Retooled Targets Developers and Business Users is a human-centric BPM tool that integrates with core Microsoft technologies, such as BizTalk Server. The next-gen platform from SourceCode Technology Holdings, Inc. of Redmond, Wash., became available in Beta 1 to select customers and partners in late December. Codenamed "BlackPearl," it is built on the .NET 3.0 Framework, and is integrated with SQL Server 2005 and the 2007 Office System.

BlackPearl is a major upgrade of the 2003 Enterprise Workflow Platform, which includes a Studio design environment, Server, Workspace, and Service Manager. While all of these components will be revamped, multiple design environments are central to the new platform. The new platform allows users to design, build and customize processes in several environments including Microsoft Visio 2007, a browser-based interface, SharePoint Server 2007 and Visual Studio 2005.

Significantly for developers, SourceCode is now a Visual Studio Industry Partner. This gives developers access to a build and design environment within Visual Studio that supports integrated debugging, the VS2005 project system, and full C# and VB.NET language support.

Developers can use pre-built design canvases (from third-parties too) for process flows, swimlane diagrams, documentation and role-based process modeling, or build their own. The 2003 design canvases and toolbox will be included with BlackPearl components and wizards in the new platform.

BlackPearl supports .NET 3.0 development technologies such as Windows Workflow Foundation with schedules and rules wizards, a hosted runtime environment and XOML integration. Other new features enable source controlled process designs, controlled build and development processes (MSBuild), and InfoPath and AJAX-enabled form designs.

"We now have tooling that will empower IT to do much more, sooner," says Hennie Laubscher, chief operating officer for SourceCode. "It will also allow business users to reuse what IT has provided in a specific way, so that the people who understand the business problem can really get involved in solving it."

The business-user-friendly development environment allows developers to expose data as SmartObjects (for example, a customer and their attributes) or SmartFunctions (business logic, such as calculate total invoices) to business analysts, who can then access and reuse the information without worrying about where it resides on backend systems.

Many products today are designed so that business users can at least get involved in the design process, observes Forrester Research analyst Colin Teubner. "Whether they can build an application is another story, but they can at least get involved in mapping the process before it gets handed off to a developer," he explains. "I think's older product didn't have as much business user friendly development, so they've added there.

Microsoft relies on third parties as add-ons to its BPM and SOA platforms because these deployments are services heavy initiatives, and not something, "Microsoft can sell in a box," Teubner says. "We constantly see Microsoft pointing people in the direction of, especially in the area of workflow, when their own products fall short."

Under development for about three years, BlackPearl is compatible with all processes and applications designed in 2003, according to SourceCode. Users can also download Additional Components for 2003 that support Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and InfoPath 2007.

General availability of the commercial version of BlackPearl is expected by the end of the first quarter. SourceCode has not disclosed licensing information. According to company, 2003 licensees with a maintenance agreement can download the new platform for free when it becomes available.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards ([email protected]) is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.