Business Intelligence and Composite Features of SharePoint 2013

SharePoint 2013 includes enhanced support for business intelligence (BI) and SharePoint composites. In this article, we will discuss these changes and examine how they impact the roles of farm and site administrators in SharePoint 2013.

Business intelligence (BI) solutions use a variety of data sources and presentation tools, such as Microsoft Excel, SharePoint Excel Services, SQL Server Analysis Services, Microsoft Visio, SharePoint Visio Services, and SharePoint PerformancePoint Services to gather, analyze, and present key business data through the SharePoint user interface. SharePoint 2013 includes various changes that enhance the performance and capability of BI solutions.


Excel Services is a SharePoint service application that enables you to render SharePoint workbooks, or workbook components, on a SharePoint web page. SharePoint users can view the workbook, interact with components such as PivotTables and PivotCharts, and perform various data analysis tasks within the browser window. In SharePoint 2013, Excel Services includes new features to support more sophisticated BI analysis. First, the Business Intelligence Center site template has been redesigned to provide a simpler, easier to use interface. Excel Services also supports a variety of more advanced functionality, both in terms of data exploration and in terms of support for new Excel client features.

Data Exploration

The Excel Services Web Parts in SharePoint 2013 make it easier for users to interact with PivotTable and PivotChart reports by changing which items are used as rows, columns, filters, and values. Excel Services also provides enhanced support for reports that use data from SQL Server Analysis Services or PowerPivot data models. For example, SharePoint users have easy access to various commands on PivotTables and PivotCharts, such as Drill Down, that enable them to analyze data in more depth. Administrators can configure connections to SQL Server Analysis Services servers to support more advanced Excel Services capabilities.

Support for new Excel Client features

In Microsoft Office 2013, the Excel client includes various new BI capabilities that are also supported by Excel Services. For example, the Excel client enables users to define calculated measures and calculated members using data from SQL Server Analysis Services. These are supported by Excel Services. The Excel client also includes timeline controls that enable you to filter reports, charts, and dashboards according to time periods. Users can interact with these timeline controls in exactly the same way through Excel Services.

Visio Services

Visio Services is a SharePoint service application that enables you to render Visio drawings on a SharePoint web page. You can also render data-connected Visio drawings that retrieve data from various data sources, including SharePoint lists. Most of the changes to Visio Services are designed to help you manage the performance of the service. The Visio Services service application now includes a Maximum Cache Size parameter, which is designed to prevent the service from consuming excessive resources. The SharePoint 2013 Health Analyzer rules and the Set-SPVisioPerformance cmdlet have both been updated to include this new parameter. For end users, Visio Services now allows users to add comments to Visio drawings in full page rendering mode. This enables users to engage in genuine collaboration and review of shared Visio drawings.

PerformancePoint Services

PerformancePoint Services is a SharePoint service application that enables you to build interactive dashboards that display Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other business data. SharePoint 2013 introduces various enhancements that extend the reach of PerformancePoint Services and make it easier to use. First, the PerformancePoint dashboards are considerably more flexible in SharePoint 2013. Users can apply themes and styles to customize the look and feel of their dashboards, for example to match your corporate branding. Users can now export dashboards in their entirety for use on other servers, site collections, or sites. You can also view and interact with PerformancePoint dashboards using the Safari browser on iPad devices. PerformancePoint Services now support the EffectiveUserName property in SQL Server Analysis Services. Previously, when you connected to a SQL Server Analysis Services data source using per-user authentication, you would need to configure Kerberos authentication to avoid the "double-hop" limitation associated with NTLM authentication. This new feature allows you to specify a username in string format, using the EffectiveUserName property, when you connect to an Analysis Services data source. Analysis Services makes authorization checks against the user specified by the EffectiveUserName property, rather than the currently authenticated user, which removes the need to configure Kerberos.

What's New in Composites SharePoint 2013?

SharePoint Composites is a broad term. Essentially, you create a SharePoint Composites solution by combining a variety of building blocks, such as SharePoint data, external data, Office documents, and workflows, to address a specific business challenge. You typically create a SharePoint Composites solution without writing any custom code. SharePoint 2013 includes various improvements for Composites solutions, primarily in the areas of Access Services, workflow, and Business Connectivity Services (BCS).

