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Guidelines for creating custom activities in the Service Manager Authoring Tool

Bill Anderson|Last Updated: 3/10/2017
1 Contributor

Applies To: System Center 2016 - Service Manager

Service Manager automates a variety of information technology (IT) processes. For the Incident Management process, for example, Service Manager includes various automated steps, such as automated notifications to users when incidents are created or resolved and automatic routing of incidents to various queues, based on categorization. This automation is implemented by using workflows that are defined for the various solutions, and it uses Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) capabilities to describe, execute, and track the automated operations.

Customers and partners can extend the included automation by defining new workflows and adding them into a process. Workflows can be set to occur on a fixed schedule or on a specified condition occurring in the database, for example, when an incident is created or when it changes to a specified state, such as Active or Resolved.

The Service Manager Authoring Tool provides an easy-to-use method of creating new workflows. It provides a library of different workflow activities, such as creating an incident or updating an incident, and a drag-and-drop graphical designer that you can use to arrange these workflow activities into a workflow sequence. The Authoring Tool then compiles the new workflow into a set of definitions, code, and management pack content. When this information is imported into Service Manager, it integrates the new workflow into the specified solution.

Understanding what is going on behind the scenes of the Authoring Tool can benefit more advanced users. First, customers and partners can use this information to extend the workflow activity library in Service Manager with workflow activities that apply to their specific processes. Secondly, developers can use this information to build custom or advanced workflows that are compatible with Service Manager by using their development tool of choice, such as the Microsoft Visual Studio development system.

Workflow activities and the WorkflowActivityBase class

Service Manager workflows use WF activities. To work smoothly with the Authoring Tool, these activities derive from the base class WorkflowActivityBase, which belongs to the Microsoft.EnterpriseManagement.Workflow.Common namespace. The WorkflowActivityBase base class introduces properties and methods that are not available in the generic Activity base class for WF activities. For more information about how to define WF activities by using the generic Activity base class, see Activity Class.

Benefits of using the WorkflowActivityBase class

Users can import WF activities from the Visual Studio activity library, and they can work with those activities in the Authoring ToolAuthoring pane. However, those activities behave in the same way as they do in the Visual Studio Design environment. They do not have the customizations that are built into the Service Manager activity library.


Not all Visual Studio WF activities have been tested for compatibility with the Authoring Tool, and some Visual Studio WF activities might not run correctly in the Authoring Tool.

The following table lists the differences in behavior between WF activities that are based on the WorkflowActivityBase base class and WF activities that are based on the generic Activity base class.

ScenarioAuthoring Tool WF activity (WorkflowActivityBase base class)Visual Studio WF activity (Activity base class)
User binds activity properties (to Service Manager object properties or to properties from other activities).Calls the Bind property to dialog box that is customized for Service Manager users.Calls the Bind property to dialog box that is intended for developers.
User adds the activity to a For-Each Loop activity.Adds the properties Propertytobind (the loop index) and CurrentItem, which are required to take part in loop-specific operations (CurrentItem is an internal property).Behaves in the same way for each iteration of the loop, and does not interact with the property that indexes the loop.

Because of the customizations that are required for the Authoring Tool workflow designer, activities that are based on the WorkFlowActivityBase class do not function as expected in the Visual Studio workflow design environment.

Users can build custom WF activities in Visual Studio for use in the Authoring Tool. However, to take advantage of the custom design-time behavior of the Authoring Tool, custom activities must be based on the WorkflowActivityBase class instead of the Activity class.

Workflow activities and Service Manager automated activities

WF activities can interact with a different type of activity, the Service Manager activities that are used by Service Manager work items. Work items are one of the main types of objects that Service Manager uses. Work items track units of work, such as Incidents, Service Requests, Change Requests, and other units of work. Most work items comprise one or more Service Manager activities. For example, a Change Request typically includes at least two activities: a Review activity and a Change Execution activity. The work item typically executes these activities in order.

When a work item is created, the first Service Manager activity becomes active and remains active while Service Manager (or the user) carries out whatever work the activity represents. When that work finishes, Service Manager marks the first activity as Completed and activates the next activity in the sequence. When the final activity in the sequence is marked as Completed, Service Manager marks the entire work item as Completed.

