Productization of Alfresco Activiti (and the Standalone Activiti BPMN Suite)

During Alfresco Summit 2014, Alfresco announced they would begin offering Activiti, their popular workflow and BPM engine, as a separate product offering complete with web interface for building and deploying workflows called the Activiti BPMN Suite.

Previous versions of Activiti were able to be used without an Alfresco installation. In previous years, TSG converted all of our Active Wizard workflows to Activiti, which run on both Alfresco and Documentum. The big news about 2014’s announcement is the Activiti workflow engine will now be offered with a front end web application, allowing users to create and modify workflow templates on the fly and start ad hoc workflows from any web browser.

This Activiti BPMN Suite can be previewed for 30 days here.

The Activiti web application
The Activiti web application

The Activiti BPMN Suite offers two tools for designing workflows:

  1. The step editor, which allows the savvy business user to design their own workflows without writing a bit of code, and
  2. The BPMN graphical editor, which allows developers to create workflows in the same manner as the soon-to-be-outdated Eclipse Activiti designer
The Activiti Step Editor
The Activiti Step Editor
Activiti BPMN Designer
Activiti BPMN Designer

The web application is very slick – built on AngularJS – and provides the benefits of designing workflows on the fly, avoiding installing the memory hogging Eclipse designer and enabling business users to design their own workflows without the assistance of a developer. Form fields can call REST endpoints for value assistance and users can design the flow quickly. The BPMN template can then be downloaded and used for more traditional deployment scenarios.

After creating our own 30 day trial accounts and testing the new web application, here are our thoughts:

What we like:

  • Web based, avoiding using the Eclipse plugin
  • Both editors provide validators that will check your workflow logic whenever you save
  • BPMN editor provides a tour for learning
  • Quick workflow prototyping
  • A visual, “demoable” tool to show clients

Our concerns:

  • Both the Step Editor and the BPMN designers are well done, but both would be a big learning curve for people not familiar with BPMN.
  • If the Eclipse designer is deprecated, will developers still be able to work offline?
  • From a user experience perspective, the main navigation changes very often, making it difficult to get around the application. Also when using the step editor, adding an upload form field does not carry the document automatically to the next step.

We are looking forward to the “BPMNaaS” offering of Activiti. TSG has a lot of Activiti experience, both within Alfresco and using it as a standalone engine. TSG can provide consulting services for the powerful standalone engine, which can allow clients to convert their workflows to Activiti without having to change repositories.