Access Services and Access Apps

In SharePoint 2010, the Access Services service application enables you to publish an Access web database to a SharePoint site. All the data and database objects are moved to a SharePoint list. Users can interact with the published web database through the SharePoint user interface without using the Access client application. While this approach can work well for reports, SharePoint lists are not designed to support large, transactional database applications. Access Services in SharePoint 2013 uses SQL Server, rather than SharePoint lists, as the data store. Each published Access application gets its own SQL Server database on the SharePoint database server. This improves the performance of the application and enables it to scale effectively as your data grows. One significant way in which SharePoint 2013 extends the capabilities of Access Services is through Access apps. You can use the Access 2013 client application to create rich, data-driven applications by using interactive tools and a powerful, intuitive form designer. You can then package and distribute the application as a SharePoint app. This enables power users to create and distribute powerful, attractive, data-driven applications to solve business problems without writing code.

SharePoint Workflows

Workflows have long been an essential tool for modeling and managing business processes in SharePoint. SharePoint 2013 introduces a redesigned workflow architecture that can help you to model complex processes without writing code.

Workflow Architecture

The workflow functionality in SharePoint 2013 is built on Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) 4. By contrast, SharePoint 2010 workflows are built on WF 3. These two platforms are very different in terms of architecture. Most notably, WF 4 workflows run in Windows Server AppFabric, whereas WF 3 workflows for SharePoint run directly within SharePoint processes. To provide backwards compatibility, SharePoint 2013 includes a Workflow Interop Bridge. This enables the workflow engine to delegate certain tasks back to SharePoint. As a result, workflows built in SharePoint 2010 will continue to work in SharePoint 2013. The Workflow Interop Bridge also enables you to use workflow assets that were developed for SharePoint 2010, such as custom activities, within your SharePoint 2013 workflows.

Workflow Design

When you created workflows for SharePoint 2010, you could design the workflow graphically in Visio 2010 and then import the workflow into SharePoint Designer 2010 for completion and publishing. SharePoint 2013 takes this a stage further. If you have the Visio 2013 client installed, SharePoint Designer 2013 allows you to switch between the declarative, sentence-based workflow designer and a graphical workflow designer. You can dynamically switch between these design modes as you create your workflow, depending on which mode best suits the task at hand.

Workflow Stages

In previous versions of SharePoint, you could create two distinct types of workflow. You would use sequential workflows to describe a series of tasks that should be completed in a particular order, and you would use state machine workflows to model business processes that can move freely between various states. You could create sequential workflows interactively using tools such as SharePoint Designer and Visio, but state machine workflows required that you create a custom, code-based solution in Visual Studio. SharePoint 2013 introduces a new concept, workflow stages, that combine aspects of both sequential and state machine workflows. You can model business processes as a series of stages, where each stage might represent the value of a choice field. Each stage is effectively a container of related actions and conditions. You can use transitions to move freely between different stages, in the same way that you would move between states in a state machine workflow. You can create workflow stages interactively when you build a workflow in SharePoint Designer 2013. As a result you can model complex business processes, which would previously have required a code-based state machine workflow, without writing any code.

External Data in Workflows

One significant new feature in the SharePoint 2013 workflow platform is the SOAP Web Service action. You can use this action to call SOAP web services from within your workflows. This provides a powerful way of bringing data from external systems, such as OData-based data sources, into your SharePoint workflows.

Using BCS Data in SharePoint Composites

Many of the enhancements to external lists, such as: the performance improvements for sorting and filtering, the ability to limit the number of items per page, the ability to export data to Excel, and the ability to set up alerts, are designed to narrow the user experience gap between external lists and regular SharePoint lists. In SharePoint 2013, users can work with external data in very similar ways to data stored in SharePoint content databases. As a result, it's easier to create composite solutions that draw data from a variety of sources.

The ability to subscribe to external events from a BDC model offers various opportunities for developers of composite solutions. Creating alerts on external lists is one scenario. You can also associate workflows with external lists, and use changes in the external data to trigger your workflows. Finally, the support for OData-based data sources extends the reach of the BCS and offers new opportunities for working with external data in composite solutions. Many organizations offer data as a commodity through OData services, from street parking information to movie catalogs to the Windows Azure Marketplace. You can create external content types to connect to these data sources and interact with them through external lists in your composite solutions


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