In my bLog posting i have covered Information Rights Management (IRM) quite alot and its one of the key reasons why customers move to the higher end of Office 2007 SKU’s though many organisation fail to see the value and purely look at the license cost. IRM is a way to provide privacy protection for a Microsoft Office document and to ensure that sensitive information is only viewed by appropriate people. For example, you may want to report quarterly financial data only to select members of an executive committee one month before the data becomes publicly available in a financial statement, so they have time to prepare public relation responses and make appropriate business decisions.

Windows SharePoint Services Version 3.0 or later supports IRM on a document library and all the documents in that library (whether or not those individual documents are enabled with IRM). Once the document is uploaded to a document library enabled with IRM, the document, in effect, becomes IRM-enabled.

Excel Services does not support loading Excel workbooks that have been enabled with IRM, and it does not load an Excel workbook if it is enabled with IRM or comes from a document library enabled with IRM. However, if you want to take advantage of IRM, you can load an Excel workbook without IRM into Excel Services, open the workbook as a snapshot, and then save the snapshot to a document library that is enabled with IRM.

For more information, see the Microsoft Office Excel 2007 Help system and the Office SharePoint Server Central Administration Help system.

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Excel Services is a Microsoft Office SharePoint technology that makes it simple to use, share, secure, and manage Microsoft Office Excel 2007 workbooks (.xslx, xslb) as interactive reports in a consistent way throughout the enterprise.

There are three basic components to Excel Services that interact with each other and together form the overall structural design of Excel Services;

 Excel Calculation Services (ECS) is the “engine” of Excel Services that loads the workbook, calculates in full fidelity with Microsoft Office Excel 2007, refreshes external data, and maintains sessions.

 Excel Web Access (EWA) is a Web Part that displays and enables interaction with the Microsoft Office Excel workbook in a browser by using Dynamic Hierarchical Tag Markup Language (DHTML) and JavaScript without the need for downloading ActiveX controls on your client computer, and can be connected to other Web Parts on dashboards and other Web Part Pages.

 Excel Web Services (EWS) is a Web service hosted in Microsoft Office SharePoint Services that provides several methods that a developer can use as an application programming interface (API) to build custom applications based on the Excel workbook.

Because Excel Services is a component of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, you can also take advantage of many SharePoint technology features such as, controlling, securing, and managing access to spreadsheets, server-based performance, and ability to scale well when users are added.

So where does this start to get fruity? Well the answer is as always when we start to look at some deployment scenarios to mkae this thing real.

Of course, there are countless ways that you can use Excel Services, but the following is a representative list of scenarios and examples to help you better understand how you might use Excel Services.

Business intelligence dashboards  An executive committee has access to several company dashboards that act as an up-to-date financial scoreboard for the company. To continuously assess company performance, the main dashboard summarizes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as sales goals, target revenues, and profit margins, on a monthly basis. Additional dashboards summarize market news to help analyze financial risk for current and new projects, and to display charts of critical financial data to help evaluate different investment portfolios.

Retail store decision-making tool  A retail chain summarizes critical point-of-sales data on a weekly basis and shares it with suppliers, financial analysts, and regional managers. Reports include current items below inventory, top 20 selling items by sales categories, important seasonal data, and transaction counts by each store.

And for me the most interesting scenario and where the richest vein of IP protection is concerned;

Proprietary financial analysis calculation model  A large financial institution has researched and developed a pricing model that is private intellectual property. The results of the formula need to be shared with some investment managers, but the formula that is used to calculate the pricing model must be secure and never be publicly revealed. This pricing model is extremely complex and takes a long time to calculate. Every night, the pricing model report is calculated and created on a fast server, saved to a trusted location, and displayed on a Web Part Page, but only to those who have appropriate permission.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 helps organizations provide business intelligence (BI) capabilities to every employee so they can share, control, and reuse business information to make better business decisions. The BI features in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provide Web and programmatic access to published Office Excel spreadsheets, programmatic reuse of critical LOB data, and easy development of Web-based BI dashboards that can incorporate rich, data-bound KPIs, Web Parts, and published spreadsheets.

Top Features at A Glance:

  • Web Access to Published Spreadsheets
  • Integrated, Flexible Publishing
  • Programmatic Access to Published Spreadsheets
  • Data Connection Libraries
  • Business Data Catalog
  • Business Data SharePoint Lists and Web Parts
  • Business Data Actions
  • Data Connection Libraries
  • KPIs/Dashboards
  • Report Center Web Sites
  • Excel Services Management
  • BI Web-Parts
  • Server-based Excel spreadsheets and data visualization

For the first time ever, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 enables users to create forms, populate them with data from business applications, publish them on the Web, and initiate document-oriented workflows – all that directly from their familiar Microsoft Office user interface or from within their Internet Browser.

Top Features at A Glance:

  • Deploy and manage forms centrally
  • Integrate forms with Outlook 2007
  • Import forms· Digitally sign forms
  • Create forms without coding
  • Integration with business applications

The 2007 Microsoft Office System, also known as Microsoft Office 2007, is the most recent version of our productivity suite. Formerly known as Office 12 in the initial stages of the beta cycle, we are scheduled to be make the suite available to volume license customers on November 30, 2006, with general availability following in early 2007. Office 2007 contains a number of new features, the most notable of which on the surface of it is the entirely new graphical user interface called the Ribbon, replacing the menus and toolbars that have been the cornerstone of Office since its inception.

