23 October, 2009

Day 4 of the SharePoint Conference 2009

The last day of the SharePoint Conference was a short one. After breakfast I had a closer look at another third-party product. AgilePoint has a workflow solution that includes activities that can be wired up to SAP BAPIs through their integrated BAPI explorer. The interesting part about their product is that it presents a workflow solution for SharePoint without leaving a footprint on the SharePoint infrastructure itself.

Due to my travel arrangements, I only managed to fit in one session on this last day of the conference. I watched Rob Foster, well-known from the SharePoint Pod Show, present a case study with one of his colleagues from Deloitte about how social networking and improved collaboration have transformed Deloitte as an organisation. Social networking has helped break down silos and taken collaboration to a new level. Rich user profiles and associated blogs also allow individual employees to better manage their personal brand within the organisation which is always important in a large consulting company. The user profiles also display HR data replicated from SAP which was nice to see. Deloitte has implemented a very open policy about content contribution. Initially, concerns were raised that this could potentially lead to inappropriate content being posted. However, this turned out to be no problem at all. Everyone seems to acknowledge that what is not appropriate in an email or in the real world for that matter is probably not appropriate on a user-driven site either. Another point made was the rollout being successfully facilitated in a viral manner rather than forced upon people.

Unfortunately I had to skip the last two breakout sessions to catch my flight out of Vegas. It has indeed been a fantastic conference. There were lots of sessions providing a good feeling for all the new capabilities of the milestone SharePoint 2010 release and some excellent customer presentations about valuable lessons learnt. I also managed to track down everyone I wanted to meet which was a bit challenging at times with 8,000 people around. Thanks to everyone for a great week!

Read about Day 1.

22 October, 2009

Day 3 of the SharePoint Conference 2009

Yet another day of non-stop SharePoint activities has passed at the SharePoint Conference. And it has been non-stop SharePoint indeed. There is even a SharePoint channel on the TV in the hotel room, so when you sneak away for a little quiet time away from the other 8,000 SharePoint enthusiasts you can still get fed with SharePoint content.

My first session of the day was a bit different, yet very valuable. It was about the art of SharePoint storytelling and how selling and implementing SharePoint should focus more on the business concepts rather than the product features. Over the last couple of years, there has been an increased focus on the importance of building a shared understanding amongst all the stakeholders when rolling out SharePoint. This session explained how telling good and relevant stories can help to build this crucial shared understanding. Downloading the slide deck from this session will not carry much value since the message was delivered by telling good stories, effectively proving the point.

Being mostly interested in how we can eventually bring SAP data into SharePoint, I went to another presentation about the BCS, a deep dive into the runtime and the associated object model. The BCS has been significantly improved across all of its capabilities, but what really has enormous potential is that the architecture is now symmetrical on the client side. There is a BCS client runtime that will allow client applications (such as OBAs) to connect directly to the back-end LOB system. A client cache holds all the BCS meta data, external business data and manages queuing and synchronisation.

After catching up with various SAP/Microsoft contacts over lunch, I sat in on Steve Fox’ session on how to create OBAs utilising the BCS. Following on from the previous session I went to, this was specifically about building OBAs. When building Office add-ins in an environment with SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 deployed, a lot more of the basic plumping will already be in place in terms of managing connectivity with the back-end systems and offline caches of external data. This will lower the total cost of ownership and be crucial for the uptake of the OBA architecture.

In the last two breakout slots of the day I let go of the BCS and went to some customer presentations talking about their experiences with implementing SharePoint. In particular, I really enjoyed Coca-Cola’s case study on how they are now utilising SharePoint Online for their entire SharePoint environment including public website, intranet and collaboration team sites. Their success was based on a strong focus on governance right from the beginning and having the entire program being led by the business with IT taking on a service providing attitude. They had some impressive usage statistics showing how successful their collaboration team sites have been within the organisation. Coca-Cola has also built a self-service area for HR transactions where SAP HCM is surfaced through SharePoint. They use custom Web Dynpro screens rendered within iFrames (note, not the IView Web Part).

In the evening there was another reception in the exhibition hall with roundtables setup for engaging with the experts in the various product and technology areas. A few of us self-proclaimed SAP/SharePoint evangelists quickly found each other to share frustrations with the past and excitement for the future. The reception was accompanied by a ‘SharePoint Idol’ competition where a large stage allowed participants to show off their ‘Guitar Hero’ skills. Again, all up a fantastic SharePoint day.

Read about Day 4.

21 October, 2009

Day 2 of the SharePoint Conference 2009

The second day of the SharePoint Conference was a highly productive one from my perspective as it allowed me to focus on integration with SAP attending sessions, meeting people and exploring third-party products all relevant to SAP.

The first session I attended was an overview of the SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services (BCS) which is the evolution of the Business Data Catalog (BDC). The session covered the significant improvements in all of the three key investment areas of presentation, connectivity and tooling. With new components including a client-side runtime for Office connectivity and offline support, the infrastructure for the next version of Duet is starting to come together. I will cover this in much more detail in the future, so watch this space.

The highlight of the day was Matt Ordish’ presentation on surfacing SAP through SharePoint. Architectural principles around utilising both SAP and Microsoft technologies were discussed and kept the audience very interested. The session was really well attended which was great to see. News included the fact that the IView Web Part will not be available in SharePoint 2010 and the recommended approach for embedding SAP UI will be using iFrames instead. Again, I will write more detailed posts on this in the future.

I spent the afternoon catching up with people that are active in the SAP/SharePoint interoperability space and also had some great demos of third-party products that streamlines the process of getting business data from LOB systems into SharePoint. Stone Bond Technologies showed off their slick Enterprise Enabler product and Lightning Tools had a new release of their popular BDC Meta Man, upgraded for SharePoint 2010, and they also facilitated a detailed demonstration by Simplement of their approach to SAP integration.

The last session of the day in my schedule was a SharePoint 2010 Interoperability Overview. The Business Connectivity Services (BCS) is obviously a key component here but it was great to see an increasing number of standards being supported across the product. SharePoint will now be fully accessible across browsers by supporting WCAG 2.0 which has been a major roadblock until now in terms of using SharePoint for public websites. Various other standards will be supported including new web service protocols and CMIS for content management.

The conference is at the Mandalay Bay complex and when staying in these Las Vegas mega compounds, it is easy to forget that there is a real world somewhere on the outside. Just to keep my sanity intact, I went for a run in the late afternoon before joining everyone else at the SharePoint Beach Party featuring Huey Lewis and the News. It was a well executed 80’s theme party complete with break dancers, graffiti artists and various imitations of 80’s rock stars mingling in the crowd.

Read about Day 3.

20 October, 2009

Day 1 of the SharePoint Conference 2009

Day 1 of the SharePoint Conference 2009 has passed and it is certainly off to a good start. I got into Las Vegas Sunday afternoon and quickly met up with lots of colleagues from all over the world that I have not seen for years. With the likes of tools such as Twitter and Facebook we have an amazing opportunity to stay connected with a vast number of people and Twitter in particular was going off with everyone trying to locate each other.

The opening reception on the Sunday night was a buzzing event in the exhibition hall. As soon as the doors were opened at 6 pm the exhibitors were almost trampled by 1000s of SharePoint folks. Following the reception there was a community organised get-together, SharePint, in the EyeCandy bar at Mandalay Bay. It was another invaluable networking event with an overwhelming turnout.

More than 7,400 attendees made it to the keynote Monday morning. It is a testament to the penetration and popularity of SharePoint that so many people from all over the planet commit themselves to a weeklong conference entirely focused on SharePoint. 1000s of people have come across on long haul flights from various continents.

The first scheduled session I attended was a general overview provided by Arpan Shah, who went through some of the new features in the different workloads from an end user perspective. The UI of SharePoint has definitely been improved massively and I can only encourage you to check it out. It is a much richer user experience with less annoying post-backs, the ribbon has made it to SharePoint and many common pain points have been addressed.

