Access Web Apps in Sharepoint Online – An overview

One of the many features of SharePoint Online is the ability to have Access Web Apps in your SharePoint sites, allowing you host some of your data in the cloud.

Previously this has been a complex task, using requiring a specific set of skills, but not with Access Web Apps.

Creating a new Access Web App
The first thing that should be said is that you still need Access 2013 installed on your computer. More to the point, someone will. The Access Web App you build has to be built using Access 2013, but once its built it can be used by anyone with access to the SharePoint site, regardless of the device they are on.

Creating your first web app is straightforward. From your SharePoint Site, you can go to the ‘cog’ and select ‘Add an app’

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Once you’re here, on the of options you’ll get is the Access App. Clicking this will simply ask you for a name. You can also upload an access app you made somewhere else.

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Once that’s done and you try use it, you’ll get presented with a holding page asking you to open the app in Access to start building. Once you’ve opened your app in access, you’ll see a familiar interface, similar to any other new Access 2013 database.

Building your database
I’m not going talk much about creating databases and managing access databases in this post. Instead, I’ve just created a tiny 2 table database as a sample to have a play with.

I’ve been using Access for year (since Access 2003), and have worked with some very large, complex databases, so I didn’t find this difficult. But, I don’t think anyone will.

It is really quite easy to build a basic Access Web App using Access 2013. Some of the more advanced features will take some work, but there is plenty of support and documentation available for those looking to take it further.

There are also loads of templates to get you going or, as I’ve done you can start with a completely blank database and built it yourself.

As with any other Access Database, you can also import data from another Database, spreadsheet or other source.

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Using your Database
Once you’ve got your database built and you launch the app, you’ll be able to use your forms just like any other web app, and very quickly be able to add the data.

Each table automatically gets a list view and datasheet view which will be available in the web app.

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Not everyone needs Access
One of the major advantages here is that you can anyone with access to the SharePoint App will be able to use the database. You need Access installed in order to design the database, but the app can be used by anyone, reducing the licensing requirements along with the need to train other users on

Where is my data?
When working with an Access Web App, the data is stored in an Azure SQL Database for your app, and there are a number of ways you can access this data, which I have covered here: Accessing your Access Web App’s Data

Conclusion
They won’t be for everyone, but Access Web Apps are an easy, quick way to start getting data into the cloud. I’d definitely recommend that you investigate it further before making any decisions. It may just be the thing you need.

Features available in access web apps
For some more information on the differences between and Access App and an Access Database have a look at this post:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/access-help/should-i-create-an-access-2013-app-or-an-access-desktop-database-HA104136335.aspx

Accessing your Access Web App’s Data

Maybe you’ve been using Access Web Apps for a while now and have got to the point as I have where i want to do something more with the information. I want to be able to report on it, export it, play with etc.

Immediately there’s a bit of an issue, where are all my export options, my reporting options? They aren’t there.

Access Web App’s has been built, unfortunately, with no native reporting, which means I need another method for getting to my data.

Where is my data
Firstly, we need to consider where the data is actually stored. When you add your Access App in SharePoint, and new, dedicated Azure SQL Database is created for it.

If you open your Web App in access on your desktop and go to the ‘info’ tab, you’ll be able to see where the database is stored.

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Accessing the data
In the ‘info’ tab, you’ll also notice that there are 2 other options

Report on my Data
This option will create local access database which links to the table in the web app’s Azure database.

This will also you to use the full power of the Access Reporting services on your data.

Connections
This option will allow you to manage how your web app’s data can be accessed. There are a number of options here, so you need to carefully consider what is best for your app and the integrity of the data inside it.

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Accessing my Data from outside of Access
I’m only looking to report on my data and don’t need manipulate it in anyway, so I’ve opened connected and enabled the ‘Enable read-only connection’.

Once this is enabled, the option ‘view read-only connection information becomes available to be viewed, which will give you the Server name, database name and the credentials needed to connect other software to this database.

Accessing your Data from SQL Management Studio
Now you have enabled the connection, you can access the data from lots of differnet places, including SSMS (SQL Server Management Studio)

To this you need to specify the server and credentials as you would normally, but as this is server we don’t own or have any control over, you also need to specify the exact database you wish to work with from the ‘Connection Properties’ tab.

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Once you are connected, you have access the Database as you would normally and can work with it.

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Note: As the whole web app is stored in the SQL database you need to be very careful not to mess with any of the tables that don’t look like your data.

Accessing your data from Excel
Similarly, you can use Excel to access this information using the ‘From Data Connection Wizard’

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