It’s not every day you come across a BPM vendor with a product named after a pirate ship and after having a conversation with Jonathan King and Dennis Parker of K2 they’re certainly not anything like the crew you’d find aboard one either. All aboard the good ship Redux for a review of K2’s blackpearl me hearties.
Watching blackpearl in action should provide people au fait with the Office environment some comfort because of the familiarity in design. Jonathan stated that their intention with blackpearl was to provide a ‘no code’ process design experience, using drag and drop environments and configuration wizards to take the pain out of automation as much as possible (K2 products are built on Microsoft Workflow Foundation so their integration strategy with MS products is pretty strong). Their go to market strategy is clear enough: providing solutions focused on meaningful business problems.
K2 offer an interesting take on the usual Visio importing solutions most vendors provide, instead overlaying K2 onto Visio so users can still model in the Visio environment using whatever notation or shape palette they want but you can turn it into a K2 executable process using a context menu, placing K2 elements within the diagram to create automated workflow. It’s easily invoked via the toolbar which calls Blackpearl into play and everything is managed by sets of wizards to control the automation. There’s still a modicum of technical knowledge required for this but Jonathan explained that the Visio experience works well as a joint prototyping environment; the Process analyst creates the model and together with the IT analyst adds the workflow integration layer.
Because of their alignment with Microsoft technologies and platforms they have solid integration with Sharepoint, Infopath and Silverlight for example. Which leads on nicely to their Sharepoint design experience in blackpearl where you can build workflow in Sharepoint using a visual environment which you wouldn’t have access to natively. It’s certainly business focussed, again using forms to drive the mechanics behind the automation. Some functionality provided by K2 allows you to save the process as a template and then email this to another business user for use or checking over. This can promote reuse and standardisation to an extent all using Sharepoint which is an interesting notion.
K2 Studio itself takes all of this a step further by providing a free form process design environment. K2 employes an extensive array of APIs out the box to interface with technologies deployed in the enterprise so clients with, for example, scanning and indexing departments can use blackpearl to design automated processes that interface with the scanning solutions in use.
Finally, as part of the blackpearl suite is the integration with Visual Studio itself. This is wizard driven using inline functions but allows advanced users to create custom code. What they’ve also introduced in blackpearl is the concept of resusable entities/ objects called SmartObjects.
SmartObjects play a central role in blackpearl design and reporting by aggregating business type data in a single entity, so for example you could define an ’employee’ object and it’s associated attributes and reuse the same ’employee’ object throughout other processes where it’s relevant rather than create separate instances.
I’m only just scratching the surface of what K2 and blackpearl can provide here, it’s also worth mentioning that they also provide;
- out of the box and customisable reporting functionality like process overview, business user performance
- creation of business rule logic using in-line functions for calculations and decisioning using form wizards
- real-time view of the process workflow running
- management of all processes deployed via a portal viewer
The four user experiences that blackpearl provide; Visio (K2 Designer for Visio), Sharepoint (K2 Designer for Sharepoint), K2 Studio and Visual Studio (K2 Designer for Visual Studio) cater for a wide range of process roles in an organisation so there are multiple ways to design and deploy automated processes using K2 solutions. Personally speaking and previously said, those aligned with Visio and Sharepoint releases this year will reap the benefits of an established user base looking for solutions to take their existing investments further. K2 offers this in spades.