Some Service Manager activities can be executed manually, such as the Review activity of a Change Request. Other Service Manager activities can be automated, such as an activity that sends an email to a user. The Change Execution activity of a Change Request can be automated. Service Manager uses WF workflows to automate Service Manager activities.

Example: The Set Activity Status to Completed activity

This example of a WF workflow activity in Service Manager uses the Set Activity Status to Completed WF activity. This WF activity typically represents the last step in a workflow that implements an automated Service Manager activity, and it sets the status of that activity to Completed. Setting this status triggers the system to move to the next activity in the work item, and this process repeats until the last activity in the work item is completed.

The Set Activity Status to Completed activity takes one input, Activity ID, which identifies the Service Manager activity on which to act. The WF activity then connects to the Service Manager management server, retrieves the specified Service Manager activity from the database, sets its status to Completed, and then saves it back to the database. Most of the code samples that are included in this example come from the SetActivityStatusToCompleted.cs file, an underlying file that describes the Set Activity Status to Completed activity.

Initialize the example WF activity

The first section of the SetActivityStatusToCompleted.cs file contains the declaration and initialization statements. This activity is based on the WorkflowActivityBase class, and it uses the validator class SetActivityStatusToCompletedValidator and the designer class WorkflowActivityBaseDesigner.

The WorkflowActivityBaseDesigner class contains the customizations that are described in the previous section, "Benefits of Using the WorkflowActivityBase Class." You can further extend and customize this class.

The first section of the activity definition for this example activity includes the following code:

namespace Microsoft.ServiceManager.WorkflowAuthoring.ActivityLibrary  
    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------  
    /// <summary>  
    /// Activity to set an activity's status to complete  
    /// </summary>  
    // ---------------------------------------------------------------------  
    public sealed partial class SetActivityStatusToCompleted : WorkflowActivityBase  

Input properties for the example WF activity

The code declares one property, ActivityId, as a dependency property. This means that this property can be bound to parameters that are defined at the workflow level. In this case, the ID of the Service Manager activity is passed in to the workflow as a workflow parameter, and it flows into this activity as an input.

  // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
  /// <summary>  
  /// Dependency Property for ActivityId property  
  /// </summary>  
  // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
  public static DependencyProperty ActivityIdProperty =   
      DependencyProperty.Register("ActivityId", typeof(String), typeof(SetActivityStatusToCompleted));  

  // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
  /// <summary>  
  /// Activity ID  
  /// </summary>  
  // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
  public string ActivityId  
          return (string)this.GetValue(ActivityIdProperty);  
          this.SetValue(ActivityIdProperty, value);  

Execution behavior in the example WF activity

The Execute method does the actual work of this WF activity. Within the scope of the Execute method, the WF activity does the following:

  • Detects whether it is operating within a For-Each Loop activity, and, if so, sets the appropriate WF activity properties.

  • Connects to the specified Service Manager management server and creates an EnterpriseManagementGroup object.

  • Uses the ActivityId property to get the identified Service Manager activity from the database.

  • Finds the class definition of the Service Manager activity, gets the Status property of the retrieved Service Manager activity, and sets the property to the Completed enumeration list value.

  • Commits the changes to the Service Manager activity.

  • Uses the TrackData method (part of the WF infrastructure) to log tracking information about the execution and status of the WF activity.

        // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
        /// <summary>  
        /// The execute method will have the implementation to set the activity status to complete.  
        /// </summary>  
        // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------  
        protected override ActivityExecutionStatus Execute(ActivityExecutionContext executionContext)  
                // Initialize the current item if the activity contained within the For-Each loop  

                // Validate Parameters  
                if (String.IsNullOrEmpty(ActivityId))  
                    throw new ArgumentNullException("ActivityId");  

                string SMServer = "localhost";                  

                Guid TaskGuid = new Guid(ActivityId);  
                EnterpriseManagementGroup _mg = new EnterpriseManagementGroup(SMServer);  

                EnterpriseManagementObject Activity = _mg.EntityObjects.GetObject  
                    <EnterpriseManagementObject>(TaskGuid, ObjectQueryOptions.Default);  

                ManagementPack SystemMP = _mg.ManagementPacks.GetManagementPack(  
                ManagementPack ActivityMP = _mg.ManagementPacks.GetManagementPack(  
                    Resources.ActivityManagementMP, SystemMP.KeyToken, SystemMP.Version);  

