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Article – Business Connectivity Services (BCS) Part II – Terminology & Solutions Types

In the previous article, we discussed what BCS is, the evolution of BCS, investments areas in BCS in SharePoint 2010 release and BCS features by SKU. In this article we are going to get familiar with the BCS terminology which will help us going forward and will learn about the different solution types we can deliver with BCS.

BCS Terminology

It's always better to get the right terminology in place when we deliver solutions using BCS. They are:

  • Business Connectivity Services (BCS) – the umbrella term Microsoft uses to name this set of technologies which help us surfacing business data from external systems such as SAP, Oracle, Siebel, PeopleSoft, Dynamics, etc…
  • Business Data Connectivity (BDC) – the plumbing components which provides the runtime for both server and the client. This provides the actual connectivity runtime for SharePoint and Office clients.
  • External System – the legacy system which hosts business data. Examples are, SAP, Dynamics, Siebel, PeopleSoft, SFDC, etc…
  • External Content Type (ETC) – the building block of the BCS solutions. It's a reusable collection of metadata and it encapsulates connectivity information, data definitions and behaviors. This is stored in a dedicated database called Business Data Connectivity service database.
  • Model – the XML representation of the actual external data business entity such as Customer, Product, Order which BDC will transport using ETC.
  • External List – brand-new list template which provides same look and feel of the SharePoint lists and libraries along with support of CRUD operations against business data in external systems. These lists don't live in Content Database and have tighter integration with Office clients such as SharePoint Workspace and Outlook.

BCS Solution Types

Solution we deliver with BCS can be categorized in to 03 main areas and they are:

  • Simple solutions
  • Intermediate solutions
  • Advanced solutions

Following diagram will help us understand the same.

BCS Solution Types - Source: Microsoft

BCS Solution Types - Source: Microsoft

Simple solutions

Simple solutions are the solutions which leverages out-of-the-box capabilities of BCS using SharePoint and Office. This type of solutions does not require code and can be implemented by business/ power users. This helps organizations to free developers and IT Pros from having to build such solutions but IT Pros can still have the control over the actions performed by these solutions.

An example would be a power user creating an External Content Type (ETC) using SharePoint Designer 2010 to bring Employee data from HRS system and surface the same information using External List. Further end-users can take employee data offline by syncing the external list with either Outlook or SharePoint Workspace.

Intermediate solutions

Sometimes these types of solutions are referred as intermediate declarative solutions. That is mainly to indicate that even in this category we don't have to write any code.

An example would be adding a workflow to the same earlier employee data set we brought from the HRS system using External Content Type (ETC) and External List and adding Custom Actions to appear in Edit Item menu, customizing the look and feel of the View, Edit, New Info-path forms generated out-of-the-box.

Advanced solutions

Sometimes these types of solutions are referred as advanced code-based solutions. It clearly showcases the message of level of coding required to provide such solutions.

An example would be adding code-behind for Info-path forms to provide advanced validation, extending out-of-the-box Business Data web parts to provide advanced functionality, creating .NET assembly connector to aggregate data from multiple external systems. Or it can be an end-to-end solution in which you build the custom .NET assembly connector to bring data provide advanced validation/ business rules on the fly and display data in a custom user interface component.

These types of solutions are created using Business Data Connectivity Model project type in Visual Studio 2010. Visual Studio 2010 provides bunch of nice designers and skeleton code for developers to rapidly develop BCS solutions.

Posted by Joy

Comments (2) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Good post.
    Here is a post which tells installing SharePoint Foundation on Windows 7

  2. Check out this helpful link too…

    It is a helpful post with wonderful explanation on Business Data Connectivity with Service in SharePoint.

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