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C2C Content Services for SharePoint (Part 4 of 4): Bringing It All Together

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we reviewed two apps that enable very different C2C Content Services.  Yet, as we saw in the videos, these services can be integrated.  In this last article, we’ll describe in more detail how the two apps integrate to create an end-to-end C2C Content Service solution and how this approach can be extended to apply to a broad range of scenarios.

 The End-to-End Scenario for the Sample Appsx-design

So, let’s review the end-to-end C2C scenario using the 2 apps in these articles. There is a Blog-Style Announcements app.  Users contribute their announcements working locally.  They flow through a process and are aggregated and transformed into a Blog-Style display.  In the Virtual Slide Show video, we showed how the announcement service was embedded into a slide show that was part of a set of Organizational Services that was delivered to users where they work.  Thus, you have contributors entering information locally and consumers using the information locally.  You might call it a “work@home” scenario.

 It takes a lot of words to explain what is going on in such a system.  Let’s simplify it a bit.  If you recall, in the previous articles we introduced a design pattern for each type of app.  The A design pattern for the Announcement service (think A for aggregation).  The V design pattern for the Virtual Slide show distribution.  When you put the two together as an end-to-end system it appears as a design pattern that we call “X” as shown here.

 The two separate application services work independently but are integrated in the middle.  The result is that consumers don’t have to navigate to the Announcements Blog UI.  Instead it is repackaged as part of an Organizational Services service that is delivered to users where they work. This end-to-end C2C solution provides a seamless experience to both contributors and consumers.  In addition, other services, such as the Video Library, were combined into the Organizational Services service. 

 The Power is in the Middle Tier

The real power of this design lies in the application services in the middle of the X design.  Let’s look at this in more detail.  We’ll examine how the integration happens and the utility of the centralized, one touch management approach.

 As shown in the VSS video, the integration of the two sample services was easily accomplished by the VSS content manager adding a link to the Announcements slide show.  No coding, no protocols, no configuration – just a link and the two separate apps are now part of a system.  Effectively, it is a loosely coupled integration.  Each app can stand on their own.  There is no technology required to integrate.  Thus, the VSS service serves as a middleman to “mix and mash” the various other applications, content, and services across SharePoint.

 Couldn’t we just put some links on end-user pages?  It may work, in certain scenarios, for a moment.  However, the user is still navigating, the information is not being aggregated or transformed, you are not able to “mix and mash” content and specific application functionality, you are manually maintaining lots of hard-wired links, you lack security trimming, and, the system is not centrally configurable.  Using a centralized service such as VSS in the middle tier adds these capabilities to the system.

 Let’s take a look at the specific ways that central configuration via the application services turns this into a dynamic, one touch system: 

- The Announcements service is configured to reach out and connect to distributed data sources.  To add a new data source, you just add an entry in a Directory list in the service.  To change gates for approval, you change it once centrally.  The Blog UI is centrally configured.  The local data sources control security and security trimming and the service respects these settings.

- The slide show listings available via the VSS service for Organizational Services is also centrally configured in the app.  Thus, you add a new service as a slide show and all distributed service listings are updated.  Change the content centrally and all content changes.  Drop a link into a slide show and any business functionality is accessible to users in a click.  They can even contribute and act on information from where they work.  It is easy to do and keep things consistent and accurate.

Thus, the application services in the middle tier of this X design provide the capabilities necessary for a flexible and manageable end-to-end C2C Content Service across the enterprise.


The Breadth of this Design

So, how extensible is this X design?  What content and functionality across SharePoint can be included, in as easy a manner as has been shown here?  The answer when using CorasWorks is just about everything.

By this I mean that effectively following this X design, just about all content and all functionality built across the entire SharePoint environment can be re-packaged and served up to users in a task-oriented business context.  And, all of this can be done without coding and very simply.

So, how does this work?  There are a couple of basic elements. 

- First, is that CorasWorks is designed to work with all information across data types, sites, site collections, web applications, external data bases, cloud services, enterprise applications, and, in many scenarios across server farms and organizational boundaries. 

- Second, is that SharePoint supports a basic modular framework based upon the web part framework.  CorasWorks leverages this framework and makes it centrally manageable.

- Third, is that because of this modularity and central control any functionality built with CorasWorks can connect to any information and can effectively be snapped off and re-mixed and put at the service of any user working anywhere.

