Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tip - Provision a Functional Management page for application data

One of the faces/capabilities of the SharePoint platform is that of Web/Enterprise Content Management System (WCM, ECM). When we architect and setup a WCM-enabled SharePoint (publishing) site, there are actually 2 different types of users to take into consideration:
  1. The end-users browsing and using the website;
  2. The content managers, who have the responsibity for maintaining the content on the website up-to-date
When designing the website, the primary focus is almost naturally on the end-users. Understandable, after all a site which does not attract and keeps the interest of end-users is in fact useless for the company. However, it certainly is also beneficial to give appropriate attention to the usage model for the content manager role. If they can do their content work in a more user-friendly and efficient manner, the site will most likely benefit from this by being more and more often kept up-to-date. Content management is a task difficult enough on the functional level, without the technical / usage model burden of SharePoint content management.
Content in a publishing website comes in various forms. Most known are of course the publishing / web pages, as the entities to which the end-user navigates. But there are more type of content-entities possible:
  • downloadable documents (administered in document libraries)
  • pictures displayed somewhere in the site (administered in picture libraries)
  • data displayed somewhere in the site. Examples are news items, events calendar, links to related information (administered in SharePoint lists)
When the SharePoint is based on one of the publishing site templates, content management of the individual pages is already to a certain amount enabled for the site contributors. An authorized contributor can start the creation of a new page, or the modification of an existing one directly from the siteactions menu. However, if the contributor needs to change one of the other types of content (document, picture, basic list data), there is no such direct usage model. Instead one has to follow the path of Site Actions --> Site Settings --> List and Libraries --> identify and then select the appropriate list ... This is rather cumbersone, and involves a lot of mouseclicks (irritating) + the retrieval and rendering of multiple application pages before arriving at the final destination (time-costly for the user). Another disadvantage is that the content owner must self identify in the listed overview of all the SharePoint lists and libraries in the current site, the particular list/library which holds the content type.
Wouldn't it be nice to apply a comparable usage model as for page-modification to non-page content items ? I thought so, and have realized it within various SharePoint CMS-projects. The basic usage model is:
  1. A contributor selects the Site Actions menu
  2. The Site Actions menu is extended with a custom action for functional data management
  3. The functional data management menu entry navigates the browser to a functional data management page. On this page the different relevant content types are enumerated in list form, with direct recognizable identifications.
  4. Clicking on one of the content type links navigates the browser to a page on which the data items of the related list are displayed. The contributor can here manage the content of this specific type, for instance news messages.
This usage pattern improves the user experience for the content management role:
  • The usage model for non-page content applies the same pattern as for publishing page content
  • The navigation is direct, and orientated at functional level
  • Lesser mouseclicks and page retrievals
  • Contributor is shielded of from confrontation with the total collection of SharePoint lists and libraries in the site
At SharePoint technical level the following is done to enable this usage pattern:
  1. Entry on Site Actions menu: Provision via a feature a custom action, to add an entry to the Site Actions menu, with it's action set to navigate to functional CMS management page.
  2. Functional CMS Management page: Provision a web page with on it a Content Editor webpart (CWEP), and add htlm to render a list of the different content types. Each item in the list hyperlinks to the same edit page for editing the contents of the selected list. The listname is propagated via the QueryString.
  3. Editable list view: Provision a second web page with on it a ListView webpart. The ListView webpart is used to display the different items in the SharePoint list or library, and to enter new item or edit existent item. This web page is reused to display the contents of the different content lists and libraries. For this it is required to runtime connect the contained ListView to a specific list or library, following the selection the content manager made from the overview. The ListView webpart itself does not exhibit QueryString behaviour. Therefore a hidden technical webpart is added to the page which parses the QueryString to detect the requested list, and next runtime push this setting onto the ListView webpart on same page.
And that's basically it. Your site's content managers will thank you for delivering this CMS functionality. At least, that has been my experience on several occassions/projects...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Apply WCF BizTalk Adapter Pack to service-enable SAP BAPI/RFC's

