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Technical Overview of Information Bridge Framework

Office 2003
 

Microsoft Corporation

May 2004

Applies to:
    Microsoft® Office Editions 2003
    Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework 2003

Summary: Discover how solutions built on the Information Bridge Framework provide powerful, cost-effective integration between the desktop and the enterprise. For the millions of information workers who depend on the Microsoft Office System, Information Bridge solutions provide business information in context in a familiar, powerful environment, and the result is better, faster decision-making and increased organizational agility. (21 printed pages)

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Contents

Introduction
Overview of the Information Bridge Framework
Information Bridge Framework Components
The Information Bridge Framework Components
Client-Side Components
Solution Development
Solution Deployment
Securing Smart Tags
Conclusion

Introduction

Information workers typically work with e-mail messages, documents, spreadsheets, and forms that refer to business information, but they must leave these documents frequently to see, explore, and act on the information in enterprise systems and line-of-business (LOB) applications. The need to switch between applications is time-consuming and disruptive. When people must collaborate around information or documents, the inefficiencies can compound as colleagues must explore the same references and discover the related information again and again.

Many companies realize that they can alleviate these problems—and gain agility and competitive advantage—by empowering information workers through better, faster access to business information from line-of-business applications and enterprise systems. These organizations task their developers and solution providers to deliver flexible, cost-effective ways to enhance the desktop applications on which information workers depend for a majority of their day-to-day tasks.

Increasingly, the data in line-of-business applications is being exposed through Web services and open architectures. Solutions that can take advantage of these technologies are flexible and cost effective to deploy and maintain, especially compared with solutions that rely on point-to-point integration.

Support for XML within the Microsoft® Office System has opened the door to a new generation of enterprise solutions. These solutions consume business information stored in enterprise systems, while enabling users to work with this information in a meaningful context using a powerful, familiar interface. By providing information workers with the information they need to make sound, timely business decisions, solutions built on the Microsoft Office System make information workers more productive and organizations more agile.

The Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework enables developers and solution providers to take full advantage of the XML capabilities of the Microsoft Office System in solutions designed to meet the specific needs of any organization. Using the Microsoft Office System with Information Bridge Framework, developers can create solutions that bridge the gap between the desktop and the enterprise, thereby enabling organizations to get more value from their enterprise assets and to exploit the power and the familiarity of their desktop applications.

The Information Bridge Framework is a set of tools, technologies, and guidance that help developers create solutions that extend the Microsoft Office System. These solutions present data and actions from enterprise systems in the context of the e-mail messages, documents, spreadsheets, and forms that information workers interact with on a daily basis.

The Information Bridge Framework provides explicit guidance to developers on building Web services that expose enterprise assets for use with the Microsoft Office System, and provides the tools and infrastructure necessary to integrate these Web services with the Microsoft Office user experience.

For developers and IT professionals who face increasing demands to speed up the flow of information across the organization, the Information Bridge Framework offers significant benefits, including:

Simplified solution development

The metadata-based architecture makes it possible to develop declarative Office solutions separately from the Web services. Because solutions are defined in metadata, developers can build simple, powerful Office solutions with little or no coding. The Information Bridge Framework enables more advanced developers to leverage existing Microsoft .NET development skills, including the design of Web services and Microsoft Windows® Forms interfaces.

Centralized deployment of enterprise solutions

Information Bridge solutions are deployed centrally, on departmental or enterprise servers. Centralized deployment reduces the effort and resources required to roll out new solutions or support existing solutions. The metadata-driven architecture makes it easy to add additional Web services and enterprise applications. The client-side add-in needs to be installed only once and does not need to be modified or reinstalled when solutions are deployed.

Increased flexibility

Information Bridge solutions are exceptionally flexible and can be extended, updated, modified, or reused easily through manipulation of metadata. Enterprise systems are exposed through easily accessible, self-describing Web services, which can be used in multiple functional solutions within the organization. New Web services can be added to existing applications without re-coding the original solution. Equally importantly, two independent Office solutions can be combined or made to work together without rewriting either of them.

