As I mentioned in my previous post, I presented the Workflow Foundation at my companies internal Technology Day last Friday. This was to a mix of Sales and Technical consultants who work across the products in the MBS suite. So with the presentation all over I thought I’d post the washup of it all as there were interesting observations and conversation points.
The feedback I got back was awesome, from both Sales and Technical. Both really liked the Visual designer as it is an essential feature in selling a workflow technology. The designer is completely extensible, If you don’t like the standard look and feel, change the theme or the shapes, also the ability to embed the workflow into .Net apps like ASP.net, Winforms or Smart Clients is a big plus. It really comes into its own as the visual point of contact between a team and/or clients modelling and maintaining workflow solutions.
The technical team was the easily the most impressed. Again the designer complimented their work habits as in a way its just like working with a winforms or ASP.net app, where your dragging controls onto a page and designing it. In WF, your dragging activity controls and modelling a workflow, the experience is the same albeit the concepts are different. One developer even quipped how it would cut down his documentation requirements so if that doesn’t win over a developer nothing will. Other features well received were the native .NET support and the extensible framework, whereby activities and pluggable services could be extended off their base.
It was really good to see the buy in from the Sales team, as WF is not a product, some sales members might wince at the $0 price tag but with WF complimenting and even potentially driving a solution sale, their was buy in.
Questions around where WF is heading were popular as I mentioned that Office 12 and Sharepoint V3 has WF hosting capabilities, with CRM and Exchange to follow. But expect any MS product with workflow features or even 3rd party applications built on the .NET framework to follow suit as well.
An obvious question that came up was the whole Biztalk vs WF thing, what to use and where. Biztalk will always be a server centric product used for B2B and higher level business process and integration. Its failover, state management, adapters and BAM are important features for those types of ‘mission critical’ messages.
The WF fits well in the human centric workflows that exist within applications as well as some integration requirements. Applications would host the workflow and maintain it. Its important to note that if the application closes, you’d loose the state of your workflow as it was hosting it. (much like you’d instantiate an object and it would persist for the life of the application). However, the WF could sit on a server, say running Sharepoint, which could host the workflow and control it (you’ll see this in Sharepoint V3). So the choice really comes down to the complexity and failover requirements.
All in all it the most satisfying part of the presentation was seeing people’s minds tick over with where WF could be applied to. I’ve already lined up 2 client meetings in the next week from the architects present and we’re still 6 months off the WinFX RTM.