Office 2007 also includes new applications and server-side tools which is where the real changes have been made. Chief amongst these is Groove, a collaboration and communication suite which was originally developed by Groove Networks before being acquired by Microsoft in 2005. Also included is Office Sharepoint Server 2007, a major revision to the server platform for Office applications, which supports “Excel Services”, a client-server architecture for supporting Excel workbooks that are shared in real time between multiple machines, and are also viewable and editable through a web page.

My earlier posts on the the Versions and SKU’s covers the capabilities in more detail and details the main solution areas we address such as Content Management, Enterprise Project Management, Business Inteligence and Electroinc forms and Automated workflow.

Thats Business Intelligence (BI) issues by the way – SPS 2003, the Office 2003 Web Parts and Components Add-in, and Business Scorecard Manager all provided customers with important business intelligence (BI) features. Developers have used these BI technologies as a platform for building dashboard-style applications that provide upper-level management with up-to-date data that reflects the health of a business and flags potential problems in a timely matter.Based on their experience with these earlier BI components, the Office team designed MOSS 2007 to include a next-generation platform for building dashboards and integrating with other technologies such as Microsoft Excel 2007, SQL Server Reporting Services, and SQL Server Analysis Services. As with all other aspects of MOSS 2007, its BI platform builds on top of ASP.NET and WSS 3.0 and provides many opportunities for extending the default functionality.Consistent customer feedback indicated that a large percentage of corporations maintain a significant amount of business logic in Excel workbooks, and that this business logic has been hard to reuse across a large organization. This feedback led the Office team to create MOSS 2007 Excel Services, a server-side version of the traditional Excel calculation engine that has been rewritten from the ground up on top of WSS 3.0. Excel Services doesn’t suffer from the same types of scalability problems that occur when you run the desktop version of Excel on the server.Excel Services also provides a server-side rendering engine that can display worksheets in the browser as HTML. That means a company can store its Excel workbooks in a centralized document library and make them viewable by users who don’t even have Excel installed on their desktops. Furthermore, users can see the numbers displayed by a worksheet within the browser without having any access to the business logic behind it, thereby protecting a company’s intellectual property.The 2007 Microsoft Office system introduces a new paradigm, recognizing that companies maintain business logic within Excel just as they maintain business logic within compiled assemblies or SQL stored procedures. To support this new paradigm, the Office team added many new features to the 2007 Office system products designed to expose and update this business logic as well as to protect the intellectual property represented by this logic.The desktop version of Excel 2007 has been enhanced to allow information workers with Excel expertise to publish and update their workbooks in a document library within an MOSS 2007 portal site or a WSS team site. Users running Excel can view these workbooks through the familiar client experience while other users can rely on Excel Services to view the same workbook inside the browser. Note that this new workbook publishing metaphor allows a company to maintain a single master copy of its critical workbooks. It also allows the workbook author to post updates without the need to involve the development or IT staff.It’s important to note that the use of Excel Services isn’t restricted to the browser. You can create a Windows Forms application that uses the server-side Excel calculation engine but that doesn’t use the rendering engine. For example, a Windows Forms application can use Web services from Excel Services to load a workbook on the server, enter input data, perform calculations, and return a result as shown in Figure 10.You can see it’s not that hard to take advantage of formulas in Excel spreadsheets from across the network in a desktop application. This example furthers the analogy that Excel Services exposes the business logic defined in a workbook just as SQL Server exposes the business logic defined in a stored procedure.MOSS 2007 provides a special site template named Report Center for companies that want to build dashboard-style applications. Report Center was designed to make the new BI features of MOSS 2007 easy to discover and use. A Report Center site contains a document library named Reports Library that is tuned for storing and displaying BI reports such as Excel workbooks and reports built for SQL Reporting Services.Another important aspect of Report Center is the built-in support for creating and importing key performance indicators (KPIs), visual BI indicators that tell a manager how some aspect of the business is doing. For example, the KPI for a product inventory level might display a green light when there is enough inventory to supply all the orders for the coming week. However, the light might turn from green to yellow when the inventory level drops below some predefined threshold such as the amount of inventory required to supply orders for the next four days. The light then might change from yellow to red when the inventory level drops to a point where it will run out within the next 48 hours. The main idea is that a KPI flags business problems that require immediate attention.MOSS 2007 provides out-of-the-box support for several different KPI types. For example, you can create a KPI whose indicator changes automatically depending on data it reads dynamically from a WSS list or an Excel workbook. MOSS also provides integration support for KPIs in SQL Server 2005. That is, if you have already created KPIs with SQL Server Analysis Services, you can import and display them on a Report Center site alongside other supported KPIs.The last aspect of Report Center I want to discuss is the built-in framework for filtering data before it’s shown to the user. This is a key component of the MOSS 2007 dashboard framework because it makes dashboard pages more relevant to the user. When a manager visits a Report Center site, the experience is enriched if the dashboard views have been customized with data that is relevant for that particular manager. For example, a sales manager for the Eastern region can be presented with a different view of sales figures than the sales manager for the Western region. Furthermore, managers like to be able to see high-level data at first and then drill down into more specific categories on demand.

Filtering support is built into MOSS 2007 dashboards at the page level using Web Part connections. MOSS supplies Web Parts that allow page designers and users alike to specify criteria such as the name of the current user, a date range, or a product category. There are also many supplied Web Parts that can be configured to consume the filtering criteria supplied by other Web Parts such as the standard WSS List View Web Part as well as the Web Parts designed for use with the BDC, Excel Services, SQL Reporting Service, and SQL Analysis Services.

Remember that BI is only one of the four key pillars or themes coming out of Office 2007 server capabilities, Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Project management and Communication and Collaboration are the others which i’ll be blogging about in the coming weeks.