Maximum return on existing IT investments

By making it easier to connect the Microsoft Office System applications to line-of-business applications, the Information Bridge Framework helps organizations realize greater value from both their enterprise systems and their Office deployment. In addition, because Information Bridge solutions run within the familiar, comfortable Microsoft Office environment, these solutions minimize costs associated with downtime and training.

Overview of the Information Bridge Framework

The Information Bridge Framework is a set of tools, technologies, and prescriptive guidance used to build solutions that facilitate easy, efficient connections between the Microsoft Office System and enterprise systems and line-of-business applications. The following sections describe these solutions, the Information Bridge Framework components, and the typical scenarios for solutions in the enterprise. Subsequent sections present technical detail on the Information Bridge Framework and describe the development process.

Information Bridge Solutions

Information Bridge solutions enrich Office documents—such as e-mail messages, documents, spreadsheets, and forms—providing relevant business information and related actions within the precise context of the document. These solutions take advantage of XML support in the Microsoft Office System to enable users to discover and act on enterprise business objects from within Microsoft Office System applications, such as Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003, and Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003.

The Information Bridge Framework offers a standardized, metadata-driven approach: Web services designers expose enterprise business objects. Solution developers relate the objects across multiple line-of-business systems and associate them with a user interface (UI). Users access and act on these objects contextually from within Office documents.

The Information Bridge Framework provides guidance for creating Web services. These services are shaped in a way that make them self-describing, returning XML data and metadata in a form that can be most efficiently consumed by the Microsoft Office System with the aid of the Information Bridge Framework client-side components.

The Information Bridge Framework provides a design tool that enables the solution developer to enrich the metadata derived from Web services; for example by specifying relationships between business objects in different Web services, grouping Web service operations into actions that would be more familiar to an information worker, adding authorizations to actions, and associating actions with the appropriate UI. The enriched metadata is held in the Information Bridge metadata service.

A client-side add-in to the Microsoft Office System caches the relevant metadata from the metadata service, and uses the metadata to interpret the context within an Office document. The metadata identifies the actions available for a particular context; these actions are presented to the user through smart tags or controls rendered in the document task pane.

When a user selects an available action, the Information Bridge Framework client-side add-in executes the action by communicating directly with the relevant Web service(s), and then presents the relevant information in the task pane by using the UI elements declared in the metadata.

Information Bridge Framework gives the solution developer full control over which actions are presented to the user and how these actions are rendered in the task pane. The actions can be controlled, through integration with the Microsoft Active Directory® directory service, by basing the options on the user's role or authentication credentials. The rendering of the results of actions is also specified in the metadata as a binding to either extensible stylesheet language transformations (XSLT) transforms or custom Windows Forms.

Information Bridge Framework Components

The Information Bridge Framework is a set of software components, tools, and prescriptive guidance that enable developers to create solutions that connect the Microsoft Office System to virtually any enterprise system or application. Specifically, the Information Bridge Framework includes the following components:

  • A client-side component that interprets the context within an Office document based on the underlying XML markup, and then connects the context to relevant actions available from Web services.
  • A server-side component, the Information Bridge metadata service, which collects metadata describing the data, views, and actions exposed by the Web services developed according to Information Bridge Framework guidelines. In addition, the metadata service hosts the metadata that describes the declarative solution metadata.
  • The Information Bridge Metadata Designer, a plug-in for the Microsoft Visual Studio® .NET development system, which is a design tool for creating and managing solution metadata.
  • Prescriptive guidance that enables developers to build Web services that can be easily consumed by Information Bridge Framework and empowers developers to define metadata that describes the solutions' views, actions, relationships, and business entities in a standardized way that can be consumed by the Microsoft Office Professional 2003 programs.

Typical Use Cases for Information Bridge Solutions

With a presence on hundreds of millions of desktops worldwide, the Microsoft Office is an integral part of daily work in virtually every industry. Millions of employees rely on the Microsoft Office programs to capture, analyze, report on, publish, process, communicate, and collaborate on business information. However, most of these information workers depend on information from multiple sources to make effective decisions. The e-mail messages, documents, and spreadsheets invariably contain references to business information that is traditionally confined to enterprise systems.

