Guest Blog by Inventu’s Jeff Urbanczyk: Mainframe and Midrange Users Easily Integrated within SharePoint? C’mon!

Inventu Corporation provides state-of-the-art tools for the automation, integration, modernization and migration of IBM and UNIX screen-based applications.  Inventu's tools (Screensurfer and Flynet Viewer) make it easy and efficient for developers to leverage these core legacy applications and integrate them with other applications, modern technologies and new platforms such as .NET, SharePoint, InfoPath, Workflow and BizTalk – just to name a few.

On October 26, 2010, Inventu issued a press release announcing the new Flynet Viewer 2010 release that includes a unique Host Access Web Part to provide quick and easy access to these legacy applications in SharePoint 2010, MOSS 2007 and WSS 3.0.  

Why was the Host Access Web Part created?  Well, many organizations were already using Flynet Viewer's Web service and enhanced ASP.NET UI .NET code generation and ASP.NET, thin-client emulation to automate, integrate, and modernize their legacy host-based application investments in conjunction with various other applications, products, and platforms – some even within the earlier versions of SharePoint.  Shortly after the release of MOSS 2007, Inventu started seeing more organizations looking at enterprise SharePoint deployments, thus wanting to integrate many of their disparate applications within SharePoint which, in many cases, included IBM and UNIX screen-based applications (that were currently being accessed via terminal emulation software).  Even though both MOSS 2007 and now SharePoint 2010 offer integration with various line of business applications and databases, Inventu saw a demand to bring the terminal emulation users into SharePoint to:

  • Eliminate the "swivel chair" between SharePoint applications and their terminal emulators
  • Leverage SharePoint features like documents, lists, and Web Parts
  • Automate forms processing between SharePoint forms and forms accessed via a terminal emulator

With Flynet Viewer 2010, legacy screen-based applications that are currently locked into terminal emulators can be integrated with a SharePoint solution using a number of Flynet Viewer features, including:

  • SharePoint-compatible terminal emulation (with Scripting)
  • SharePoint list Web Part integration
  • SharePoint forms data entry using screen data
  • Screen functional access using Enhanced ASP.NET Web Pages
  • Screen functional encapsulation using Web services

Each of these is described in the following sections along within a final "Flynet Viewer and the Host Access Web Part" diagram.

SharePoint-Compatible Terminal Emulation (with Scripting)

The Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part provides versatile runtime management of user screen sessions, including highly compatible terminal emulation when needed.

This is delivered using the Flynet Web Terminal emulator, which is a Web 2.0, highly functional terminal emulator with auto-sized fonts, full keyboard mapping, keyboard buffering, and other features normally associated with traditional desktop terminal emulators.  Despite all this traditional functionality, the Flynet Terminal Emulator is a SharePoint-compatible, pure HTML and CSS implementation that can be tailored using custom graphics and CSS file enhancements to maintain consistency with the look and feel of the SharePoint environment.

Along with compatibility with SharePoint, the Flynet Host Access Web Part can deliver integration with SharePoint data using a high-level scripting capability that can provide two-way data integration between SharePoint and the screens, including host navigation and screen-based data entry.  

SharePoint List Web Part Integration

SharePoint List Web Part IntegrationUsing the high-level scripting feature of the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part, SharePoint list items can be connected to screen actions.  This works for the Flynet Terminal Emulator as well as for the Enhanced ASP.NET Web Pages (described in a later section).

For example, a new Web Part document can be created in SharePoint containing a list of purchase orders.  By adding the Flynet Web Part to the same document, a row connection can be set, linking the list of purchase orders to the Flynet Web Part.  With a short script property set in the Flynet Part, each click by a user on a list item can use the contents of the list to navigate to a selected screen in the host as well as enter other fields from the list row into the screen.

While this example describes a row connection driving screen interaction from a SharePoint list, note that any Web Part that can provide a row connection can do the same, as the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part provides a generic row consumer that can match and convert any field contained in any SharePoint row for use in a screen integration script.

SharePoint Forms Data Entry Using Screen Data

SharePoint Forms Data Entry Using Screen DataAs departments create new lists and lightweight workflows in SharePoint, users may find themselves creating new list items using host application data as a source.  With the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part, a special client-side Javascript capability can match screen-based fields with the fields in a SharePoint New Item, enabling the auto-entry of selected fields with data from one or more host screens.

