Business Critical SharePoint (BCSP) is a Microsoft initiative that focuses on using SharePoint as a central hub for key business data and operations. The BCSP approach improves visibility, productivity and compliance across the enterprise with advanced SharePoint solutions. I’ve been doing business data integration work with SharePoint since the 2007 version, and it’s nice to see Microsoft formally support the concept.
While Microsoft likes to refer to BCSP as a product, it’s really more of an attitude about making SharePoint the go-to place where business information comes together for action, regardless of the source. My customers appreciate having all the data they need to make decisions in one place, without duplicate data entry. They love a “single source of truth” that leverages their investment in line-of-business (LOB) software applications and gets data out of application silos where it is combined with other relevant information.
Two Case Studies
Here are examples of how the BCSP approach has been successfully implemented for two customers of mine. SharePoint Online is common to both solutions – being in the cloud does not prevent the portals from being tightly integrated with key business information and processes that remain on premise.
- A financial services company relies on a SharePoint Online portal for field agents to conduct business, from educational outreach programs to prospecting for new customers to closing sales. These field agents are on a mission to bring budgeting, financial planning and general money skills to underserved markets and the portal channels support services from the home office. A key success criterion for the solution is that information is entered only once but visible everywhere it needs to be used, whether originating in SharePoint or from an existing line-of-business application. Customer and sales process-related information is entered in SharePoint and replicated to a central reporting database, making it possible to correlate agent activity with business operations. Data from an external business partner is delivered via email and before implementing a BCSP solution, this meant a tedious manual copy + paste process. The BCSP solution has completely automated this process, the data now simply shows up in SharePoint lists where workflows can react, and field support staff monitors the process. All of this functions with full regulatory compliance.
- A global printing and logistics services company uses a SharePoint Online extranet to coordinate very complex printing, packaging and mailing processes with key customers. From art and content approvals to fulfillment requests all the way to final shipping, every step is tracked and made not only visible but also actionable. The BCSP approach brings data from several line-of-business applications and central SQL Server databases together in a SharePoint portal that is accessible by both internal staff as well as customers. Instead of sending dozens of daily emails and hundreds of phone calls, status information is quickly and easily available to anyone who needs the information, all in real time. Alerts and other proactive steps can be taken when all process information is in SharePoint – the one product that everyone knows how to use. Tight integration with Office products means spreadsheets and database applications are just a click away for those that need more analytical power or flexibility. Common to both case studies is the concept of process transparency. Without BCSP, people jumped from app to app collecting information and making decisions without any way to formalize and streamline the process and no way for management to track accountability. Processes conducted via SharePoint provide the opportunity to learn from mistakes, identify bottlenecks, and reward and replicate success. Both customers report a substantial drop in nuisance emails and phone calls asking, “Where are we on this?” and “Who do I contact about this?”
SharePoint comes standard with a variety of data integration capabilities. The BCSP process involves enabling them by configuring access to your backend (aka line of business) systems. This can take the form of:
- Direct, real-time queries against relational databases. Best for small amounts of rapidly changing data that must be as up-to-date as possible.
- Cached datasets that reduce the burden on your production systems. Better for data that changes infrequently.
- Calls to Web service endpoints instead of direct connections to data sources. Ideal for abstracting the source systems from SharePoint. You can also reverse the relationship and have your backend systems access the documents, list items and other content held by SharePoint. You can use the SharePoint Client-Server Object Model (CSOM) to do this. Of course, all of the above involves investments in customization and software development. You’ll need to work out some return on investment numbers where you assign a value. It costs money to connect systems, but you do it to make better informed decisions. My customers have found a great deal of value in making SharePoint a central hub for business information.
When it comes time to physically implement your BCSP-driven solutions, you can integrate line-of business (LOB) data using a combination of three categories of SharePoint functionality:
- SharePoint Lists: LOB data can appear in lists, which match your user’s expectations and experiences with other SharePoint content. For example, the definitive list of products in your catalog is stored in a SQL Server database, but is made visible in SharePoint.
- SharePoint Search: User search queries can be applied to LOB data as well as SharePoint content. For example, a search for “Widget Model 2.5” could return a link to a PowerPoint presentation, PDF document with a price list, and several records from the SQL Server-based product-related tables showing inventory levels in different locations.
- List event model: Changes to SharePoint lists trigger events, which in turn can be tied to actions in your LOB systems. For example, a user creates a SharePoint task list item referencing a specific product number. This task list is used by field engineers to coordinate product installations. Adding a new list item triggers a call to an inventory management stored procedure in SQL Server.
Business Critical SharePoint is all about making SharePoint a central hub for key business data and operations. Users enjoy improved visibility, productivity and compliance when you take the BCSP approach to building solutions based on SharePoint. BCSP is my favorite way to demonstrate business value to potential customers who have difficultly seeing past SharePoint as a file-sharing mechanism. When BCSP-driven, you become a Connected Organization where your LOB applications are not merely a record of what has been decided, but also key inputs into processes that engage people who benefit from the information. This helps tie together all of your investments in Microsoft technologies, from Skype to Yammer, OneDrive to Outlook, and whatever else might be coming. Contact Alto for more information.