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How to Get External Data in to SharePoint

Krishna Naik | | January 25, 2018

In today’s world, we find information is scattered across multiple environments within an organization and mostly controlled by enterprise applications. Company decision makers need access to this information which resides in different applications.

In order to address these problems, many organizations have come up with custom applications or dynamic Web-portals which will interact with this information and get some meaningful data for our decision makers. However, these custom applications and web-portals have challenges like interoperability, low- fidelity interfaces, high cost to build, train, support, and upgrade.

In order to overcome these challenges Microsoft introduced a new feature called Business Data Catalog (BDC) in MOSS 2007 and enhanced its capabilities in SharePoint 2010 by introducing Business Connectivity Services (BCS).

With introduction to Business Connectivity Services, Microsoft gave the flexibility to create CRUD Websites so that the end-users can update the information to external databases.

Advantages of using BCS over other solutions:

  • BCS reduces the cost of setting up an additional infrastructure to get connected to external data and external systems. BCS has its own centralized infrastructure which supports integrated data solutions.
  • BCS provides the single sign-on experience to the end users as it handles IT security transactions with external systems.
  • BCS allows users to search for external content. End users can search for external data by using the SharePoint inbuilt Search functionality. The search results from external data are security trimmed.

We can make use of business creativity services to create distinct types of data integration solutions that will help end users perform the day-to-day tasks without actually switching to different applications.

Before we actually proceed with understanding of Business Connectivity Services and its capabilities we need to understand what external data is and what are the challenges faced while we get connected to external data.

What is External Data?

External Data are Business Critical Data which are present and managed by External Systems like Siebel, Oracle, and SAP.

Before we actually connect to external systems we actually need to consider various factors such as security, reliability and regulatory compliance.

What is Business Data Catalog?

Business Data Catalog provides a console to gather, analyze and represent data from various resources through SharePoint. The best part is we don’t have to write any code to get this enterprise data into SharePoint.

However, there are few limitations of Business Data Catalog:

  • BDC provides read only access to data
  • Challenging to configure and manage.
  • Users need to be online in order to access the data surfaced through Business Data Catalog.

Since we had few limitations in Business Data Catalog which compelled Microsoft to come up with more robust connectivity named BCS. With the release of SharePoint 2010 Microsoft enhanced the BDC capabilities and gave more flexibility by providing a greater level of integration with external data.

What is Business Connectivity Services?

Business Connectivity Services makes is easy to integrate external data into SharePoint. BCS allows deeper integration of external data into SharePoint using fully read-write fashion. Basically, business connectivity services enable you to connect to these external data sources and display business data via web parts, user profiles, or SharePoint lists.

In short, BCS connects end-users with enterprise data which helps them to do their jobs.

Basically, Microsoft introduced these features to achieve the following three things:

  • Extend the reach and usage of external data.
  • Make external data actionable and available.
  • Create collaborative solutions easily through the reuse of components.

Features:

External List Secure Store Service
External Data column External Data Search
Business Data Connectivity (BDC) service Profile Pages
Connector Framework Business Data Web Parts & Rich Client Integration

With the release of SharePoint 2013 Microsoft strengthens its capabilities with BCS and included some key functionalities:

  • OData Support as data source – BCS can now access OData sources OOB just like WCF or SQL Data sources
  • Eventing Framework for external notifications – Provides an alert functionality for external lists
  • Support for SharePoint apps – Now BCS models are scoped for app levels and not at a Farm levels
  • External list enhancements – Performance improvements, Data Source Filtering, Sorting, Export to Excel
  • CSOM API

I hope this post gives you a fair idea about the BCS and if you ever have to pull the data from other data sources to SharePoint, you’d try BCS once before you start writing those lengthy codes.

Happy SharePointing!

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