K2 today unveiled its low-code development platform for the next generation of applications. In advance of the Microsoft Ignite conference, the company has announced K2 Cloud, a new managed cloud service with a completely redesigned user experience (UX), advanced analytics and security features, and a host of visual workflow automation and app creation tools.
The veteran business app development and process automation company is also rolling out K2 Five, a new version of its flagship on-premises platform with the same modernized UX and capabilities. K2 Cloud and K2 Five will be available in the next few weeks and will have feature parity at launch, but K2 Cloud will release updates at a much faster cadence. K2 founder and CEO Adriaan van Wyk said the K2 Cloud represents some fundamental shifts in the company's software strategy.
"We had to rethink our cloud platform from the ground up," said van Wyk. "The cloud has forged a new generation of user experience, a new generation of users building that experience. We came from a world where it was forms, workflows, data, and integrations. With the pieces we're shipping [this month], we're adding pretty deep analytics, cloud security, and governance."
A Cloud-Up Rebuild
K2 Cloud revamps the existing low-code toolset around eight core feature areas: analytics, flexible deployment, mobile responsiveness, point-and-click integrations, pre-built apps, security and governance, visual forms, and workflow automation. Within that, the company has also redesigned the App Wizard, K2 Workflow Designer, and K2 Workspace experiences.
"We've added significant new capabilities to the user interface [UI] that allow knowledge workers within an organization to build and deploy their own applications and solutions. Once you've done that, K2 can enhance those apps and add capabilities," said van Wyk. "The way we've built workflows and forms into existing data makes it easy for the non-technical people to consume that data and add integrations, analytics, and mobile, and manage the whole deployment lifecycle."
K2 Workspace is the platform's customizable central portal, giving you quick access to forms and folders, quick reports, and a filtered view of pending actions and tasks. The real power, however, is in the redesigned Workflow Designer, which has what K2 describes as an "infinite canvas" drag-and-drop UI plus a feature called Smart Assist that surfaces relevant data and guides users and developers on logical steps in the workflow.
"We came up with what we call a 'smart object layer' that allows you to build applications in the cloud, with real-time access to on-premises data that's protected by on-premises systems. If you're happy with your data on-premises in your SAP system, then leave it there," said van Wyk.
The new designer supports more complex logic patterns such as looping, parallel flows, rework, serial flows, and more. K2 also provides access to its REST application programming interface (API) for workflows.
Van Wyk also highlighted that the K2 App Wizard and new responsive UI work across all major devices. The platform offers a selection of pre-built apps and workflows that integrate with platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce plus role-based governance tools.
"We want to give you security, compliance, and peace of mind. There are always non-technical people building applications in the cloud against SAP or other cloud services," said van Wyk. "You build them once and they will automatically or intelligently modify themselves regardless of the device, be it an iPhone, Android, or desktop. You don't have to build four or five versions of the application to make it work."
How K2 Stacks Up
K2 was one of the first companies to begin defining what is now the low-code development space. Between 1999 and 2001, Appian , K2, and OutSystems were among the pioneers that applied process automation and visual UIs to simplify the business app creation process. Van Wyk said what really makes K2 unique compared to other vendors is scale.
"There are good players out there in the low-code space already," said van Wyk. "We have a lot of respect for Appian and the business those guys have built. Then you've got newer platforms like Microsoft PowerApps and Flow; [Appian] sells to 19 customers a year [according to their IPO filing], whereas we sell to hundreds of customers and are moving to a model to sell to thousands.
"When you do it at that scale, it's a different level of innovation," he continued. "Microsoft is a huge technology partner for us on everything from Azure to voice, but with Flow and PowerApps, it's almost as if you're comparing Duplo blocks with Lego technique."
Van Wyk added that K2 integrates with Microsoft Flow. To illustrate the scale of deployment he was talking about, van Wyk gave customer examples including oil and gas company Shell (which is using K2 enterprise apps to manage well deployments around the world), personal care product manufacturer Kimberly Clark, and firms Accenture and PwC (which are transitioning from on-premises systems to the cloud). All told, the company has more than 4,000 customers, including what van Wyk said is more than 30 percent of the Fortune 500.
"The cloud can become this massive accelerator for how a company like Kimberly Clark managed to build a thousand applications integrated with existing systems without developer resources, with us laying down the building blocks," van Wyk explained. "We have partners like Accenture, PwC, and local regional partners around the world to help carry this into market and to existing customers."
Where Low-Code Meets Voice AI
The most innovative aspects of K2's low-code platform will come in the next year or so as the company begins rolling out the ability for anyone to create voice-enabled apps. Imagine a drag-and-drop, form-based UI that brings artificial intelligence (AI ) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to everyday business users, giving them the ability to build things such as chatbots directly into enterprise apps. Van Wyk said natural voice apps are K2's next major priority as the low-code space evolves.
"We're pushing into natural voice and machine learning applications that companies can build with drag-and-drop in a simple way. This is something we're hoping to bring to market in the next 12 months," said van Wyk. "Not only is this a massive leap forward for customers, it's also an accelerator platform that will turn science fiction into reality in months, not years."
K2 Cloud will be on display from September 25-29 at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando.