David Chappell


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Understanding Workflow in Windows SharePoint Services and the 2007 Microsoft Office System  
# Saturday, September 02, 2006
Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) is destined to be part of many Windows applications. Arguably the first really important example of using WF in software from Microsoft is the workflow support in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. Focused on human workflow, the goal is to provide a platform for both application developers and less technical people to create workflow-based applications that run on SharePoint.

To add to this, the 2007 Microsoft Office System includes Office SharePoint Server 2007. Building on the workflow support in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, this server adds things such as pre-defined workflows for common scenarios (e.g., approving a document) and the ability to interact with workflows using Office 2007 clients.

All of this has plenty of moving parts: WF, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, Office SharePoint Server 2007, Visual Studio, the WF Workflow Designer, a new tool called Office SharePoint Designer, and more. I've written a Microsoft-sponsored white paper, available here, that gives a big-picture view of this new set of technology. If you're interested in Microsoft's approach to human workflow, you might find this paper interesting.

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Interesting paper.

What do you think this means for Human Workflow vendors that are porting to WWF to stay competitive e.g. K2, PNMSoft?

How will they be able to differentiate themselves from each other and products from Microsoft i.e. Sharepoint 2007 and Biztalk (next version) if their engines are using the same "WWF parts"?

An example of this that I have come a cross are customers who are evaluating Sharepoint 2007 have typically commented that if Sharepoint 2007 has workflow why would they even consider using a 3rd Human Workflow application.

I would be interested to hear your views.

Any ISV who sells a horizontal product on Windows knows that Microsoft will continue to put more functionality in the operating system itself. They also know that they must track what Microsoft is doing--it's rarely a secret--and innovate accordingly.

What WF provides isn't the stuff that really differentiates workflow vendors, however. In fact, one could even argue that WF makes life better for workflow ISVs in the long run. They'll no longer need to devote resources to building the part of their product--basic workflow functionality--that probably provides the least differentiation. Instead, those resources can be devoted to adding value in unique ways.

And it's certainly true that the workflow support in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 will obviate some people's need for third-party workflow products (although the combination of WSS 3.0 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 might be even more popular--we'll see). But it's also true that at least some organizations will have requirements that the Microsoft technologies don't address. Although it will be smaller, a role will still exist for third-party workflow vendors.

Honestly David I think you fail to appreciate the enormous functionality gap between WWF (and it's incarnation in MOSS '07) and true BPM applications such as Bluespring BPM Suite. We have already partnered with Microsoft/Avanade to close a joint MOSS '07 + Bluespring BPM Suite deal where MOSS' 07 alone would have lost to a competitor due to the inability to handle complex workflow scenarios without extensive coding. I'd encourage you to signup for our Webinar at http://www.bluespringsoftware.com

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