Saturday, May 22, 2010

Introduction of search capabilities for business intelligence in Sharepoint

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Search is one of the most needed and used service when you have abundant content created and used by a variety of user base. I have been a big admirer of search capabilities and even BIDS lacks this features to some extent. For example there is no facility to search anything within SSIS package in BIDS. I authored an article explaining a trick to solve the same issue which can be read from here.

Consider in case of SSRS Reports, there is as such no search capabilities in SSRS. Even using Report Manager, one cannot actually search for reports and searching for data that would be generated in those reports is like imagining some science fiction concept. A business user who might not have the idea of which report to use which might provide relevant data, would like to use search to figure out relevant data or report. As of the draft of this post, I do not have any out-of-box capability in Reports Manager to cater this requirement. If SSRS is configured in Sharepoint Integrated mode, sharepoint has somewhat nice search capabilities compared to Reports Manager, still it cannot solve this requirement.

Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for Sharepoint is deployed over Sharepoint 2010 to empower search capabilities on Sharepoint environment and increase business productivity by enabling users to search relevant content more efficiently and easily. In order to understand more about FAST Server, you can download FAST Search Server 2010 for Sharepoint Evaluation Guide.

Recently release of Microsoft Business Intelligence Indexing Connector was announced. This connector comes in two parts, backend and frontend. Backend component is installed only on FAST Server and Frontend Component is installed on all the sharepoint servers in any server farm. For frontend components, installation of backend component is a prerequisite. This connector crawls excel and powerpivot files, as well as it reads RDL (SSRS Report file) and searches the data sources / datasets used in reports. The advantage is that without executing each and every report which might be in Excel, Powerpivot or RDL Report output, one can easily preview the result of reports and find relevant information. On a face value, this has a lot of potential of helping users reach the right content helping user's to save wasting time in figuring out right information, as well as save unnecessary hits on data sources. This is definitely worth installing a trial edition and having a evaluation of user experience and productivity gains.

I wish that such search capabilities should be added to Reports Manager also. SSRS Webservice has two endpoints, one of which handles execution and other handles server management. A third service should be added which should facilitate search capabilities similar to FAST Server. With microsoft's acquisition of FAST and introduction of such connectors that plugs into BI territory, I do anticipate that SSRS webservice would flourish and bring such search capabilities in-built with SSRS itself.

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