the full article is here: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/arcjournal/bb266335.aspx

He wrote business process application assembly capability will be demanded by end users. And this will have to be delivered. We will see vendors bringing these features in the products.

I am a fan of application orchestration. As a lazy coder I like to work smart and not too hard so assembling apps like a chair or a table is just beyond cool… it is very productive. as long as the parts fit well or you have a saw to shave off the edges 🙂 If this is going to be a end user task then imagine the kind of automation we can get at the enterprise level with business processes.

Now, one thing is to have the ability to spring off websites in seconds….and then being able to manage it … but isn’t the google way is not to organise but to searh? 🙂 so..what we learnt from WSS 2.0 and SPS 3.0 we should leverage that …and whatever the offering vendors have they better bring the management tooling with this platform as well.

TechEd 2006 Australia

At TechEd 2006 I saw the increased focus on workflows… there were many sessions covering windows workflow. Sharepoint, Biztalk and the dedicated workflow foundation sessions, all covered the different aspects. All in all it has opened many opportunities for the workflow technology in windows environments. developers now have better support for building workflow into their applications and bulding workflow applications for sharepoint, biztalk and the rest of the microsoft stack.

K2.NET, Captaris and Skelta are all going to be releasing their next versions on WF. There are few more workflow vendors need to be watched as well in this space. Nintex smart library for sharepoint from OBS and UniqueWorld’s sharepoint forms are all in bit of trouble as these entry level solutions are now in straight competition with Micorsoft’s own versions namely, MOSS workflows and Forms Server.

K2.NET has already been working on WF for some time now. Captaris are saying they need to see how MS’s final product going to be when it finally get released, but are releasing a version for WF. Skelta are supposedly working on a version embracing WF as well.

more basics

If we look at windows workflow foundations or WF as an example, the capabilty provided is mainly for developers. It is an API that will allow coders to leverage the unified workflow API for windows. There is some great tooling available from within VS.NET to support easy assembly of workflow maps. It has integration with debugging and distributed development capabilities and team systems features. It is still a developer toolkit though 🙂

So, for the masses to leverage this toolkit, we need tools like visio, word, excel and the browser itself to be able to support workflow creation, deployment, management, initiation, participation and reporting.

Sharepoint is doing a good job by providing the widely used workflow processes out-of-the-box. then we have sharepoint designer to help implementing higher level of functionality than these workflows. After that we have to resort to VS.NET or notepad using WF.

I guess there is a lot of room for ISVs and SIs to play here. Nintex has a sharepoint only toolkit for workflows. I have worked with Sharepoint integration components from vendors like K2, and Captaris. These vendors will upgrade and expand their offerings in this space – no doubt about that.

I also think there is a lot of room for small players to come up with solutions in this space. now that barrier to entry has been lowered by this unfied API. SaaS is the other are where Workflow can work for the small players in a big way.

the workflow wave

Microsoft will be embeding more and more WF based capabilities in to its product suite. We have seen the formal announcement for the BTS 2006 R2 where the Human workflow component in BTS will be implemented as WF. eventually, one would expect BTS2008/2010 will fully incorporate WF. However the BTS product is an EAI server. bundling Human workflow into it may not completely make sense. MS may not produce a workflow server at all.

Whether BAM will also evolve to support WF as a suite of product is unknown. MS does have most of the components of a Workflow platform in place. So, whether they combine and make it a platform offering or not is an interesting question. This will change the landscape for ISVs who currently bridge the gap in the workflow / BPM area.

Microsoft’s scorecards and Performance point also has a part to play in the Business Process Management arena. Imagine one day all WF processes could be managed from a central place and integrated in to corporate reporting would be a great capability. This won’t be for free and MS will need many years to deliver this.

the basics

back to basics they say. So, what is Workflow? flow of work? my take is, it is typically a graphical map of activities connected to specify the order of things that happens in a business process. It also specifies who does it and what happens and the rules that drive it. from my coding background I also see that as a depiction of algorithms or computer programs. But, the high value of application of the workflow concept comes from business process implementations – BPM!

It gives us automation, tracking, control, reporting and insight. This insight comes through the graphical nature of the process (self) documentation and from the tracking, monitoring, reporting and the possible mining of the data associated with these collected over a period of time.

Other key aspect here is integration. Typically we automate a manual process. The pre-requisite for automation is the thing exist in a manual form 🙂 and this process be it human based or not, spans more than one business domain. hence the integration across those business domains is required and typically an assumed feature. Hence the tools that provide the workflow capability has some out-of-the-box support for integration.

Integration is also required for storage, security and reporting components.

windows workflow

So now that the windows workflow foundation (WF) has been branded under the .NET 3.0 umbrella we can kind of see the importance given to this technology. This means the workflow is here to stay as part of the framework and will continue to evolve. That’s a good thing.

But, this would mean that the workflow improvements may have to wait for the the framework releases. It will be much slower. given the importance of this technology tying it to the framework means that one day we could even see language constructs to help workflow style processing. although I like the xoml approach it would be cool to have a WF# offering as well 🙂

anway, looking at the Office 2007 beta, we can see WF manifesting itself through sharepoint and the standard applications like word and excel. It is already there in the Team Edition of VS.NET 2005.

I dont know whether Vista will have some OS level tools built on WF. May be as a showcase. Reading through the 5 or so articles on the Microsoft Architecture Journal edition 7 themed “Generation Workflow” it is clear that MS has looked at many applications for the WF. Not just the Human workflow.

I am still waiting to see Biztalk’s tac on WF. Should be interesting.

welcome to all (about workflows)

This blog is dedicated to the Workflow technology. I am starting to focus more and more of my time on it (for work and play). so I thought it is time to get serious about sharing my views online.

Workflow, in my opinion, is a business tool thats primary purpose is to help users manage their tasks (business processes) efficiently.
Organisations use workflow implementations to get their business processes semi-automated.
Business Process Automation is a big impact thing. Correctly implemented and carefully managed, it can yield many breakthroughs in productivity.
There are very interesting things happening in this area of Information Technology that is making it more accessible to all.
I am looking at how this 20 year+ old technology has evolved by K2 and others, and how it can be better delivered to the masses

See how we go.