15 July, 2009

Presenting on SharePoint enterprise mashups at SharePoint Saturday Sydney

SharePoint Saturday is a community-driven event offering a full day of SharePoint sessions and open to anyone for free. The first SharePoint Saturday was held at Virginia Beach in the US back in January this year. It has since spread quickly across North America as a very popular event with good numbers signing up to come and see all the great speakers that haven’t hesitated to support the initiative.

SharePoint Saturday is now going global with the first event outside of North America coming to Sydney on the 8th of August 2009. This remarkable community conference will continue its foray into Australia with local editions already being planned for Adelaide and Brisbane later this year.

I’ve committed myself to deliver a session at the Sydney event focusing on utilising SharePoint as a platform for enterprise mashups. I will demonstrate how you can leverage the Business Data Catalog (BDC) to bring data from your ERP system and other sources into SharePoint and then use this business data in mashups and composite applications. The mashups will blend structured and unstructured data as well as utilise various Internet services to provide users with a single view of related information.

People have been quick to sign up for the event and it’s filling fast. If you want to grab one of the remaining spots, head over to the SharePoint Saturday Sydney site for instructions on how to enrol. Be quick!

13 July, 2009

Accessing business data with SharePoint 2010

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.

08 July, 2009

Presenting on SAP/SharePoint interoperability at the Brisbane SharePoint User Group

This coming Wednesday (15 July), I’ll be presenting at the Brisbane SharePoint User Group (#BSPUG) on SAP/SharePoint interoperability. I will cover the motivations behind bringing SAP enterprise data and functionality into SharePoint and give an overview of available interoperability options.

One of the key features of SharePoint that enables integration with back-end business systems is the Business Data Catalog (BDC). This session will include live demos of solutions showcasing the different ways of utilising the BDC. There will also be examples of concepts like custom search results rendering, enterprise mashups and portlet syndication.

Although the demos are based on scenarios where business data is sourced in SAP, the concepts covered can be applied to any ERP back-end or other line-of-business applications. In other words, do not hesitate to come along even though your company or clients are not running on SAP.