 We’ll use a final video to emphasis the benefits for the end-user of this design.  We’ll return to a jazzed up set of Organizational Services for employees working in their departments.  We’ll show an embedded window versus a pop-up for the slide shows – a simple customization of the VSS service.  We’ll flip through 4 different services at the disposal of the end-user.  They cover the range from passive content slide shows, to interactive content, to business functionality where users see, contribute, and act on information.  The key thing to remember is that each of these end-user services actually contains specific pieces of functionality contained within different business applications in different departments across a SharePoint environment that are being “mixed and mashed” as part of a single Organizational Service being provided and centrally managed by VSS.  Click here to view the video (runtime 5 minutes).


Wrap Up

If you’ve made it through the full 4-part series and watched the videos you’ve spent about 2 hours or more with us.  Thank you.  The series was intended to provide you with a broad yet practical understanding of CorasWorks-based C2C Content Services.  Our gift in return, if you are a CorasWorks customer and running MOSS 2007, is that the two apps discussed in these articles are free, available in the CorasWorks Community App Store, and can be put to use right away.  We thank Spirit for their contribution of the Blog-Style Announcements app.  You will find them easy to install and use, well documented, and easy to customize. 

 The overall design and capabilities of CorasWorks-based C2C Content Services provides you with a unique combination of flexibility on one hand and control on the other to enable you to meet a broad and diverse set of needs across your enterprise SharePoint environment.  The fact that it happens without a lot of technical work, frees up time for you to invest to learn which services for which user groups offer the most value for your organization.  Given that it is mostly pre-packaged, centrally manageable, and non-invasive to an existing environment, you are also able to easily test and try things out.  We hope that these community offerings will help drive some very innovative solutions.  Please share your findings with the rest of the community.

 Again, thank you, and enjoy.


C2C Content Services for SharePoint (Part 3 of 4): Virtual Slide Show Service

In this article,we’ll discuss the Virtual Slide Show Service app.  This free application service published by CorasWorks, picks up where the Announcements Service leaves off.  Its purpose is to package content and deliver it out to where the users work.  As in Part 2 we’ll look at this service from two perspectives, the basic off-the-shelf app and its general design and role as part of a C2C Content Service solution.

Overview of the App

The Virtual Slide Show service is used to create and package content and other interactive services from across SharePoint and deliver it to users where they work.  Users can access individual slide shows relevant to a page they are on or they can have a listing of a set of related slide shows for a specific business purpose.  Slide shows might be one page or multiple pages.


Below is a screenshot of a VSS slide show running in the Operations Department.  The department has a VSS slide show listing for Cross-Organizational Services.  It includes services for Time Off Requests, Help Desk Requests, Video Library, Travel Requests, and more.  The active slide show shown below is for the Blog-Style Announcements service.  It provides passive content about the service and gives users direct access to the interactive blog-style display within the slide show.


vss feature - large


if you have the time, we recommend that you pause now to watch the Virtual Slide Show video (runtime 20 minutes).  It will show you the use of VSS to provide passive content such as a standard slide show.  It then shows you how to connect other services into the slide show to make them interactive (such as the Announcements service and a Video Library service).


Service Design – The “V” Design Pattern

When we think of slide shows, we tend to think of passive content in a presentation.  Indeed, this is a core use of VSS.  However, VSS goes further to also provide interactive content and business functionality where users can see, contribute, and act on information within the slide shows.  Generically speaking, it is a service whose purpose is to package and deliver whatever is needed to end-users.  It follows a simple design pattern that we call the “V” design as shown here.


v-design-blog VSS has a contributor interface represented by the grey box in the diagram.  Content managers use it to create and manage slide show content.  In the process, they may embed other services or functionality from across SharePoint.  They package it all into slide shows that are delivered out to users in individual items or as a packaged group of related slide shows.


A key aspect of this design is that the listings and the information that is distributed is centrally managed.  This means that the content manager can make a single change in the service and the end-user UI’s and their experience is instantly updated – a “one touch” configuration.  No one has to go out and touch any of the user pages.


Reflect on the Cross-Organizational Services example in the video.  Imagine that the UI for this group of services has been dropped into 50 department dashboards across the organization.  To add a new service, the content manager just adds a slide show in VSS.  That specific service is now available to all 50 departments. 