One way to expose native SAP BAPI and RFC function modules is by generating a web service within SAP NetWeaver. In some cases this is less appropriate. For starters, you need to have a SAP Developer Key to be allowed to use the SAP web service wizard, and also have the required SAP authorizations. In other cases it may not be allowed by IT operations to make any modification to the SAP environment, even if it's limited to the full-automatic generation and activation of the BAPI webservice(s). Another reason from a system architecture viewpoint, is that the single BAPI and/or RFC calls may be of too low granularity. You actually want to perform a 'business transaction', consisting of multiple method invocations which must be treated as a Logical Unit of Work (LUW). SAP has introduced the concept of SAP Enterprise Services for this, and has delivered a first set of them. This is by far not complete yet, and SAP will augment it the coming years.
The by SAP delivered Enterprise Services will of course be limited to standard SAP functionality. In case of custom functionality you'll need to provide your own 'Enterprise Service' behaviour. This can be done in the SAP environment as a custom BAPI/RFC function module, and then exposed as BAPI webservice. However, another option is to apply the .NET WCF LOB Adapter SDK and the related BizTalk Adapter Pack. The LUW behaviour is then implemented within a .NET class. For transactional update behaviour, the .NET class must invoke BAPI_TRANSACTION_COMMIT at the end in case no problems are encountered, and otherwise BAPI_TRANSACTION_ROLLBACK to rollback all the earlier performed updates in the LUW.
Basic Steps:
  1. complement your local development environment:
    i) install the WCF LOB Adapter SDK 2.0
    ii) install the BizTalk Adapter Pack 2.0
    iii) install the SAP RFC SDK

  2. Generate in VS2005/2008 an 'Adapter Service Reference'; select the SAPbinding, configure the connection to the SAP system and connect, and next select the BAPI's and RFC's function modules that you're going to invoke in your business functionality. Important: if you need to implement a transactional update, also include the BAPI_TRANSACTION_COMMIT and BAPI_TRANSACTION_ROLLBACK function modules.

  3. Design and implement the client context that applies and invokes the SAP adapter binding.

The whitepaper Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) LOB Adapter SDK and the BizTalk Adapter Pack gives the reader a good and thorough insight on the vision and functionality of both. And excellent read for the ones interested in approaches to integrate arbitrair .NET clients (e.g. MOSS) with external Lines of Business application (e.g. SAP HR).
Tags: SAP NetWeaver Microsoft SharePoint integration interoperability WCF LOB Adapter

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tip - WCF LOB Adapter SDKs 'Add Adapter Service Reference' not present in VS2008

The WCF Lines of Business Adapter SDK contains development and runtime functionality to service-enable external applications. I downloaded and installed the SDK, but to my unpleasant surprise no change was visuable within the VS 2008 IDE. In particular, the promised 'WCF Adapter Service' project template is missing, as well as the 'Add Adapter Service Reference' menu option. As first repair I downloaded and installed the BizTalk Adapter Pack (which I'm going to need anyhow, since I want to service-enable SAP business functionality). However, still no change in VS2008...
After some fruitless searching on the web (bing-ing and googling...), I posted a question on the related forum. And thankfully with a quick and useful answer. When I installed the WCF LOB Adapter SDK I choose without really considering it the 'Typical' installation option. It appears however that the SDK authors do not consider the installation of the SDK 'Tools' to be part of the typical installation. A bit strange to my opinion for a development SDK, but instead handy for deployment of only the runtime parts of the SDK on an OTAP server. After augmenting the SDK installation I now do have both the 'WCF Adapter Service' project template as the 'Add Adapter Service Reference' menu option available.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

High Performance Workplace - Product Selection Matrix

The mission of TopForce is to design and deliver the concept of the High Performance Workplace within enterprises. The specific portal technology or product to realize this in, is a technical mapping. To arm our consultants with material to make an informed selection and decision for which portal product to utilize, we set up a product selection matrix.
In this matrix we position a total of 17 of what we at TopForce think are the most important portal capabilities, and map these against a total of 15 portal products and technologies. There are more than these 15 available in the market, but we intentionally delimit it to deliver an overseeable selection matrix. Within the weighted portal platforms we have the largest commercial ones (SharePoint, SAP NetWeaver, IBM WebSphere), and several open source products (e.g. Alfresco, Jahia, DotNetNuke, Hippo CMS). Also included is our own TopForce High Performance Portal offering.
The Product Selection Matrix is set up for general applicability. It therefore intentionally does not include the specifics of an enterprise situation. In a concrete selection these must of course also be considered in the decision process. You must think here of their current IT environment plus IT roadmap. However, be aware that one of the most influencing factor is often invisible; namely enterprise politics and personal IT preferences of the decision makers.