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External Lists and External Content Types are Essential Components of Business Connectivity Services for SharePoint 2010

In an MSDN article titled “SharePoint Lists vs. External Databases” the point is made that there is little to be gained by replicating external data within SharePoint 2010 document libraries. Rather, the article makes the case that “there are very few circumstances in which there will be benefit in replicating large amounts of data to the SharePoint content database” “if your application consumes data from line-of-business (LOB) applications or other existing repositories of any kind.” Of course, LOB applications are usually specific to business silos. Therefore, by following this method an efficient use is made of storage space both within and outside of SharePoint 2010. As well, silos are respected, thereby preserving normal business collaboration patterns within a business, which preservation will save, we think, lots of effort at business process re-engineering.

In our set of SharePoint-Videos tutorials on SharePoint 2010 and Business Connectivity Services (BCS), authored by Raymond Mitchell we demonstrate how to include lists of external data in SharePoint 2010, including utilizing the out of the box template for external lists. Before working with this external list template we need to create an external content type, which, as our course author points out, maps an external system to SharePoint 2010.

The preferred tool for creating this external content type is SharePoint Designer, 2010. Through options accessible via the ribbon an external content type may be created for one of three types of systems:

  • .net
  • SQL Server or
  • WCF Service

Raymond Mitchell demonstrates how to complete a mapping to an external SQL Server system and, further, how to access specific tables within this systems for data display via an External List.

For our purposes in this blog post we are interested in the business benefit from this procedure. To reiterate, by preserving the external, silo specific location of LOB data while, at the same time, rendering it accessible through the inclusion of External Lists within SharePoint 2010 the collaboration status quo for the organization should be preserved (though we need to note that we have fielded objections from some large organizations of SharePoint users who do not want LOB data to be accessible, in any manner whatsoever from SharePoint). Further, with the LOB data mapped into the scope of a SharePoint 2010 data repository, then a strong case may be made that the best approach for gathering Business Intelligence (BI) data across an organization may be to build any/all BI systems on top of SharePoint. Of course, if specific external systems do not conform to the content type options we’ve noted above, then this later case will be untenable.

We welcome opportunities to speak with large organizations considering an implementation of BCS for BI systems development. Please contact us at (630) 786-7026, or Contact Us to further a discussion about our video training content.

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