Technical Details About the Service

For those technically inclined, here are some of the key details about this service: 

- It is a single SharePoint site template that is installed into a SharePoint environment.  It takes just a few minutes to install, setup, and start creating slide shows.  You can create multiple instances of VSS services for different purposes. 

- The core application service is built using the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset.

- The app contains a Contributor UI to automate the work of creating and managing slide shows, an Application Service manager UI to assist with customizing the service, and, a local preview UI.

- The end-user UI for a given service is a web part dropped on a page.  You do this once for each service (i.e., once per set of slide shows).  From there on, the service is centrally managed. 

- The service uses XSLT to manage the style for the content and end-user experience.  Off the shelf it provides different style options for window size, backgrounds, slide show navigation and formatting and slide show listing formatting.  The documentation contains what you need to know to make these kinds of changes. 


Implementation Scenarios

Let’s take a look at a few different implementation scenarios.  In each scenario, you would set up a separate instance of VSS, configured for the specific purpose. 

- Dynamic Extranet User Help – You can set up VSS to serve as a central help service.  Links to individual slide shows would go on the key pages.  They would each connect to the centralized service.  This is the initial scenario that we demoed in the video which is what we do with the Quick Tours in the Resource section of the CorasWorks Community.

- Employee Services – We covered this is the video and in the discussion above.  The key is that VSS is used to connect to the various business applications and deliver the required functionality to the user.

- Self-Service Support – This is a new one.  The idea would be to use VSS to manage a group of slide shows for self-service support.  The core one would be help desk tickets where users would enter and see the status of their requests.  In addition, you’d want additional services perhaps including a Knowledge Base, a Video Library, and Top 10 Desktop Issues with links to solutions.

- Executive Briefings – Users can directly enter material for Executive Briefings.  VSS can then deliver the briefings out to the dashboards of executives.

- Interactive Management Reporting – You can create a VSS service that provides a listing of Interactive Management Reports.  Each slide show will cover a topic and provide access to interactive pivot chart reports.

- Interactive Process Wizard – A slide show is a good way to document processes.  You would have a slide show for each process.  It can walk people through the process in a wizard-style with passive content, links to appropriate resources, or even, to the actual interfaces to do the work.


Role as Part of a C2C Content Service

You can use the VSS app to directly create slide shows with passive content.  However, the real power comes when it is combined with external business applications, content, and services which are embedded as part of the slide shows and made available to users where they work.  A key part of the VSS service is that you are able to “mix and mash” different content and pieces of application functionality from across SharePoint to meet the needs of a set of end-users.  In this way, it serves an important middleman role to package the distributed content and functionality across a SharePoint work environment and serve it up to the users.


We’ll explore how all this works and the benefits in more detail in Part 4: Bringing It All Together.



WorkPlace Suite v10 – 4th Generation – The Evolution

Our release of the WorkPlace Suite this month is our 10th within 5 and a half years.  It is also our 4th generation of the product and our product line.  I’ll review our release history and the 4 generations.  It highlights the changes in the  product architecture and gives you a sense of where we have been and where we are going.

Generation 1 – a Componentized, Modular UI

With the release of SharePoint 2003, we launched v1 of the WorkPlace Suite (the “Suite”) in December 2003.  Our approach was to offer a suite of modular components and templates to enable people to create simple collaborative business applications.  The first release includes our now “famous” Roll-Up technology to connect to and aggregate data from across sites, site collections, and web applications.  This proved to be a key way to add value and increase productivity in the distributed environment of SharePoint.  It was a favorite tool to integrate distributed teamsites into peoples portals.  It was also perhaps, one of the first point & click “mash-up” technologies.

In this 1st generation, each modular component was a separate display web part with its own .dll.  The UI, business logic and data connections were all in each .dll.  We had 4 releases over this period during which we greatly extended the core capabilities of navigation and displays, added application templates to get people started quickly, and added additional capabilities such as email notification, data publishing, and Outlook integration.