In this mode, the script detects the presence of a specific screen and displays a button in the Flynet Web Part that, when clicked, copies the Flynet-sourced field contents to the matching fields in the SharePoint form, ready for the user to complete the New Item form and submit it.

In addition to the ability to auto-enter data sourced by Flynet, the script can also add a button to the SharePoint form for reading SharePoint-sourced data and sending that to a custom method contained in the Flynet application (similar to a Web service call).

As with the SharePoint row connection example using lists, SharePoint forms can be auto-entered using data from both the terminal emulator screens as well as the enhanced Web pages described in the following section.

Screen Functional Access using Enhanced ASP.NET Web Pages

Screen Functional Access using Enhanced ASP.NET Web PagesSo far, examples of integration with SharePoint have used the simple Flynet Terminal Emulator, which may be a quick way to integrate for users that are already using a terminal emulator today.  But for users unaccustomed to the screen-based applications, or for users looking for an improved and more productive user experience, Flynet Viewer provides the ability to convert and upgrade selected screens to a set of coordinated Web pages.

Upgrading screens is important for many business processes being addressed in a SharePoint site, taking the functionality available in the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part and enhancing it beyond the raw presentation of a terminal emulator.  In this mode, the same screen session that may be available for terminal emulation provides the backing data access layer for all-new ASP.NET Web pages.

This is made possible by features in Flynet Viewer Studio that build on the same work done for the scripting of Terminal Emulation (recording, identifying, and field-mapping screens).  In the Studio, a business analyst can upgrade entry fields in-place to Web controls that require less application knowledge and training.  For example, a field can be upgraded from a simple data entry field to a selection list that contains only those codes valid for data entry.

With the individual fields upgraded, the analyst can then convert single host screens to one or more Web pages, or combine selected fields from multiple screens into a single Web page.  Along with the one-to-many and many-to-one capabilities, the Flynet Studio also supports popular page compositions including tabbed notebook, simple workflow, and data entry wizard.

After designing the Web pages, the application is generated again, producing the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part along with new enhanced ASP.NET Web pages.  At this point, a Visual Studio developer, using the best of that tool's design features, can further enhance the pages since they are generated as standard ASP.NET ASPX pages with simple code-behind files.

The new, enhanced user interface for the upgraded screens can be accessed and scripted with the Flynet Viewer Host Access Web Part.  By integrating with a specific set of SharePoint documents, lists or workflows, the enhanced user interface can avoid duplicate data entry while delivering ease-of-use and better productivity than the screens providing the actual data access and validated data entry.

Screen Functional Encapsulation Using Web Services

Sometimes, a user interface to a set of screens is not what is needed to support new SharePoint-delivered business value.  What is needed instead is a high-level ability to utilize the functionality buried behind those screens.  Examples include inquiries that leverage complex logic or custom data access not reproducible using direct access to a backend database, or data entry that must be validated and processed using existing business rules that are entwined in the screen-based transaction logic.

For these challenges, the same Flynet screen recording, naming and mapping performed for the scripting and user interface enhancements can be leveraged to create standard Web services.  Using Flynet Viewer Studio's Web Service modeling wizards, screen workflows are identified, properties set, and a standard ASP.NET Visual Studio Web Service solution is generated.

As with the enhanced user interface, the generated solution can be loaded, edited and debugged using Visual Studio, before deploying.  Designed to handle the most demanding and complex inquiry and data entry tasks, the Flynet Web Service capability can reliably encapsulate screen-based functionality and publish it with a fraction of the development work required from alternative approaches.

Once encapsulated as a Web service, the screen-based functions can then be made available for integration with a variety of SharePoint activities.  This includes InfoPath forms data entry, workflow actions, and any number of custom solutions, including business process management packages that support and leverage Web services.

Flynet Viewer and the Host Access Web Part Diagram

The following diagram illustrates all the Flynet Viewer features detailed above, along with the encapsulation of these features in the Host Access Web Part.

Flynet Viewer and the Host Access Web Part Diagram

Do you have IBM or UNIX screen-based applications and need automation, integration, modernization or migration?  Flynet Viewer 2010 generates the .NET code and SharePoint Web Parts you need to build applications and interfaces that will meet your business needs while leveraging your Microsoft development skills. 

Questions or comments?  Please use the Comments field below, or feel free to contact me directly at 781-791-9586 x704, or via email at jurbanczyk@inventu.com with any questions or to schedule a live product demo.
 
To view a recorded demo, along with product information and use cases, please visit the Flynet Viewer 2010 page at http://www.inventu.com/FV2010.html.

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