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Keenan Newton, Technical Product Manager

We’re going to spend this time talking (again) about no-code solutions for SharePoint 2010 with a tighter focus on Office 2010.  Cue Keenan Newton, thekameleon on Twitter.

SharePoint 2010 is a solution platform and has out of-the-box items that are valuable like site templates, user customizations and custom lists.  Declarative solutions can be created with SharePoint Designer 2010.  Examples are rules-based workflows, data view web parts, theming, page layouts, and LOB data integration.  More advanced things, obviously, must be done with Visual Studio and require code.  And, that code needs maintenance.  Yuck.

The no-code Excel Services solutions are really interesting.  Microsoft Office Excel is powerful but not perfect. For example if you want a colleague to preview the data they will need a compatible version of the Excel installed on their computer. In addition, if you send a spreadsheet containing complex calculations  you will probably reveal some internal information about your organization. Moreover, somebody may change these calculations and send the modified spreadsheet to a third party. But don’t worry – SharePoint 2010 Excel Services comes to your rescue. You can publish the spreadsheet on the web and other users will need only a web browser to view the data. If required they can change some of the cell values and this way you can publish templates which perform complex calculations but the end user will not be able to see how the calculations are performed.  Abstracting the complexity from the end user…sounds a little bit closer to nirvana to me.

InfoPath Forms Services provides a Web browser experience for filling out InfoPath forms and allows developers to create rich web parts.   The full power of InfoPath is now available with a single click in SharePoint (controls menu in the Ribbon).  When deployed to a server running InfoPath Forms Services, forms based on browser-compatible form templates (.xsn) can be opened in a Web browser from computers that do not have InfoPath 2010 installed, but they will open in InfoPath 2010 when it is installed. Additionally, because the same form can be used in the browser or in the InfoPath editor, the form template design and management process is greatly simplified. The InfoPath Forms Services technology is built as a feature on the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 platform.

A browser-compatible form template (.xsn) created in the InfoPath 2010 design mode user interface is rendered by the XmlFormView control as a browser-editable form that runs on SharePoint Server 2010. A browser-compatible form template with custom business logic written in managed code against members of the Microsoft.Office.InfoPath namespace must be deployed by an administrator and managed through a global list of form templates that is accessed from the SharePoint Server 2010Central Administration site. To display and work with this list, open the Central Administration site, click General Applications Settings, and then click Manage form templates under InfoPath Forms Services.  InfoPath can also be configured using Powershell.

The demo was a bit slow, but Keenan showed us how to configure the data sources and pull data from SharePoint lists and other sources. 

Next was a discussion about Access services, which makes IT pros cringe because they lose total control.  Access 2010 enables new users to get started faster and makes advanced users more efficient.  New templates make it faster to get started, application parts enable easy replication of success, and built-in quick start fields help build tables quickly. 

Why would you use Access opposed to a SharePoint list?  Multiple tables, Keenan says.  SharePoint lists can be joined — but, beyond 2, Access is really the right tool for the job.

If you try to open a page with Access Services in SharePoint Designer, be prepared to be disappointed.  Security rules prevent this from happening.  Likewise, Access Services has a dependency on SQL Server 2008 R2 Reporting Services (SSRS) for rendering the Access database reports.   If you (or your administrator) have not properly installed and configured SSRS and the SharePoint Reporting Services add-in you will get an error when trying to view any report in your Access database web solution.

Visio 2010 has a new SharePoint workflow template that supports almost all actions and conditions in SharePoint Designer.  SharePoint Designer then takes the .vwi file and allow you the ability to point to the correct data sources, etc.  It also supports round trips to Visio.  This requires the premium version.  Think of Visio as portable and SharePoint Designer as fixed.

If your workflow is complex, you’ll need to introduce Visual Studio 2010 into the mix.

Business Connectivity Services allow easy surfacing of external data into a SharePoint external list.  Besides that, other LOB external content type connections can include SharePoint Workspace data and Outlook forms and tasks.  If you were nervous about Access Services, you’ll probably want to read the BCS Security Overview

Solutions that are based on Microsoft Business Connectivity Services can take advantage of the integration of client applications, servers, services, and tools in the Microsoft Office 2010 suites. Information workers typically perform much of their work outside the formal processes of a business system. For example, they collaborate by telephone or e-mail messages, use documents and spreadsheets from multiple sources, and switch between being online and offline. Solutions that are based on Microsoft Business Connectivity Services can be designed to fit within these informal processes that information workers use:

  • They can be built by combining multiple services and features from external data systems and from the Office 2010 suites to deliver solutions that are targeted to specific roles.
  • They support informal interactions and target activities and processes that occur mostly outside formal enterprise systems. Because they are built by using SharePoint 2010 Products, solutions that are based on Microsoft Business Connectivity Services promote collaboration.
  • They help users perform tasks within the familiar user interface of Office applications and SharePoint 2010 products.

Here are some examples of solutions that are based on Microsoft Business Connectivity Services:

  • Help desk An enterprise implements its help desk, which provides internal technical support, as a solution that is based on Microsoft Business Connectivity Services. Support requests and the technical support knowledge base are stored in external databases and are integrated into the solution by using the Business Data Connectivity service. The solution displays both support requests and the knowledge base in the Web browser. Information workers can view their current requests either in a Web browser or in Microsoft Outlook. Tech support specialists view the requests assigned to them in a browser, by using Microsoft Outlook, and, when offline, by using Microsoft SharePoint Workspace. Workflows take support issues through each of their stages. Managers on the technical support team can view dashboards that display help desk reports. Typical reports indicate the number of support issues assigned to each support specialist, the most critical issues currently, and the number of support incidents that are handled by each support specialist during a given time period.
  • Artist tracker A talent agency integrates its database of artists into its internal Web site. The complete list of artists, their contact information, and schedules can be taken offline in Microsoft SharePoint Workspace or in Microsoft Outlook. Recording contracts can be generated and filled from the Web site, Microsoft SharePoint Workspace, or Microsoft Outlook, and a workflow guides each contract through its various stages. New artists can be added from the Web site or from Microsoft Outlook. By using this solution, agents always have the information that they need nearby and they can perform many key tasks by using familiar Office interfaces.
  • Sales Dashboard A sales dashboard application helps sales associates in an organization quickly find the information that they need and enter new data. Sales orders and customer information are managed in an external database and integrated into the solution by using Microsoft Business Connectivity Services. Depending on their roles, team members can view sales analytics information, individual team members’ sales performance data, sales leads, and a customer’s contact information and orders. Sales professionals can view their daily calendars, view tasks assigned to them by their managers, collaborate with team members, and read industry news, either from a Web browser, from Microsoft Outlook, or offline in Microsoft SharePoint Workspace. By using Microsoft Word 2010, managers can author monthly status reports that include data from the external systems.

This chair is breaking my back, so I’m stretching now.  And, Keenan is demonstrating an HR apps that pulls in data from external sources and is used to do some back-office HR tasks, like view candidates for open positions, and enable new hires to move through the onboarding process seamlessly. 

Keenan will be posting his slide deck to his blog.

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