Generation 2 – Separation of the Business Logic and “Building” of Applications

Generation 2 kicked off with our Summer 2005 release (v5) which included a “builder” administration interface to enable non-technical builders to easily create new display web parts and configure them. In our Winter 2006 (v6) release we brought to market our Action Framework which enabled the builder to create custom actions that automate end-user tasks.  Thus, instead of just seeing information users could act on it, and, they could act on many items in one step from across the environment – great productivity gains.  With the framework and admin interfaces we began to separate the business logic from the UI moving towards a multi-tier architecture.  Through the next 2 versions, we fleshed out this generation running on SharePoint 2003 to include items such as Runtime Action Forms and chained actions, so users could create new items or update items, without having to navigate to where the data was stored.

Generation 3 – Application Configuration and Separation of Data

With our Winter 2007 release (v8) we launched into CorasWorks on SharePoint 2007.  To support our user base, we introduced the Design Migrator to support application migration and to allow for programmatic updates of sites/applications with changes in design.  We also introduced a number of application configuration elements including central configuration and portfolio management.  This was the beginning of our journey to make application configuration of modular apps across the distributed environment more manageable.  We launched v9 in October 2007 chock full of enhanced features to flesh out building applications and business processes on SharePoint 2007 and enhanced it in September 2008 with our Fall 2007 Update.

Beginning in November 2007, we also took another major step by introducing a new product, the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset (“Toolset”).  This product allows users to build composite applications with read-write access to external data.  It was a major step towards separating the data from the UI and business logic.  The direction was to make SharePoint the enterprise front-end for any data.  It has rapidly evolved over three dot releases, and has been quite popular for building self-service portals, composite business processes and surfacing data from legacy systems and SOA environments.

Generation 4 – v10 Wave – integrated, multi-tier application development system

The v10 wave includes a major new release of the WorkPlace Suite and tight integration of the Data Integration Toolset.  It is a revolutionary release where we brought together the elements of previous releases, and, integrated them via our One Touch system for application life cycle management.  In addition, over the last 5 years web-based application development technology has evolved and we incorporated Ajax and Rich Internet Applications technologies into the UI.  As a result it was a complete re-build from the ground up that can run side-by-side with CorasWorks v9 and that lays the groundwork for the eventual upgrade to the next version of the SharePoint platform.

So today, in v10 what we have is an Ajax oriented, integrated application development and management system.  It is a declarative, point & click “development” model powered by a comprehensive set of Ajax-based wizards.  The UI is separate from the data and the business logic.  Users are now able to enter, view, and edit information from across the SharePoint environment, using Ajax pop-up forms ,without having to navigate to lists and libraries.  They are also empowered to work with the information and to do things like group, sort, filter, search, email, update, publish, and act on their own .  This means that builders don’t have to touch the UI to meet each end-users needs

The business activity/task automation has been enhanced and extended.  The end-user can have a broad range of custom actions at their disposal to automate tasks and now there are automated back-end activities using event triggers and scheduled activities.  All of this is configured with web-based wizards.

The new integration of the Toolset with the Suite, means that you can now see and work with information coming from any data source, external data and/or SharePoint in the same interfaces.   Thus, you can have a mash-up of SharePoint data with any external data from anywhere.  With our v10 wave, we’ve started to publish database applications on SharePoint built with point & click tools.  This is a major breakthrough that really starts to change the role of SharePoint in the workplace.

Lastly, our One Touch system allows organizations to really manage their application environment.  Applications and sites can now be referenced through global links (a variable name) vs. a hard-wired URL. You can build Central Views that are consumed by any displays and are centrally configurable. You can now build applications or components in a “development” environment and push them out into production without having to touch a site, a url, or a display web part.  These and other elements bring programmatic application life cycle management to SharePoint – a challenging problem given its modular and distributed nature.

What’s Next

Since we launched in 2003, the mission on our web site has always referenced the year 2012.  This is the year when we believe that our vision for the workplace will be broadly adopted and the move from content-centric to activity-centric work will be realized.  Not to tip our hand, but, here are a few pointers about our roadmap along the way:

  • -  We’ll see one to two releases of the SharePoint platform and the tighter integration with cloud based environments and application services.
  • -  Take a look at our new Community.  This is evolving to support more business user oriented solutions and the exchange of applications and information.  And, you’ll shortly see partners applications and solutions appearing the community, many of which won’t have any custom code, but, will be very rich in features
  • -  Imagine database applications, departmental applications, and business processes available at a click and easily customized with a wizard – Should it really be so hard to get a pretty simple and standardized app for my department?
  • -  What about real-time collaboration technologies?  When will you have whiteboarding, conferencing, dialing, and video in your workplace?
  • -  At some point will we realize that all of this notification/alert/inbox stuff is getting out of control and perhaps better off in a different interface than our email inbox?  Maybe our mobile device…
  • -  Is the system behind the workplace really helping me?  Couldn’t it be a bit smarter and helpful – maybe it should learn a bit along the way.

Until then,

Posted by William Rogers on 25-Mar-09

Details on the Lotus-SharePoint Integration

Lotusphere is going on this week, and there is talk in Florida about the integration of SharePoint and Lotus Connections. We’ve been asked about what it takes to make the CorasWorks Lotus-SharePoint integration happen and the licensing. So, here you go…

The integration is done using the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset (v1.2 or greater). It is installed ONLY on your SharePoint servers. It is two way integration as follows:

- The Toolset allows you to work with Lotus Connections information from within SharePoint. We tweaked the Toolset code in v1.2 so that you can take advantage of the ATOM API of Lotus Connections, without having to do programming (but, you do have to do XML configuration). It works with all applications: Activities, Blogs, Profiles, Dogear, and Communities.

- The Toolset is also used to output data from SharePoint. You configure CorasWorks Data Providers. We have two types: SharePoint Data Providers and External Data Providers. We also have Data Adapters for Mashup and Data Analysis. The upshot is you can easily configure these items to aggregate, mashup, and manipulate data from SharePoint and/or external data. It comes out as XML. On the Lotus side you then use iWidgets to work with the data stream. Note that our XML API allows you to read/write the data and do passthroughs to make specific requests for data from SharePoint.

The Toolset is licensed per SharePoint front end server, with unlimited users. It includes Premier Annual Support & Maintenance that covers upgrades. This is important because we are innovating rapidly. We also offers special pricing for non-profits, small business, and enterprise licenses. For pricing please contact sales@corasworks.net.

CorasWorks Bridging IBM Lotus and Microsoft SharePoint

I find it ironic that my first real post is about connecting SharePoint and IBM Lotus Connections…, but that’s the real-world nature of customer environments today. Yesterday, Luis Benitez an IBM Sales Engineer and Social Computing consultant extraordinaire, blogged about an integration he did from Lotus Connections using an iWidget to Microsoft SharePoint – with CorasWorks smack dab in the middle. He is showing a site directory structure from Breeze in Lotus Connections. This is what is happening in our enterprise accounts; so, here’s the scoop…

A few months back we worked with IBM Lotus to integrate IBM Lotus Connections into our applications in SharePoint. The requirement was to wrap the robust Social Collaboration capabilities of Connections around the items that are in the business process. We went ahead and did this and included the technology in our v1.2 release of the Data Integration Toolset. The demonstration app is a Vendor Work Order Management process – here is the profile in Applications (via this link you can see it running live in Breeze).

In that case, we were effectively bringing Lotus Connections info into our Breeze environment. The cool part is Connections is running on Lotus Greenhouse and CorasWorks Breeze is our environment – thus it is a real live business mashup. (BTW, no custom coding required.)

After engaging with IBM and customers, we found that customers also wanted to get information out of SharePoint. This is a good sign. So, working with Luis we did just that. First, we opened up Breeze, by adding our SharePoint Data Provider to the Dataspace. It outputs XML of the Breeze site hierarchy (You can see the XML output at http://breeze.corasworks.net/data/HDefault.aspx). Then, Luis created an iWidget in Lotus Connections. The user can now navigate Breeze, our workplace, from within Lotus Connections. (Again, no custom coding)

As Luis states, it is a 3 way mashup consisting of Breeze on our domain, the iWidget on Luis’s server, and Connections on IBM servers.

The goods news is that the CW Data integration Toolset not only brings external data into SharePoint, but, it pumps it out via XML. A key point is that we can support multiple data connections within SharePoint to aggregate data, or mash it up, or mashup SharePoint data with external data. Thus, the developer on the outside just makes one connection to our XML API to read/write to the SharePoint environment.

As more data gets loaded in SharePoint, we are going to see a lot more interest in making SharePoint part of a federated work environment. So, here you have it – IBM and Microsoft all connected up and made rather easy via CorasWorks. Kinda gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling.