This is the final article in this series “What is this SharePoint Thing All About Anyway?” and in this article we are going to be looking at the concept of SharePoint Composites. Composites are a type of solution that allows you to pull together items from multiple applications to build a complete solution. In this article we are going to highlight some of the various types of things you can build using composites as well as provide an overview of the tools you will utilize.
No Code Solutions
The biggest value of composite solutions is the ability to create no-code solutions. These solutions can be built by Information Workers without having to involve traditional developers. There is an endless list of the types of solutions that can be built using this method. The solutions built within organizations differ based on their specific needs, but typically can include the following types of no-code solutions:
- Project Management
- Help Desk
- Document Approval and Routing
- HR Onboarding
- Forms Management
The trick to building these types of solutions is to have a good solid foundation of the various tools that can be utilized and understanding when to best use each of them.
Typically the types of composite solutions built will evolve as the organizations’ skills are developed. Like most things in SharePoint, it is so important to start with the business requirements. Once you fully understand what type of solution you need to provide, then you can begin to dig into the various tools and options you have for building the solution.
Understanding the Tools
Many of the tools that are used for composite solutions have been covered in previous articles in this series and include items such as:
- Access Services
- Visio Services
- BCS (Business Connectivity Services)
- Excel Services
- SharePoint Designer
To see an example of a composite solution, imagine that you had a page that manages a specific business process. On the home page of this solution a Visio Diagram is displayed and when you select one of the shapes within the diagram the associated documents are displayed in one web part and then the associated form to be completed is opened in another web part.
This solution that has been described is a composite solution consisting of lists with lookups, Visio Services and the Form Web Part. By using all of these components together you are able to provide a complete solution to the user. The user is not aware that multiple tools have been used in the creation of the solution because they are just accessing the information from a single location. But because many different components where used together to build the solution, this solution would be known as a composite solution.
Like most things within SharePoint, there are varying levels of complexity to different concepts. What we have described so far has been composite solutions that are built with different applications that integrate with SharePoint. There are also types of solutions referred to as Sandbox solutions that are considered composite solutions. These solutions are custom developed solutions that are based on a select set of custom components that can be deployed as solutions to a site without having to involve the system administrators.
Since these sandbox solutions are developed within a very controlled set of standards, these solutions are considered safe to be deployed with a site collection without administrator approval. Common examples of this could be a Custom Branding Solution or a Custom Site Template or even a Custom Action for SharePoint Designer.
The trick to getting started with composites has several elements:
- Understand the business requirements completely.
- Understand the different tools and how to best use them together.
- Understand when a custom solution should be used instead.
The biggest and most important thing is to fully understand the issues that the business is trying to address by building the solution. If you miss the mark on this one, it will be hard to recover, no matter how advanced your solution is. In many cases some of the simplest solutions can have the biggest impact. So, the more time you can take understanding the issues, the more likely you will be able to address even the smallest pain points in your solution.
Once you understand the scenario you can match the requirements to the tools best fit for providing the solution. And finally, part of being able to successfully build composite solutions is to understand in what scenarios a custom coded solution would make more sense. In many cases this will be a result of complex security, large data sets or complex workflows.
Composite solutions are one of the most powerful features of SharePoint, where you are able to pull together the best of many things and combine them all together in a single solution. There are limitless opportunities to build composite solutions and each solution can be as unique as your organization needs.
Editor's Note: To read the first in this series by Jennifer Mason:
About the Author
Jennifer Mason is a SharePoint Server MVP that has spent the last several years providing consulting services around SharePoint Technologies. She is currently working with the team at SharePoint911. Her focus has been on strategy, planning, governance and best practices for implementing business solutions using SharePoint Technologies. She is the author of “Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Creating and Implementing Real World Projects,” a resource for no-code solutions for SharePoint.
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