Solutions built on Office with the Information Bridge Framework provide access to business data and actions that are relevant within the context of a particular task or process from within the e-mail messages, documents, and spreadsheets, thus enabling these workers to be more effective and efficient. The first version of Information Bridge Framework supports Excel 2003, Word 2003, and Outlook 2003—three of the most widely used business applications in the world today. (Smiley, Ken, Market Overview 2003: Office Productivity Suites, Giga Information Group, December 2002.) Subsequent versions will add support for Microsoft Office InfoPathTM 2003 and other Microsoft Office programs.

Information Bridge solutions address common scenarios, including:

  • Document-centric processes. Solutions enable information workers to collaborate on business documents (for example, proposals, research reports, and analyses) that refer to or incorporate data from numerous sources. By including live links to the actual data sources, and by exposing actions from business applications, these documents become useful, dynamic places to work with information.
  • Communications about business information. For information workers who send or receive messages and documents that contain references to business data, the capability to provide context for the communication—including live links and references to the subject data and related information—makes this communication much more meaningful.
  • Automatic alerts. For workers who receive server-generated alerts and notifications of business events or data, Information Bridge solutions provide the ability to explore, quickly and fully, the data being presented, again providing the additional context and meaning to support effective decision making.
  • Business reports. Information Bridge solutions replace static, passive documents and reports with documents that play an active role in the business process they represent. Business documents that not only present information, but also enable users to interact with that information, have the potential to make companies more responsive and adaptive.

The Information Bridge Framework Components

The following section presents a high-level description of the architecture of an Information Bridge solution, and describes each of the key components in detail.

Information Bridge Solution Architecture

Figure 1 illustrates the high-level architecture of a solution built on the Information Bridge Framework.

Figure 1. Information Bridge Solution Architecture

Web Services

Solutions built on the Information Bridge Framework rely on Web services to expose line-of-business applications to the solution. These Web services provide access to the data, views, actions, and references defined and stored in these applications. To realize the full potential of the Information Bridge Framework and the Microsoft Office System, the Web services should conform to certain criteria defined by the Information Bridge Framework. Specifically, Web services developed according to Information Bridge Framework guidelines must::

  • Return XML data that represents the data or actions stored in the line-of-business application.
  • Expose metadata that complies with the Information Bridge Framework metadata schema.
  • Expose metadata needed to support the users' Office experience.
  • Structure operations in a particular way around the concept of references.

Web services developed according to Information Bridge Framework guidelines provide access to views and actions on business objects through standardized operations. Operations should be simple enough to be easily understandable and useful to the user and should return enough information to avoid executing multiple calls.

The Information Bridge Framework supports arbitrary Web service operations, but takes maximum advantage of operations that follow the prescriptive guidance and take one of the following forms:

  • Get operations retrieve the data for the view associated with an entity instance. There is at least one Get method associated with each view, and the Get operations must return data that complies with the schema of that view.
  • Put operations update the instance data within the related line-of-business application. For example, a Put operation could be used to change an address in a customer relationship management (CRM) system by retrieving the address, enabling the user to change the data, and then writing the new data back to the CRM system.
  • Act operations trigger a business activity associated with a specific reference by requesting a change to the state of the system that hosts the information. For example, an Act operation could be used to notify an account manager about an order (an operation that does not imply any change to the order data itself).

Call Components

The Information Bridge Framework also supports calls to Common Language Runtime (CLR) components or business logic running on the same computer as the solution. These components can be deployed from a central server and instantiated and run locally. Calls to these "local" components are defined in the same way as calls to Web services.

When creating CLR components for use with Information Bridge solutions, developers should review the guidance for creating Web services provided by Information Bridge Framework, and ensure that the methods used by the CLR components are structured in a similar fashion.

Metadata and Metadata Service

The Information Bridge Framework relies on metadata to represent the high-level objects exposed by business applications (entities), the ways a user can act on these objects (actions), what a user can see about these entities and how (views), and the relationships (navigations) between these views on these objects.