                ManagementPackClass activityClass = _mg.EntityTypes.GetClass(  
                    Resources.WorkItemActivityClass, ActivityMP);  

                ManagementPackProperty status = activityClass.PropertyCollection["Status"];  
                ManagementPackEnumeration Completed =   
                    _mg.EntityTypes.GetEnumeration("ActivityStatusEnum.Completed", ActivityMP);  

                Activity[status].Value = Completed;  
            catch (ArgumentNullException argNullException)  
                // Log to Tracking Service  

            catch (EnterpriseManagementException mgmtException)  

            return ActivityExecutionStatus.Closed;  

Validation behavior in the example WF activity

The SetActivityStatusToCompletedValidator.cs file defines the validation behavior of the WF activity. This behavior defines how the designer indicates whether this WF activity is fully defined or if it still requires one or more inputs to be defined. The Authoring Tool indicates a validation error similarly to Visual Studio by using a red exclamation point (!) icon on the workflow activity in the Authoring pane.

namespace Microsoft.ServiceManager.WorkflowAuthoring.ActivityLibrary.Validators  
    // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------              
    /// <summary>  
    /// Validator for the SetActivityStatusToCompleted activity  
    /// </summary>  
    // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------              
    internal class SetActivityStatusToCompletedValidator : ActivityValidator  
        // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------          
        /// <summary>  
        /// Validator for the SetActivityStatusToCompleted activity  
        /// </summary>  
        // --------------------------------------------------------------------------------      
        public override ValidationErrorCollection Validate(ValidationManager manager, object obj)  
            // Performing default validation              
            ValidationErrorCollection errorColl = base.Validate(manager, obj);  

            SetActivityStatusToCompleted setActivityStatusToCompletedObj =   

            // Check if validation is happening during compilation of activity and  
            // not during the hosting of an activity                  
            if (setActivityStatusToCompletedObj.Parent == null)  
                return errorColl;  

            string propertyName = Common.GetPropertyName(setActivityStatusToCompletedObj);  

            // Add validation error if ActivityId is null or empty                  
            if (setActivityStatusToCompletedObj.ActivityId == null   
                setActivityStatusToCompletedObj.GetBinding(SetActivityStatusToCompleted.ActivityIdProperty) == null   
                String.Compare(propertyName, "ActivityId", false, CultureInfo.InvariantCulture) != 0)  
                errorColl.Add(new ValidationError(  
                    Resources.SetActivityStatusToCompleted_ActivityId_DesignTimeValidation, 10, false));  

            return errorColl;  

Use the example WF activity in a workflow

The Set Activity Status to Completed activity is included in the Authoring Tool default Activities Toolbox pane. For more information about adding custom activities to the Activities Toolbox pane, see How to Install a Custom Activity Assembly.

You can use the authoring pane of the Authoring Tool to author workflows in a manner that is similar to using the Visual Studio workflow design interface. However, the Authoring Tool offers the following benefits:

  • Users without development skills can build workflows; they do not have to work with code directly.

  • When a user saves a workflow in the Authoring Tool, the tool generates the corresponding Visual C# and XOML code and compiles it into a .dll file. The tool also integrates the workflow with a management pack that can interact directly with Service Manager.

Visual C# Code for the workflow

The following sample shows the Visual C# code that the Authoring Tool generates for an example workflow that uses the Set Activity Status to Completed activity. This code declares a simple sequential workflow, SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF, that has one workflow parameter, the dependency property ActivityId. The value of ActivityID is determined by the management pack definitions that are shown later in this example. When the workflow runs, Service Manager identifies the value and passes it into the workflow.

namespace WorkflowAuthoring  
    using System;  
    using System.ComponentModel;  
    using System.ComponentModel.Design;  
    using System.Workflow.ComponentModel.Design;  
    using System.Workflow.ComponentModel;  
    using System.Workflow.ComponentModel.Serialization;  
    using System.Workflow.ComponentModel.Compiler;  
    using System.Drawing;  
    using System.Collections;  
    using System.Workflow.Activities;  
    using System.Workflow.Runtime;  

    public partial class SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF : System.Workflow.Activities.SequentialWorkflowActivity  

        public static DependencyProperty ActivityIdProperty = DependencyProperty.Register("ActivityId", typeof(string), typeof(SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF));  

        public string ActivityId  
                return ((string)(this.GetValue(ActivityIdProperty)));  
                this.SetValue(ActivityIdProperty, value);  

