I've recently been looking for simpler and more effective tools for collaborating with geographically distributed teams. The first order of business is to find something better than a whiteboard that can be shared amongst multiple users. After some brief searching, I found Dabbleboard at www.dabbleboard.com. This gem was just recently launched and I'm impressed. The image below was created using the free version of the tool online in just a few minutes. I highly recommend that you give it a try.
The next order of business is to find a better way to prototype a business application that will allow us to define data and business logic in code and sharing that in a prototype that will allow users to interact with the business model without having to build a complex UI prototype and without having to map business objects to the database. While wandering around a site called InfoQ I found through Markin Fowler's blog, I ran into Naked Objects for .NET. I was dubious at first but spend some time watching the videos and wandering around the site. I like what see.
I'm just beginning to use these two tools in a real effort to determine whether they will really make my job and life easier. I am hopeful and impressed with what I've seen so far. The drawing I've created and included in this post illustrates how the Naked Objects technology might be used in what I'm building for my employer. I'm not sure if it represents exactly what will happen in the future but the guys at Dabbleboard have certainly made it easier to envision and to share with my colleagues no matter where they are.
After a long search for the right business process management platform that would allow us to integrate and extend with .NET, my team selected the Ultimus BPM Suite. The primary factors in the decision were the comprehensive nature of the solution which would allow us to deploy process management without requiring the use of some other tool such as InfoPath or SharePoint. Additionally, the solution would allow an incomplete process to be deployed and have assigned "process experts" make final decisions about business rules that may not have been clear or available at the time the process was designed.
I spent all of last week at their North Carolina offices in a "jumpstart" training course and met many of the key players at the company. Good people all around. Their technical expertise and willingness to listen to our team's concerns were impressive. There were a few minor UI glitches that we brought to their attention such as some scrolling issues when designing a process with limited screen real estate. The Ultimus people were genuinely interested in our input.
Having initially found and recommended the product, I was even more impressed with the product as we went through detailed training that brought out a number of features and illustrated an architecture that gave me even greater confidence in the product. This was particularly true in the area of integration points with existing systems and the ability to extend the process using custom developed controls or even process context aware ASP.NET pages hosted outside of the process server.
Our only disappointment was that some of the the training session content could have been improved as at times some of the class members were left a little lost and fell behind. This was in part because the "jumpstart" course was designed to fit a lot of material into a few days, but it was in part due to a lack of maturity in the content and presentation. We were very candid with the Ultimus training director about this and he took our input eagerly and promised improvement. Based on my conversations with key Ultimus employees, I believe that will happen.
If you are looking for a better way to deliver business process management and enterprise human-centric workflow solutions, you should consider Ultimus. There were other systems that were much more expensive that may have fit our requirements, but this was the only one we found that allowed us the freedom to extend and customize using our .NET dev skills without requiring coding skills to design and modify and manage processes.
I'll be writing more about Ultimus as our experience with the product continues.
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I hope that as software architects and engineers we are producing code and other textual artifacts that communicate with greater clarity and understanding of the language and idiom in which we express our ideas. Do we write documentation as badly because we can only communicate clearly in code? Or vice versa? It is something to think about.