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Integrating the Business Data Catalog with Microsoft Office
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Introducing Office Business Applications (OBA) Understanding where the Business Data Catalog fits in Introducing Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO)
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Office Business Applications (OBA) is a huge topic area that deserves a book in its own right. Steve Fox has done a good job of this already with his book, Programming Microsoft Office Business Applications. The website OBACentral.com is also well worth visiting, and includes videos of BDC solutions that you can watch online. But following an introduction to OBA in this chapter, we want to concentrate on where the Business Data Catalog can provide data from your LOB systems and make that data available in your Microsoft Office client applications. We ll look at the development tools available throughout the Microsoft Office
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Integrating the Business Data Catalog with Microsoft Office
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suite, and explore in detail the different project templates available to us with VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office), including the ability to create custom task panes, ribbons, and documents. We ll then utilize the web service that we created in chapter 8, which will enable us to consume our business data in Office clients for each user whose device is remote from the SharePoint Web Front-End Server.
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10.1 An introduction to Office Business Applications (OBA)
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OBA is difficult to describe, as it s a solution that uses parts of the Microsoft Office
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suite of services, which includes server-side services such as Business Intelligence and workflow, through to client applications such as Microsoft Word 2007. The application can be a collection of services and devices brought together to create an Office-based solution. It s fair to say that most information workers spend a lot of time in Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and even SharePoint. They also have a collection of devices such as desktop PCs, laptops, and PDAs or smart phones. Using OBA, we can utilize these devices and software that our information workers are already familiar with to help build a solution that saves time and money for your organization. The history of Office
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Microsoft Office 3.0 was the first version of Microsoft Office for Windows. Back then, there was little or no interoperability between the applications. As Microsoft Office has evolved, we ve seen the products work very closely together. SharePoint has now become the hub for all of the Office applications. I remember teaching my first SharePoint 2003 Power End User class and being blown away by how easy it was to search my portal from within the Research task pane. You could configure the services to allow a SharePoint Portal Server Search, as well as search for translations or thesaurus. Being able to perform a search on portal content from within the Office client was especially useful when you were working on a teamrelated document, and wanted to quickly search your portal for similar content or a snippet of some kind to reference or incorporate into your own document. Not only could you search for content within documents and lists, but also the network shares and user profiles. Office 2007 has improved upon this by allowing you to create your own task panes and make them look professional using your own custom interface. You could even enhance the interface with Microsoft Expression, providing not only a professional-looking interface, but a striking professional user interface. What s really surprising is that it s so simple to do even for a non-artist like myself.
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An introduction to Office Business Applications (OBA)
10.1.1 Overcoming an everyday problem with OBA
OBA isn t just about custom task panes. OBA is a bunch of Office 2007 services,
brought together with the aim of cutting down on the number of manual processes that we carry out. Those services include workflow, Business Intelligence, BDC, Excel Services, and so on. An example of a manual process that OBA could improve upon would be creating a proposal in Word. This is something that I do on a daily basis without any automation. Even though I m using SharePoint and Office 2007, I still carry out several manual steps that could be made a lot easier and less time-consuming if I adopted an OBA. When I create a proposal, I need to obtain the customer s name and address. I do this by copying the information from a database once I ve retrieved the correct customer. Once I have the customer details, I sometimes need to search for the product to find the correct price to quote. This involves another manual step, with room for error because I m flipping between applications and using copy and paste. Upon saving the document to a SharePoint document library, I take a local copy of the document and attach it to an email, which is then sent to the customer s email address. This system is a manual process, despite having sophisticated applications at my fingertips. So how can that process be improved upon First, in Word, we could create a custom task pane that hooks into the Business Data Catalog. This custom task pane will allow us to perform a search on a customer, be it via company name, ZIP code, or whatever column we like, as long as we ve set up the ADF correctly with filters on the required columns. After providing a search, summary information about the customer could be displayed, such as the customer s order history or any outstanding invoices. Using content controls, we can then place the BDC data into the Word document in the appropriate location. For example, the Product column in an invoice can be a drop-down list of product names, and then upon choosing the product name, we populate other content controls with the price and availability of that item. Custom ribbons also help navigate our OBA by providing buttons to display or hide our custom task panes, email the proposal, or trigger a specific workflow. Everything that forms part of the proposal-sending process could be available on our custom ribbon. The nice thing about this solution is that we wouldn't have to Alt+Tab out of Word to obtain information. It would also mean that information workers can carry out simple tasks such as sending a proposal without the need to train that information worker on the LOB system.
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