Solution developers use metadata to describe:

  • Views. Entities can have many views, which describe what the user sees about that entity. A view has a single schema associated with it. A view can be a single instance or a List.
  • References. A reference either is an identifier that locates a single instance of a View, or is a set of parameters that returns a list of instances of a View.
  • Operations. An operation is a method call exposed by a Web Service for retrieving or updating information from the Web service, data source, or application with which the Web service interfaces.

    The prescriptive guidance requires operations to be structured in the form of Get(Reference), Put(Reference,UpdateSchema) and Act(Reference,ActSchema). In other words, a Put operation can be thought of as having two parts: the first part identifies one or more instances of a business object (or more precisely, a particular view on that business object), and the second part provides the parameters for updating the located instance(s). As discussed in the previous section, a solution can call any arbitrary Web service operation; however, services that conform to the schema and guidelines defined by the Information Bridge Framework significantly streamline the development effort required to create connections within the Microsoft Office System.

  • Schema. An Information Bridge schema defines the shape of the data that is being transported along the system. The schema can be a name only, or it can have some predefined structure for validation, such as an XML Schemas Definition (XSD). The Information Bridge Framework defines schemas for operations, views, references, and transforms.
  • Relationships. Relationships express how an entity is related to another entity, for example, how "customers" relate to "orders." A relationship also provides navigation between two views. A relationship is a transformation that takes the content of a view and transforms it into a reference to a different view.
  • UI Bindings. The metadata defines UI elements such as the information and layout of the task pane for any given context and the "menu" information in the task pane.
  • Actions. An action is a linear sequence of one or more Web service operations ending in a UI operation (that is, an operation that associates the results of the Web service operation call(s) to a menu or XSLT or a Windows Form).

The metadata service processes requests from the clients to retrieve metadata from the metadata database. The client then caches the metadata and communicates with the metadata service to accomplish two tasks: to check the freshness of the cache periodically, or to retrieve metadata if metadata for a particular context is not available. The metadata service handles requests from the Information Bridge client components by returning the relevant metadata as XML.

Note   The metadata service also handles requests from the design tool to write metadata to the database; metadata authoring is discussed under "Solution Development."

An Information Bridge solution can talk to only one metadata service server or cluster at a time.

The metadata service is a Web service implemented using the Microsoft .NET Framework and the SOAP/IIS infrastructure. The metadata service uses ADO.NET to access the metadata database. The metadata database is a relational database built in Microsoft SQL ServerTM (2000 SP3 or later). The database stores the metadata, authorizes access, and enforces consistency of the stored data.

Client-Side Components

Context and Action Service Engine

The Context and Action Service (CAS) Engine is the client component that responds to context changes—within either a document or the task pane itself—and provides the appropriate metadata for the context, either from its internal cache or by calling the metadata service. The CAS Engine requests a copy of the relevant, role-filtered portion of the metadata from the metadata service, and then encrypts and caches the metadata on the client. The CAS Engine polls for metadata time stamps on user demand or as defined in the application configuration.

The CAS Engine provides an API that can be used to execute metadata actions. The Application Integration and Rendering Module (CAS-AIR) communicates with the CAS Engine through an interface that exposes methods to notify the CAS Engine of context changes, and to request an action. The CAS Engine executes calls to external services, but it communicates with the CAS-AIR through events. The CAS Engine can generate multiple events in response to a single request, prompting the CAS-AIR to display the context menu in the task pane, to show forms, or to insert text or markup into the document. In addition, the CAS-AIR can communicate to the CAS Engine about any limits on the current capabilities of the Microsoft Office application, for example, that a document is read-only and any action for inserting text should not be shown.

Application Integration and Rendering Module

The CAS-AIR module exists as a layer between the Office application (the host application) and the CAS Engine to manage context-related events within the host application and to process and display data returned from the CAS Engine.

UI data returned from the CAS Engine to the CAS-AIR module is displayed within a specified container supplied by either the host application or the Information Bridge Framework. If the host application is Word 2003 or Excel 2003, UI data is displayed in the task pane. If the task pane is not available, the UI is displayed in its own managed window, mimicking the behavior of an undocked task pane. If the host application is Outlook 2003, the CAS-AIR module will always display the UI output to its own managed window, because Outlook 2003 does not support the task pane.

User Interface

The Information Bridge Framework supports four types of user interface elements to present information within the task pane: menus, navigations, XSLs, and Windows Forms.

The Information Bridge Framework natively supports menus and navigations; the solution developer declares that some actions are presented as menus or that some relationships should be shown as navigations.

To display information about an instance or list of business objects, the solution developer must declare either an XSL or a Windows Form. An XSL or Windows Form can also be used to capture parameters necessary for taking an action, for example, an action "change order delivery date" might require a form into which the user can enter the new date.

Within the task pane, multiple UI elements can be presented in regions, as shown in Figure 2. A region can correspond to a dataset; that is, if the solution developer identifies four different datasets (Account Managers, Customer Activities, Open Service Requests, and Opportunities) that are relevant for a particular Customer context, there will likely be four different regions showing each dataset—in addition to a region showing the instance information of the Customer in context.

Although typically presented in the Office task pane, the complete UI can be presented in a floating window when the task pane is not available.

Click here for larger image

Figure 2. The task pane for this solution includes five distinct regions (Click picture to view larger image)

Each region can present data in the form most appropriate to the data and the context. For example, static, read-only data can be presented using HTML; however, interactive datasets—those that require dynamic updates or that will be written back to the line-of-business application or enterprise data store—are best presented in a Windows Form running within the task pane. Regardless of which method is used, solution developers should be careful to adhere to the Microsoft Office System UI guidelines to ensure a consistent user experience. The Information Bridge Framework includes guidance for authoring Windows Forms that fit seamlessly into the Office environment.

In addition to the regions and views, the solution UI also includes a title bar and footer (see Figure 3). The title bar presents menus, which can be customized by the solution developer, in addition to Forward and Back buttons to help users navigate between views as they explore data in the task pane. The footer includes tabs to switch between the solution's reference pane, solution pane, and search pane, in addition to a status bar and error window.

Click here for larger image

Figure 3. The solution header and footer include controls for navigating among views (Click picture to view larger image)

The Document Context

Support for XML in Office documents provides structure and context that can be interpreted by the Information Bridge Framework. Solutions built on the Information Bridge Framework support two mechanisms for attributing context to Office documents: document schemas and smart tags.

Schema-Attached Documents

In the Microsoft Office System, support for XML enables XML schemas to be applied to Office documents to define the structure of a document, spreadsheet, e-mail message, or form. Information Bridge solutions can interpret the schema attached to an Office document to determine context and provide the appropriate views or actions.

As a user navigates through a solution document, moving the cursor in and out of the XML nodes defined by the schema, the Information Bridge Framework client component captures these changes as events. The client component packages the node and passes it, as a reference, to the Information Bridge Engine, which recognizes XML content corresponding with content in the metadata. Actions or operations are performed automatically based on the content and the context.

For example, as shown in Figure 4, within a Word document template for a customer service request, as a user enters the customer's name, the solution recognizes the customer node, and passes the string within that node to the Information Bridge Engine. The engine retrieves customer account details, contact information, and recent activities from various back-end systems and returns this information to the client, where it is displayed in the task pane, along with related actions.

Figure 4. Information Bridge Solution recognizes the customer name and displays the appropriate information and actions in the task pane

Smart Tags

Smart tags, which were first introduced in Office XP, enable developers to build solutions that intelligently recognize strings or patterns in documents and e-mail messages, and enable users to perform custom actions associated with the recognized elements. Whereas the document XML schema identifies nodes or locations within the document, smart tags hard-code the reference into the document.

Information Bridge solutions extend the power of smart tags by enabling developers to define context-sensitive tags that retrieve or act upon dynamic line-of-business data. Solutions can include recognizers for key data elements (for example, a purchase order number or customer name). Solutions can also enable users to add their own tags to a document or e-mail message, by inserting references to data displayed in the task pane.

