Metastorm 9 : What’s new? (Part 1)


Metastorm 9 has been available as a commercially released product for a short time now (the beta tests aside). It is somewhat a different beast in the way it has now adopted features that are standard in the enterprise level BPM applications / vendors.  The focus on re-use and the introduction of business objects, connections and a new file structure certainly matures the v7 product and provides a superior runtime and design time environment. This article is a bit of a quick review of the new features in v9 and a personal take on some of the feature changes.

Overview

BPM v9 is now exclusively .NET based (although the engine still appears to be COM+) and has been designed with visual studio in mind. The designer uses a solution explorer and a drag and drop component interface as well as the ability to dock windows using the standard docking component in visual studio. I can’t help think though that the designer looks more Office 2007 visually than it does Visual Studio. Certain features familiar to the v7 developer have been removed such as the ability to raise flags from actions and the direct free style function coding in the ‘Do This’ panels (now replaced by the visual scripter) which I can’t quite get used to but I’m willing to try. The visual script editor is clearly easier for business analysts to use but may not be in the favour of hardcore developer types who ‘just want to code’. I’m one of them.

C Sharp support maybe the biggest welcome feature for many a BPM developer. The ability to run a code activity using C Sharp from any action or stage event handler is a big incentive for the .net developers who don’t like to use JScript.NET.

Native reporting within the designer is another welcome feature, but for those users of Crystal and Reporting Services this maybe a little too basic.

My personal favourite new feature is the adoption of Business Objects. About time Metastorm. I’ll go into a bit more detail regarding business objects in part 2 of the review, however they bring more of a clarity around the business solution you are trying to work on and provides a central repository of different data sources that you may use within your BPM processes. Business objects are used through the process for accessing data. The source of the data is not important when applied to the process as that is taken care of when the business object is setup (webservice, ldap or database etc), this means that a BA can draw out a process or design a simple form using data sources that a more technical user has configured. Business objects will refer to ‘Connections’ another of the new project objects. Connections are the configuration to external services or datastores and are seperate to the business object. The benefit here being that the configuration of a source is seperated from the business object. If a database location changes, no problem just reconfigure your connection.

A little note on Migration. v9 does come with a migration assistant that attempts to convert your Metastorm v7.x procedures into the new file struture (splitting the xeps contents into the files mentioned in our section on file structure below), wrapping your v7.x scripts in the evaluate function and sorting out the custom variables into context and process data. I’ve not personally tried the migration wizard but I imagine problems may occur translating v7 expressions (assignments in particular) that use strings without the “” into text strings in v9? As far as I can see, the expression window in v9 must have literal string wrapped in “” when it is assigned because Metastorm will try and resolve the value to a business object member otherwise? – The guys at Metastormguru.com are currently going through v7 to v9 upgrades so may have some good tips on this subject.

There are clearly a lot of new features and improvements in v9 because of its .NET object orientated underbelly – External tables are now called solution tables, the deployment repository (your deployed libraries and projects) are available via the designer, processes can be renamed after deployment and variables are now strongly typed as per the underlying .NET framework. Re-use of libraries is much improved, swim lanes (another well known BPM feature) are here to stay (via the enhanced designer option) and business objects are called like your normal class instances via the C# code editor which makes .NET integration so much sweeter.

The next few articles will cover these new features and hopefully convince you that moving to v9 is a MUST for your service orientated architecture roadmap.

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