With or without SharePoint Designer: Connecting external data sources in SharePoint

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Just like your body and the food you consume, SharePoint runs on the data you feed it – from both internal and external data sources. Businesses must deal with more and more data all the time and often this data comes from many different places. If you have used any SharePoint iteration before 2016, you most likely will be familiar with SharePoint Designer and its role in importing external data, among other valuable uses. It was discontinued by Microsoft in 2016, but that doesn’t mean that migrating to the latest version of SharePoint means you have to do without its benefits.

Lightning Tools’ Data Viewer Web Part is an effective way to replace SharePoint Designer to connect all your organisation’s various islands of data. Using this tool, your business can safely integrate important external data into your SharePoint environment and create, add, edit, and delete that information in sites just the way they could if the data was native to their SharePoint site.

 

Keeping the institution simple

After more than a decade and a half, it’s not an exaggeration to call SharePoint a business productivity institution. It remains one of the top platforms for businesses of all sizes because it makes their IT systems and infrastructure easier to manage and control. As mentioned, one of the great benefits of using SharePoint as your organisation’s central hub for information is the ability to pull in data from a variety of external sources and treat that data as if it was native to your site. Being able to bring this kind of external data into one central hub is important because it helps employees understand all their organisational data more easily, helping them make the right business decisions.

SharePoint data or lists are either native or external:

A native SharePoint list’s features and data are built into the platform (Announcements, Calendars, and Tasks, for example). Also, native lists are lists you can start from scratch in the platform with the widest variety of features.

An external list has features built into SharePoint but the data is stored in a source outside of SharePoint, such as a CRM or even an Excel spreadsheet. The External Content Type (the connection to the data source) must be created before it can be imported into SharePoint.

For more on the differences between native and external lists see here.

External data, then, is all the information that is useful to your business that comes from external sources, such as third-party business apps, web services, databases, etc. The data stored in external sources is often hard to access from a security point of view, or difficult to import into SharePoint in a way that is formatted correctly and makes sense. That’s why SharePoint Designer was so popular. It gave users the ability to connect and display their external data in SharePoint sites without the use of code.

 

Data Viewer Web Part compliments SharePoint Designer

SharePoint Designer 2013 is still compatible with SharePoint 2016, but if you expect to see a 2016 version when you upgrade, you’ll be disappointed. If you currently use an iteration of the platform that is earlier than 2013, then it should be noted that in SharePoint Designer 2013 the design tab has been removed. This leaves only a code editor, meaning you lose out on the WYSIWIG editor, which makes it very difficult to configure connections and change the display of data – and unless you know how to code it will be impossible.

The Data Viewer Web Part changes this. The tool displays external data and applies formatting in both SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online. It enables users to build powerful views without coding – just like they could in the past with SharePoint Designer. In fact, you don’t even have to use SharePoint Designer at all, which is another reason to think about moving to SharePoint 2016. The web part provides the ability to create views of data from almost any external data source, insert data, edit and delete the data, all without the use of SharePoint Designer. The strengths of SharePoint Designer can be handled just as well by the SharePoint Data Viewer Web Part. For example:

  • Dealing with data volume

There is so much data being created and stored today that you need a way to track, report and access it. That’s where the Data Viewer Web Part comes in. In the past SharePoint Designer was an efficient way to create a Data View to view information from a wide variety of sources. But since SharePoint 2013, Microsoft has changed the way SharePoint Designer works and it has become much harder for someone without coding experience to use.

  • Turning external data native

Bringing your data into a central place from external sources, such as Microsoft SQL, Oracle, ODBC, OData, Business Connectivity Services, and SharePoint Lists, means you can edit, update and apply specific formatting to the data and make it work in the most productive way for your business.

  • Extending SharePoint

For site and site collection admins, power users, as well as your IT team, including developers, SharePoint Designer saved a lot of time by enabling them to solve business problems via the IT system without having to deal with any code at all. Using SharePoint Designer was an effective way to make SharePoint go further as a platform.

 

To find out more about how we can help you make the most of your Microsoft investment, be it SharePoint on-premises or Office 365, get in touch today.