Smart tag actions can call the Web services available to the Information Bridge solution, so users have access to the actions defined by the service and available from the line-of-business application. Typical smart tag scenarios include:

  • Recognizing references to business objects within a document, and enabling users to retrieve information about that object, for display in the task pane.
  • Enabling authors to insert references manually into their e-mail messages and documents, thereby directing readers to additional information or background about the subject.
  • Generating reports or spreadsheets automatically for a specific business object in Excel.

Solution Development

Development Cycle and Process Flow

Taken sequentially, development of an Information Bridge solution typically follows these steps:

  1. Analyze business patterns and design the solution.
    • Identify the relevant scenario and solution scope.
    • Identify business entities that will be accessed through the solution.
  2. Develop Web services according to Information Bridge Framework guidelines that expose the prescribed metadata.
    • Build (or buy) adapters that expose the APIs of the line-of-business applications and data sources that provide the necessary operations on entities.
    • Optionally, build an aggregation service to aggregate entities and operations across multiple Web services.
  3. Develop the basic user interface controls.
    • Build menus, simple dialog boxes, lists, and navigation links by declaring them in metadata.
    • Build or declare XSL, Windows Forms, and other custom UI elements that will display the result of the operations in the task pane.
  4. Develop the metadata store and metadata service.
    • Populate the metadata in the Information Bridge metadata service.
    • Configure and enhance the Information Bridge metadata.
  5. Create smart-tagged or schema-attached documents.
    • Create an XML schema and/or smart tags that refer to the Information Bridge namespace.
  6. Deploy the solution.
    • Install the client-side components alongside the Microsoft Office System.
    • Install the metadata service, metadata database (SQL Server), and Authorization Manager on a single server.

Figure 5 illustrates the tools and roles involved in the design of enterprise solutions built on the Information Bridge Framework. As shown in Figure 5, solution development can be considered in three layers; because the UI controls are bound to the solution metadata, development of the metadata configuration and the user interface components are closely related.

After Web services have been deployed against the organization's line-of-business applications and the metadata services and metadata database have been created, minimal development effort is required to modify the views and actions that are available within a particular solution. The developer creates a document schema or smart tags and binds the controls to the metadata services.

Figure 5. The phases of solution development

Designing the Solution

Plan the context

Because Information Bridge solutions present a subset of the views and actions available from the line-of-business application(s), the effectiveness of the solution depends on the solution developer's ability to determine which views, relationships, and actions are most relevant to the user within the contexts defined by the solution.

Thus, the first step in solution planning is to define the solution contexts. Contexts are typically expressed through smart tags (which recognize strings or patterns within the document) or in the Office task pane (depending on the location of the cursor relative to the document's underlying schema). For example, if the solution involves several automated reports in Excel, the solution provider would likely express context by adding Information Bridge smart tags to these reports. On the other hand, if the user typically works in a very structured document in Word, the solution developer might consider expressing context by interpreting the document's underlying XML schema.

Define users' needs

After the context(s) have been planned, the solution developer must define the users' needs in the relevant context(s). Typically, the developer identifies situations that require the user to leave the Office document to retrieve data from another application, and then designs the solution to alleviate the need for application switching. The solution developer also should identify the actions a user might take on the data within a particular context. The data and actions will be presented to the user through user interface elements created by the developer.

Typical questions to ask when defining users' needs include:

  • What information do you want the user to consume in a Microsoft Office environment, for example, entities?
  • What kind of actions do you want the user to perform?
  • How much information does the user need to see?
  • What kinds of relationships does the information need to describe?
  • Does the user need to search for information?
  • Does the user need to access data from multiple systems?

Define other considerations

During planning, the solution developer also should consider the requirements of the systems and data stores to be accessed, and should plan to accommodate any constraints these systems place on the solution, for example, requirements for data normalization, limitations on write access, and the need for state and transaction management.

Best Practices

The following section outlines some best practices, which developers might want to consider when planning and building solutions based on the Information Bridge Framework.

