Business Connectivity Services Overview
Published: May 2010
Learn how Microsoft Business Connectivity Services (BCS) enhances Office application and SharePoint application capabilities and their UI through features, services, and tools.
In a dynamic workplace, information workers need access to data that resides in separate software worlds, for example:
Structured data that exists in the organization's enterprise applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer resource management (CRM) applications
Unstructured data in business productivity applications such as those in Microsoft Office, in team and collaboration applications such as SharePoint Products and Technologies, and in Web 2.0 services such as Internet applications, wikis, blogs, and social networking sites
Although most information workers spend much of their work time within the productivity applications (for example, the Microsoft Office environment), they also need a way to integrate that environment with the enterprise applications and collaboration software and services they use.
Because these software worlds are often separate, workers must switch frequently between applications. This results in lowered productivity, time loss, redundant data entry, stale information, and errors. In addition, workplace demands change constantly. To address these issues, application vendors, service providers, and IT administrators create custom applications and portals. However, these efforts can fall short and create the following business challenges:
Difficult to integrate with other business applications. Graphical user interface (GUI)-based applications are built to support a single business function, such as tracking orders or managing customer data. These applications traditionally encapsulate the application's user interface (UI), business logic, and data into a single software package. However, because it is built to solve a single purpose, this type of stand-alone or "siloed" application is not designed for interoperability.
Higher training and support costs. Custom applications or portals do not bring the data to the user's familiar work environments. Users must navigate to these new software destinations, which takes more work and time. Moreover, each new application has a GUI that users must learn to use effectively.
Not very rich. Consolidated, role-tailored business portals provide data from various business applications to information workers. They adequately present the high-level view, but do not fulfill unstructured drill-down analysis and collaboration requirements. Content creation is not easy with Web applications, and the page-based Web experience model can lack a wider business process context and suffer from variations in user experience.
High cost of upgrade. Typically, custom applications use proprietary interfaces. Although the systems accomplish the integration efficiently, they cannot be repurposed and extended to meet new requirements easily or at all, because they depend on the programming interfaces of other business applications.
Microsoft Business Connectivity Services (BCS) enhances Office application and SharePoint application capabilities and their UI through features, services, and tools. These enhanced capabilities and UI streamline development of solutions with deep integration of external data and services. Power users, developers, and business unit IT professionals can integrate assets from external systems and enable interaction with the external data through many types of Office client and server applications. The Business Connectivity Services feature set enables rapid development and deployment of scalable and security-rich solutions. Figure 1 shows a high-level view of Business Connectivity Services.
Business Connectivity Services provides mechanisms to enable experienced users, developers, and business unit IT professionals to do the following much more easily:
Reveal external data from enterprise applications and Web 2.0 services in Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, and in rich client Office applications.
Provide Office Type behaviors (such as contacts, tasks, appointments) and capabilities to external data and services.
Provide complete interaction with the data including write-back capabilities from Office applications and SharePoint Server to the underlying external system data and business objects.
Enable offline use of external data and processes.
Bridge the unstructured world of documents and people and the appropriate structured data that is locked in external systems.
Business Connectivity Services is included in Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010, SharePoint Server, and Office 2010. However, the feature set and the capabilities differ in each, as shown in the following figure. For more information, see What is Included in Business Connectivity Services.