Accessing Structured Assets with SharePoint

Structured assets are often found in the formal systems of organizations that use databases to store their data. Because they use databases, it’s relatively easy to query and aggregate data from these systems. Line-of-business applications are good examples of repositories for structured assets.

Systems for managing structured assets are usually supported by IT staff and have the following characteristics:

  • Formal: They’re the “official” systems of the company, and everyone in the company can rattle off their names and what they’re used for.
  • Mature: Because it takes a long time to implement structured systems, they tend to be predictable and stable. Despite what businesses say about being innovative and thinking outside the box, an information systems environment isn’t the place most organizations want to find surprises.
  • Scope: A large number of people often use structured systems. These are often the systems for which permission is requested as a matter of course when someone is hired.

The problem with structured assets isn’t managing the assets; the problem is managing access to the assets. What makes structured assets so easy to manage also makes them difficult to access.

It’s challenging to teach executives how to log into a system and run reports or to show a large group of end users how to navigate menus and access a single process, such as entering a purchase order.

SharePoint makes it possible to more finely control the access to structured assets in the following ways:

  • Customize access to structured applications: Instead of granting large numbers of users access to enterprise applications when they only need limited access, you can provide alternative access in SharePoint. For example, if someone needs to look up lists of data, query the customer database, or look up a part number, you can make that data available via SharePoint.
  • Supplement structured applications: You can supplement structured applications by automating business processes. Oftentimes, an enterprise application encompasses only part of a business process, not the whole thing. For example, most software has purchase order or expense report processing. Oftentimes, the request is manual or in e-mail and must be signed by a manager. You can initiate the process in SharePoint and then queue the transactions in your primary system.
  • Link structured data to unstructured data: Commonly, Word documents and spreadsheets support a business transaction. You can link documents stored in a document repository to transactions in your structured systems.
  • Limit access: Create a data catalog in SharePoint to access data for the purposes of querying and report building.
  • Consolidate assets: Many times, you need to present an aggregated view of structured data that comes from multiple sources. SharePoint makes it possible to provide a consolidated view from multiple back-end sources.