Business Data Catalog Survey – The Results

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Many thanks to everybody who took the time to fill out the Big BDC Survey. We’ve had a great response, especially as the email and link were sent out on a Friday afternoon (or perhaps that was a good thing! :)). Around 500 people have completed the survey to date which is fantastic. Part of the reason for the survey was a bit of market research for ourselves, but also a chance to let everybody else know how the BDC is being utilized…….so here we go, the results. I’ve added my own personal interpretation also, but bear in mind these are my own conclusions. If you agree or disagree let us know in the comments!

The first few questions were to capture names and email addresses for the purpose of the competition so we’ll move straight to the more meaningful stuff with question 2

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(click on all the images for a larger view of them)

1, The top answer was probably predictable, the web parts are nice and easy to setup and are the first things people try to ensure the BDC is working. The Web Parts are of course really useful within themselves allowing you to build nice dashboards and allowing data to be displayed in SharePoint. The other results were surprising though…

2, I was expecting search to be second, but it was in fact BDC Data Columns. Now don’t get me wrong I think the BDC Data Columns are really useful but I expected the limitation of not being able to define them as site columns and therefore content types would put people off, but obviously not so! So there’s obviously a lot of documents and list items being tagged with Line of Business data which is great!

3, So search comes in at number 3. When I demo BDC I always make a big thing about search, and how you can search all your LOB and content management systems together. I think search is new to a lot of organizations though, so perhaps this isn’t one of the first things they consider solving

4, I was expecting custom solutions to come in at number 4 or 5, but I wasn’t expecting such a large percentage and for it to be so close to search. Again this is something you talk about when you present on the BDC…

‘Integrate your LOB apps then use the BDC object model so your developers only have to learn one API’

I didn’t actually believe so many people would be doing it though! I’d love to know more details about the kind of applications people are building with the BDC OM.

5, User Profile Importer brings up the tail. I guess this is due to most places storing user information such as phone numbers in Active Directory. Still 19% of people who answered the question did mark this as a use which is still pretty high

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Wow well I guess you always expect MS SQL Server to be high on the agenda, but not this high, although when surveying about SharePoint we are talking to people who have taken on Microsoft technologies in a big way. The thing that surprised me about this response was that the web service usage was so high! People must be going for the SOA route and looking to integrate their LOB with SharePoint this way. This certainly validates our decision to develop BDC Web Man.

And of course good old Access won’t go away! Even though people have SQL Server licensing due to having SharePoint, still Access is there. I guess this is due to so many custom applications built on Access that work, are reliable and would cost too much to re-develop from scratch again.

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Obviously a question we are more concerned about but still something that should interest everyone. Again these results really surprised us! If you looked at our support questions you would have expected BDC Mapper to come out on top of this result. We’ve had very few inquiries or technical support type questions about the KPI Web Part – so little in fact we wondered what was going on as we definitely saw it as a need and was our first web part!

BDC Alert Manager has just been released, so if we asked this question again we’d expect this number to be higher.

6. Please give us a longer description of how you have been using the Business Data Catalog

This was the first of the two questions where we asked for a bit more detail. While we can’t disclose exact details here are a number of trends and interesting things I noticed

– a lot of people are using the BDC to integrate a CRM system with SharePoint. This may be where the usage of the BDC Data Columns comes in as people are tagging documents with a particular customer from their CRM system. People didn’t explicitly say whether it was MS CRM – although it was mentioned a number of times.

– perhaps as with SharePoint in general, a lot of people are looking at proof of concept work with the business data catalog. They’ve taken on SharePoint to help with their content management and collaboration, and now realize they can integrate their LOB system into it!

– companies that have an external solution are promoting the Business Data Catalog as their integration point with SharePoint. Quite clever really as they get to promote their integration without really having to develop anything!

– dashboards is a word that kept cropping up. The ease with which you can add the BDC web parts obviously makes this a no-brainer.

7. What improvements would you like to see in the next version of the Business Data Catalog?

Well this was obviously going to be a biggie! And there are a few bits of confusion with regards what is actually possible with the current release of the BDC. Here are a number of points that showed up again and again

– Improve Microsoft tool. Well I think we all could have guessed this one. Back in May 2006 when Microsoft first presented the business data catalog they explained they were not going to provide tools to create the application definition files and hence why we developed BDC Meta Man. Of course the BDC Definition Editor is out now with the MOSS 2007 SDK but there are a few problems with it and it leaves a lot of people unhappy. Many people have asked for support in Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer….will this come in the next version? Well for the time being we’ll just have to wait and see.

– Write back of data. The BDC has always been marketed as a read only solution, but of course as soon as you start showing data to users they are going to want to edit or add to it. There are a number of solutions available to you now to write back to your Line of Business system

i) Generate some write back web parts with BDC Meta Man

ii) Create your own edit/add interface through web parts or InfoPath 2007 and link to them via BDC Actions

iii) Use BDC Actions to link directly to the existing LOB user interface such as a web page

Will there be a smarter solution in O14? Again we’ll have to wait and see but creating an auto-generated solution for writing back is never an easy task especially when entities may be made up of multiple tables and have lookup fields etc…

– Documentation. Well the MOSS 2007 SDK is improving all the time. Compared to other ECM platforms I think we have it good! We’re trying to do our bit also with the Lightning Tools screencasts:

http://support.lighteningtools.com/default.asp?W1

Brett and I are also writing a book specifically on the BDC. Watch this space for more info on that.

– Document Information Panel. Yes it is annoying that you have to type in the Primary Key ID value to bring back information in the document information panel! Not much else I can say about that 🙂

– Business Data Site Columns. Although Business Data Columns are being widely used it is of course annoying that you can only define them at a document library level. Even more frustrating is that this was in Beta 1, but then removed from Beta 2 onwards.

And this brings us to the end. The only question that actually gave the results we expected was number 7, and this is due to the types of support questions we get and from watching the comments/questions on the MSDN SharePoint BDC forums. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey, and hopefully the results above will be of some use to you. We really love working with the BDC and can only see a bright future for this particular area of SharePoint!