The SharePoint Team at Microsoft has just released a Sneak Peek video showcasing some of the new features of SharePoint 2010. Although the video only shows a small subset of what’s coming, it’s certainly enough to get everyone excited. A much richer user experience addresses several common pain points and in terms of integration with business data from other systems significant improvements are in the pipeline.
The user experience is now a lot closer to what we are used to from the Office 2007 client applications. The contextual ribbon is the prevailing interface providing an even more consistent user experience across Office clients and SharePoint sites. User dialogs are generally handled by frames on the forefront with a grayed out background, eliminating lots of time-consuming page post-backs. Web page editing has a rich user experience similar to editing Word documents and finally users can upload images on the fly when adding pictures to web pages (sigh!).
From my perspective, currently specialising in bringing ERP business data (from SAP in particular) into SharePoint, there is massive potential in the new version of the SharePoint platform. First of all, the cornerstone feature of LOB system integration has been upgraded significantly. The Business Data Catalog (BDC) is now called Business Connectivity Services (BCS) and have three momentous improvements:
- Vertical support for reading and writing business data. The BDC sort of had support for writing back to LOB systems through the object model, but the BCS now take this to a whole new level. You will be able to create an ‘External List’ where you can create, read, update and delete business data like with any other SharePoint list. It is, however, still unclear how easy it will be to customise the list forms and the ability to create filtered lookups is also high on the wish list in this context.
- Integration with Office allowing users to take business data offline. Users will even be able to edit that business data offline which will then be synchronised with the back-end system when connectivity is restored. SharePoint Workspace, formerly known as Groove, is the rich client for SharePoint providing extensive offline capabilities and plays a central role in this. The External Lists mentioned above will be editable through SharePoint Workspace when offline.
- Better tools for modelling business data entities. In my opinion, this has been one of the major holdbacks with the BDC up until now. Adequate tools for authoring the application definition files were lacking. Now, both SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio will provide a much improved toolset, including visual design surfaces, for modelling business data entities for the BCS.
Another new capability that will bring business data to life within SharePoint, is Visio Services. Similar to InfoPath Services and Excel Services, Visio Services enable browser-based rendering of Visio diagrams. With Visio already being able to connect to external data sources this will allow business users to create process and workflow diagrams reflecting data in LOB systems and easily publish those to a SharePoint site.
All of these improvements will help move SharePoint in the direction of becoming a truly capable platform for composite applications and enterprise mashups. It will be simpler and more cost-effective to integrate business data into those composites and mashups.