Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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SharePoint Conference 2009: Of Data and BI

Day 2 of the SharePoint Conference 2009 has just about come and gone, and I've shifted my focus from yesterday's pure developer angle to topics of data and business intelligence. And there has been a lot to see. I'm sitting in the last session of the day, attending the "Business Intelligence Power Hour" and began the day with an in-depth look at SharePoint's Business Connectivity Services (BCS, formerly known as the Business Data Catalog, or BDC).

I work very closely with Microsoft Business Intelligence tools and members of the MS BI team, so I've known for some time that the entire MS BI presentation layer strategy has been based on a move to SharePoint. We began to see this with SharePoint 2007, which incorporated the new Excel Services features, hosted PerformancePoint Server and optionally integrated SQL Server Reporting Services and ReportBuilder. With SharePoint 2010, all this remains and deepens, and is enhanced by the addition of Visio Services (which allows for shared, data-connected diagrams) and PowerPivot (formerly code-named "Gemini"), which is a full self-service, in-memory BI product that uses Excel for constructing content and SharePoint for, well, sharing it.

But I knew all that already. What I didn't know was that the former BDC, a somewhat niche feature of SharePoint that connected it, in a read-only fashion, to back-end data sources would graduate to the new BCS, which turns SharePoint and, along with it, Office 2010, into a full-fledged platform for creating simple browser-and-client, occasionally-connected CRUD (create, read, update and delete) applications, connected to virtually any database.

Not enough? How about the ability to "shred" your Reporting Services reports, and their constituent tables, matrices, charts, gauges and (new) maps, into separate components that can be shared and reused? And remember Access? That iconic stalwart of end-user database management? Well, it too can publish its databases to SharePoint, wherein its tables become SharePoint lists and its reports can be viewed online.

What's going on here exactly? And what does this do for Microsoft in the competitive marketplace? I tend to think the rise of Open Source Web content management applications like Drupal and Joomla!, and their ability to be used as functional business application platforms (with a little help from some custom PHP code) is egging Microsoft on here. Customers don't wish to pay for custom development of simple data maintenance apps, and the Open Source content management systems have ridden this wave to great success. Plus, they're free. But for many corporate users, SharePoint is effectively free too (because it's already deployed in their enterprises) so why shouldn't Microsoft make SharePoint serve as a data platform on its own?

Don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question. We've seen throughout the years that most business apps are data apps. Now we're seeing that SharePoint, the portal, collaboration and content management system for businesses, is a data platform too.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 10/21/2009

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