I also sat in on a session on Visio Services. This is all new functionality and very powerful. Using Visio 2010 it is very easy to create dashboard diagrams that are connected to external data sources and which can be published to SharePoint and rendered in the browser. These external data sources can be SharePoint lists, so we now have a toolset for business users who want to build dashboard diagrams visualising SharePoint data. Visio Services can also be utilised for visualising SharePoint workflows and there is an associated JavaScript API for creating interactive browser-based diagrams.

In the last breakout slot of the day, I went to watch a customer presentation with real-world examples of Office Business Applications (OBAs) and MOSS 2007. Tyson Foods has been building solutions exposing their LOB sales system in Word, empowering their sales force to author contracts and proposals without having to leave Word when fetching data from the LOB system for the document.

After catching up with a business contact for dinner, I went to the Rum Jungle to join a horde of fellow Danes. Supposedly, 230 Danish SharePoint enthusiasts have made it to the conference. I guess a trip to Vegas sounds like too much fun for a Dane to miss out on!

Read about Day 2.

14 October, 2009

Connecting at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas

Next week I will be attending the much anticipated SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. The build-up has been staged with barely any details being revealed about SharePoint 2010 beforehand. More than 7,000 attendees will be looking to learn all about this milestone release and Steve Ballmer himself will provide the keynote. Every attendee, exhibitor or speaker I have talked to certainly has high expectations.

We will without doubt see many new capabilities that will consolidate SharePoint as the market’s leading horizontal business productivity platform. I will direct my focus on any expects of SharePoint 2010 that will affect interoperability with SAP. There are some promising new features for accessing business data which will undoubtedly play a key role in driving the idea of surfacing SAP through SharePoint. And with SAP investing heavily in service enablement there should be some exciting years immediately ahead of us.

Learning about the new features and potential of SharePoint 2010 is obviously a key objective of attending this conference. But even more important is the opportunity to exchange experiences with many colleagues from around the world. I have already organised to meet up with 12-15 people that are active in the SAP/Microsoft interoperability space, but I am always looking to connect with colleagues so if you want to discuss surfacing SAP through SharePoint at the conference please ping me on Twitter (@kalsing) or contact me here.

05 October, 2009

Another way of accessing SAP data with the SharePoint BDC

Five months ago, ERP-Link and Nintex announced a partnership aimed at integrating SAP data into SharePoint workflows. Now another strategic partnership between third-party vendors focusing on SAP/Microsoft interoperability has been announced. Simplement and Lightning Tools have joined forces to make it easier to use the SharePoint BDC to access SAP data.

Using the Simplement Data Liberator, SAP data is replicated across to a separate SQL Server database as business transactions occur, using the same approach as in a live disaster recovery setup. In addition to the replicated tables, supplementary views are automatically generated which have business-friendly names for all tables and fields. This effectively empowers .NET developers or anyone using the BDC Meta Man from Lightning Tools to navigate the data with ease and without having any impact on the production instance of SAP.

The approach to accessing the data in SAP put forward by Simplement is a bit unconventional in the sense that it departs from the normal APIs and utilises the underlying database replication technologies. But the architecture has been carefully designed to have no overhead on the SAP application server and without compromising security. It is also worth noting that the founders are certified SAP professionals both on the functional side and on the basis side. When solving the actual interoperability problem, I am personally more comfortable with a solution that is lead by SAP professionals exposing SAP rather than Microsoft professionals making their way in.

The architecture can be utilised as a way of enabling real time reporting on SAP using Microsoft BI tools and technologies or to make use of the SharePoint BDC web parts in their current incarnation for bringing SAP data into SharePoint on a read-only basis. Once the BDC is configured, the SAP data can also be exposed through SharePoint search, user profiles or used as lookup data in list or library columns.

In a previous post I thrashed out the relative complexity of configuring the SharePoint BDC for SAP and the reliance on having ABAP developers creating custom web services specifically designed for the BDC. The value proposition from Simplement and Lightning Tools is that this reliance on ABAP development is eliminated. Their screencast below explains how it all works: