As companies have evolved over the past 20 or so years, they are facing the issue of “Islands of Data” more and more. Each department within an organization has its own business processes, usually some sort of application to manage that business process, which usually stores data in one way or another.

Take Human Resources as an example. One of the processes that HR has is a hiring process. A database is likely to exist that stores the resumes and profiles of the candidates. The Sales department is also collecting information from its customers and storing them in some sort of CRM application.

The multiple data repositories (Islands of Data) can usually only be accessed from the applications themselves. For example, an HR employee would not likely have permission, a user license or the education to use the Sales CRM system, although from time to time they may need to find information on a particular customer and cannot due to this lack of education or access to the program.

The different departments within an organization and how SharePoint can access that information for use in applications such as Issue Tracking Meetings.

With SharePoint being adopted by more and more companies every day, and growing faster than any other Microsoft product, Business Connectivity Services could be utilized more by making this data central to everyone within a SharePoint “Information Hub.”

If you thought the Business Data Catalog (BDC) in SharePoint 2007 wasn’t for you, you should still take a look at BCS. Many of the features that organizations had wished for with BDC are now available with BCS.

BCS is not just about “displaying” the data within Web parts. It goes way beyond that, offering External Lists, Enterprise Search, External Data Columns within Lists and Libraries, User Profile Imports, and offline access to your line-of-business data through Microsoft Office.

External Lists provide the ability to create, read, update and delete external data from just about any data source as though that data was SharePoint list information. This provides users with the familiar SharePoint user interface and access to all business-critical applications. Almost all of the list functionality, like creating views, adding columns, sorting, filtering and assigning permissions, is available to External Lists.

The External List in SharePoint providing Create, Read, Update and Delete operations on Line of Business Data.

The enterprise search in SharePoint can be extended to include BCS external data sources. This means that as well as searching SharePoint content, users have a one-stop shop to search all of the islands of data (permissions permitting) by the SharePoint Search Center.

Perhaps my favorite feature from BCS is the external data column. When creating documents, such as customer proposals within a SharePoint document library, you can look up information from your external source using the External Data Column. This means that upon creating the proposal, you can select the customer that the proposal belongs to, allowing for better findability, searching, and consistent filtering.

Accessing your Line of Business data in Microsoft Word through the Business Connectivity Services.

Perhaps the biggest improvement over the BDC is the tooling. You no longer have to be a developer to configure the connection to the external data sources. SharePoint Designer 2010 can be used to create an External Content Type that represents your line-of-business data. If you want to configure advanced connections, then Visual Studio.NET Professional can also be used, which will allow you to perform “mashups” of data from dissimilar sources and expose the data in the way that you want to.

Brett Lonsdale is a SharePoint Developer specializing in the Business Data Catalog, Business Connectivity Services, Aggregation of SharePoint Lists/Libraries and SharePoint Permissions.