  • Define dependencies. Define a set of facade Web services to abstract the dependencies on the back-end Web services and to provide the Information Bridge Framework with a set of entities, actions, and views. In this way, the solution will reflect the need of the business or the users, rather than what is surfaced from the line-of-business application.
  • Start small and grow. The intent of the Information Bridge Framework is not to provide complete enterprise information architecture or enterprise-wide solutions. For initial deployments, solution developers might find it beneficial to define scenarios that deliver short-term return on investment and involve a limited number of services and entities.

    As developers gain development experience, and their solutions are being accepted throughout the organization, they can create additional solutions, adding to the number of Web services available across the organization and expanding the metadata library.

  • Identify reusable components. The solution developer should determine if there are any existing user interface elements that can be reused from a previous solution. For example, if another solution and reinforcing a consistent UI across the enterprise.

Similarly, Web services that conform to Information Bridge Framework can be reused across multiple solutions.

Tools and Development Environment

Visual Studio .NET for UI development

Integration with Visual Studio .NET enables solution developers to build Information Bridge solutions under managed code using Microsoft's CLR and Visual Studio .NET. Benefits of coding in Visual Studio .NET include language-freedom, easier debugging, better memory management, and a robust security model. In addition, an approved primary interop assembly (PIA) for the Office object model enables developers to concentrate on creating an application with Visual Studio instead of spending time writing "bridging" code to connect to the component object model (COM)-based Office object model.

Information Bridge Metadata Designer

The Information Bridge Framework includes the Information Bridge Metadata Designer, which is a plug-in to Visual Studio .NET. The Metadata Designer enables solutions developers to do the following:

  • Create relationships between entities, and make those relationships visible to the information worker.
  • Define actions that the information worker can take on the data.
  • Present these entities, relationships, and actions within a specific context according to views defined by the solution.

The Metadata Designer includes the following features:

  • Create/open a metadata project.
  • Import Web service metadata.
  • Refresh with updated metadata.
  • Create entity relationships, actions, transformations, schemas, and any additional necessary metadata artifacts.
  • Define group memberships (used for role filtering).
  • Test metadata.
  • Publish metadata to a metadata service.

At design time, the Metadata Designer communicates with the metadata service, which processes requests from the client to write metadata to the metadata database. The write port is typically turned off for a production deployment, to prevent changes to the metadata at run time. Note that because a client can be connected to only one metadata store or cluster at a time, an organization cannot deploy disparate metadata service servers throughout the organization. In cases in which, for example, departments of an enterprise want to "own" their own metadata service servers, the enterprise must identify a single "Write" metadata service server or cluster for updating the metadata database. Each department would have a single or set of read-only metadata service servers and metadata database. After the write database has been updated, the departmental servers would be updated using SQL replication or other database copy mechanism.

Solution Deployment

Information Bridge solutions are deployed to a central location or server. Client-side components can be installed alongside the Microsoft Office System. Declarative solutions are hosted in the metadata service on the enterprise or departmental server; solutions can be added or modified without touching the client.

This architecture allows both one-time and dynamic deployment of solutions. The recommended deployment sequence for a new solution is to deploy it first in a pilot server/client configuration. Only after the pilot has been tested and stabilized should the solution be distributed for wider use throughout the enterprise.

Client-Side Deployment

The Information Bridge client components can be deployed simply by running the Microsoft InformationBridge.Client.MSI installer, which is included with the Information Bridge Framework.

The components installed on the client—the CAS-AIR module and the CAS Service Engine—have an installed-footprint size of less than 10 MB, thereby providing flexibility in the desktop distribution method. These components can be installed by using Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), which enables IT professionals to distribute the Information Bridge Framework to targeted computers or users. During setup, the user configures the name of its metadata service server in much the same way a user specifies a Microsoft Exchange Server during Outlook setup.

Note that smart tag recognizers might have to be deployed independently of Information Bridge solutions.

For users to have access to full solution functionality, the recommended strategy is for administrators to enable smart tags and set Word 2003 as the default editor for Outlook e-mail messages. In addition, HTML should be set as the default format for e-mail messages.

Administrators should set the client-side cache update interval to be frequent enough that users receive updated metadata in a timely manner.

Server-Side Deployment

The Information Bridge Framework metadata service can be deployed by running the Microsoft.InformationBridge.Service.MSI installer (included with the Information Bridge Framework).

It is recommended that the metadata service, metadata database (SQL Server), and Authorization Manager be installed and run on a single server. This is the typical pilot or developer installation. It is possible to deploy the metadata service on one server (or cluster) and SQL Server/Authorization Manager on different server(s).

If the organization requires more than one metadata service/database server or cluster, a single server or cluster must be designated as the write server. The other servers would function as read-only metadata service servers and metadata databases. After the write database has been updated, the read-only server would be updated using SQL replication or another database copy mechanism.

System Requirements

Server

On the server, the Information Bridge Framework requires:

  • Microsoft Windows Server™ 2003 (Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition), including Authorization Manager and Internet Information Services 6.0
  • SQL Server 2000, SP 3 or later (Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition)
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1

Client

On the client, the Information Bridge Framework requires:

  • Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000 Professional
  • Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1
  • Office Interop Assemblies for Outlook, Word, and Excel. The interop assemblies can be installed with the Microsoft Office System, but they are not installed by default.

Security

The Information Bridge Framework offers exceptional security to protect business information from being compromised.

Security is enhanced by support for secure connection to the metadata service through Secure Sockets Level (SSL) encryption, and support for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Server Level (HTTPS) encryption between the metadata service and the client and for all SOAP calls between the client and Web services. In addition, the Information Bridge Framework encrypts the local cache on a per-user basis.

The Information Bridge CAS Engine runs on the workstation and executes requests by using the credentials of the user currently logged on to the workstation. The Information Bridge Framework always uses Windows credentials when communicating with the metadata service. Access to metadata and line-of-business data can be controlled by using role-based access privileges. Integration with the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Authorization Manager and Groups/Roles in Active Directory ensure that users have access only to metadata that they have permission to see.

Securing Smart Tags

Developers should use care when developing smart tags to send or retrieve sensitive data. If sensitive data is being used, turn off "embed smart tags" to prevent smart tag data from being saved with the document. Managed smart tags must have full trust.

Conclusion

Solutions built on the Information Bridge Framework provide powerful, cost-effective integration between the desktop and the enterprise. For the millions of information workers who depend on the Microsoft Office applications, Information Bridge solutions provide business information in context in a familiar, powerful environment, and the result is better, faster decision-making and increased organizational agility.

Developer Benefits

For IT developers or solution providers and systems integrators tasked with connecting an organization's information workers to line-of-business data, the Information Bridge Framework offers significant benefits:

  • Simplify solution development. The Information Bridge Framework streamlines the development of Office-to-enterprise solutions by enabling developers to develop Office solutions separately from Web services. Because solutions are defined in metadata, developers can build simple, powerful Office solutions with little or no coding. Advanced developers can leverage their Microsoft .NET development skills, including the design of Web services and Windows Forms interfaces.
  • Extend solutions flexibly and efficiently. Information Bridge solutions are exceptionally flexible and can be extended, updated, or modified easily. Self-describing metadata, UI controls, Web services can be re-used in multiple functional solutions within the organization. Thus, new solutions can be deployed or added to existing applications without re-coding.
  • Deploy and maintain solutions more easily. Solutions are deployed centrally, on departmental or enterprise servers and, thus, reduce the effort and resources required to roll out new solutions or support existing solutions. Using well-managed, secure code, running within a proven and well-tested CLR environment ensures reliability and security.
  • Maximize return on existing IT investments. By making it easier to connect the Microsoft Office System applications to line-of-business systems, the Information Bridge Framework helps organizations realize greater value from both their enterprise systems and their Microsoft Office deployment. In addition, because Information Bridge solutions run within the familiar, comfortable Microsoft Office environment, these solutions minimize costs associated with downtime and training.

For More Information

Complete information for developers on building solutions based on the Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework, including guidelines for building Information Bridge-enabled Web services, can be found on MSDN® at the IBF portal site.

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