XOML code for the workflow

WF uses the XOML format for some of the workflow definitions. In the case of the example workflow, the Authoring Tool creates the file SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF.xoml with the following content:

<SequentialWorkflowActivity x:Class="WorkflowAuthoring.SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF" x:Name="SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF" xmlns:ns0="clr-namespace:Microsoft.ServiceManager.WorkflowAuthoring.ActivityLibrary;Assembly=Microsoft.ServiceManager.WorkflowAuthoring.ActivityLibrary, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" xmlns:x="" xmlns="">  
<ns0:SetActivityStatusToCompleted ActivityId="{ActivityBind SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF,Path=ActivityId}" x:Name="setActivityStatusToCompleted1" PropertyToBind="{x:Null}" />  

SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF.xoml declares that the workflow, SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF, runs one workflow activity, Set Activity Status To Completed. That activity has one input parameter, ActivityId, which gets its value from the ActivityId property of the workflow.

Declare the workflow and its trigger condition in a management pack

Service Manager cannot use an isolated workflow .dll file; the workflow must be integrated with a management pack. The management pack defines when the workflow should run and what input values to use. At the same time that it generates the workflow code and compiles the workflow .dll file, the Authoring Tool adds the workflow-related information to a management pack.

The example workflow, SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF, is associated with an example management pack, named Woodgrove.AutomatedActivity.AddComputerToGroupMP.xml. This management pack extends the Change Management process with a new automated Service Manager activity. When the new activity becomes active during a change management operation, it triggers the SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF workflow.

The management pack defines the trigger of the workflow (when the new Service Manager activity changes state), and it defines the value to use for the ActivityId property (the unique identifier of the new Service Manager activity). When the workflow runs, it changes the status of the new Service Manager activity to Completed. Note that in a normal workflow, this would be the last step following some other task that is performed by other WF activities in the workflow.

The Monitoring section of the management pack contains the Rule definition for the workflow. In turn, the Rule definition has two parts, the DataSource element and the WriteAction element.

In the case of the example workflow, the DataSource element contains a Subscription element, which specifies that the workflow should run when an instance of the AddComputerToGroup class (a custom Service Manager class) changes state to Active.

      <Rule ID="SetActivityToCompleteRule" Enabled="true"   
     ConfirmDelivery="false" Remotable="true" Priority="Normal" DiscardLevel="100">  
          <DataSource ID="DS"   
<InstanceSubscription Type="$MPElement[Name='AddComputerToGroup']$">  
   <Property State="Post">  

The WriteAction element (specifically, Microsoft.EnterpriseManagement.SystemCenter.Subscription.WindowsWorkflowTaskWriteAction) defines what to do when the trigger condition is met. Within this element, a Subscription element identifies the workflow assembly file to run (SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF.dll) and the class in the assembly that represents the workflow, WorkflowTypeName.

The Subscription element also includes a WorkflowParameter element, which defines the ActivityId property and, using the syntax $Data\/BaseManagedEntityId$, binds it to the unique identifier of the Service Manager activity that is recorded in the DataSource element.

The WriteAction element also stores optional configuration details for the workflow, such as how many retries to perform if the workflow fails, how frequently to retry, and the maximum time in seconds that a workflow should run before it is shut off.

    <WriteAction ID="WA"   
 <WorkflowParameter Name="ActivityId"   

Import the management pack

For the workflow to run on a particular Service Manager management server, all of the files that are related to the workflow must reside on that server. These files include the following:

  • The WF activity assembly files. If you are using only the Service Manager WF activities, by default, the appropriate files are installed. If you are using custom activities, see How to Install a Custom Activity Assembly.

  • The workflow assembly file, in this case, SetActivityStatusToCompleteWF.dll. You must manually copy this file to the Service Manager management server.

  • The management pack file, in this case, Woodgrove.AutomatedActivity.AddComputerToGroupMP.xml. You must manually copy this file to the Service Manager management server.

    When all of the files are in place, import the management pack into Service Manager. You can do this by using the mpimport.exe command-line tool or the Service Manager console. After you have imported the management pack, the workflow is ready to run whenever the condition that is defined as its trigger is met.

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