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The Office 365 Adoption Content Pack in Power BI

13 Jun 2017 by Doug Davis

On May 22nd, Microsoft released their new Office 365 Adoption Content Pack for Power BI into public preview. After signing up during the limited preview in October 2016, our content pack was made available in early November last year. Now that we’ve had time to explore the features and see how the pack has developed, here are our thoughts on one of the latest additions to the Office 365 management toolkit.
Part 1: Signing up and Configuration
The Office 365 Adoption option will now show up as a new box in your Usage node from the Admin Center Tree, and it’s a fairly simple process to enable and turn on the Power BI option.

Once you save this option, data gathering will begin. It can take a while to gather your information (which depends on the size of your tenant) but once it’s set up there’s a simple one-click process to get to the Power BI view.
Note: There are some restrictions based on this initial connection to the content pack. The user that sets up the content pack is the only one that can customise the dashboard, or create new reports in the Power BI web interface, so choose this account carefully.

In your dialog box, you will see your Tenant ID listed – note it down, as you will need to use this during the setup process. Next click ‘Go to Power BI’, and you will be taken out of the current Admin Center, and directly into Power BI.
Once you’re inside Power BI, you will need to get the Adoption Pack. Head into the application list, and select it from the options (you will see the view below).

Click ‘Get It Now’ and enter your Tenant ID (unfortunately it can’t be copy and pasted, as clicking on the dialog in the Admin Center brings you to the report collection option.)

Almost there! Time to sign in.

Once you’ve signed in, the data import process will begin. According to the support information, it can take between 2 to 30 minutes.

Note: Currently, only global admins or Exchange, SharePoint Online, or Skype for Business admins can instantiate the content pack. Microsoft have confirmed that they are working on a ‘reporting role’ to increase visibility on these reports, but access is currently restricted to the four roles above.
Now that this is configured, and your data is in, you can launch the Power BI console from within Admin Center, and you should see the two workspaces for the Office 365 Adoption Preview.

With setup complete, you can now dive into the Content Pack itself.
Part 2: The Content Pack
The Office 365 Adoption Content Pack enables customers to visualise and understand usage across the key areas of Office 365, including Exchange Online, Skype for Business, SharePoint Online, Yammer, and OneDrive. Microsoft recommends that the reports can be used to ‘plan targeted user training and communication to increase usage, and get the most out of Office 365’.
The dashboard displays all the reports in one single view, which is split into four areas:

  • Adoption
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Activation


The reports are also segmented by service type, with the applicable reports following the logo (although this is not particularly clear at a first glance – see image above). Each tile represents different data points and metrics. Each tile is also ‘clickable’ and can be expanded for further information or filtering (where available). This is a good way to get a single view of a certain chart or figure, especially as the dashboard can be quite overwhelming and distracting, given the amount of data shown.

Most of the reports offer some level of filtering or customisation, with tick boxes which can be applied or removed to alter the view or refine the results shown (as you can see below).

Adoption Focus
All of the reports are designed to help you increase service adoption in Office 365 and maximise the value of your investment in the platform, and they do this very well, offering a wide range of detailed reports on usage, activation and service adoption. However, you only get the data you’re given, and there’s no option to ‘plug in’ or import more to this view, so if there is a specific insight you’re in need of, you will need to wait to see if Microsoft adds it. While Microsoft seems committed to adding more functionality, there aren’t any set timelines for further updates.
You should also be aware this is aggregated data, so there is very little ability to drill down into it. This means if you have non-standard requirements, or need deeper insights, you may find that they aren’t accommodated by the pack.

Accessibility
Even though the pack is only accessible to Office 365 admins, the dashboards can be published, and reports can be shared across the organisation. They can be used to present key metrics to stakeholders or decision-makers, for example the Product Activations dashboard (shown below) could be used to review subscription rates across the business.

Accessibility restrictions are not just present when it comes to viewing the reports, it also impacts their comprehensibility. The Power BI service is designed to help share analytics throughout the entire organisation, but some of the technical aspects of the adoption content pack are quite complex for the average, non-technical user.
The Adoption Content Pack is part of a new reporting API, and the unrefined text is often pulled directly from its metadata, which means that it isn’t always clear what each data label means at first or second glance. More information on this can be found here. Users familiar with Office 365 API output won’t struggle too much when decoding the text that supplements the visualisations, tables and graphs, but the Power BI dashboard is supposed to make the content visible, comprehensible and shareable. If you intend to use these dashboards widely throughout your organisation, as a method to inform or convince key stakeholders, you may find that you need to supplement them with some ‘translated’ explanations.
The initial setup, and first view of the dashboard is fairly dense. It assumes a lot of knowledge of Power BI, so it may be best to brush up on some Power BI fundamentals to help you understand what you’re seeing. An understanding of the possibilities available with Power BI will also help you maximise the value of the pack. There is plenty of information available online – this high level article is a good place to start.
Advantages
There is no doubt that Power BI is an extremely powerful tool, and the Adoption Content Pack has useful and intelligent capabilities that cover the main services used within Office 365. The reports, customisation and filters available are extensive and varied, and while they might seem a little intimidating initially, they are capable of delivering useful, valuable information to monitor service adoption. If you need to measure and understand usage trends across your Office 365 environment, or identify areas that require further improvement, the pack is a great place to start – just make sure you’re up to date on how to use Power BI before you jump in.
More information on the future of the content pack can be found at the recent AMA here. In terms of future developments, it seems like more services (Teams, Planner and beyond) may eventually be added, but these aren’t officially on the roadmap yet.
Disadvantages
One of the problems with the single view dashboard is that it delivers far too much information to be comfortably consumed. The main page of the content pack can be rather daunting, but as with many tools, frequent usage ensures a better overall experience. To avoid being overwhelmed at the outset, it is important to focus your reporting strategy by defining exactly what you need to measure (perhaps before you even open the content pack). It is very easy to fall into a black hole, and spend hours looking at all the available metrics, even though they don’t necessarily fit into your project objectives, KPIs – or what you actually came looking for.
There are a handful of other limitations to the new content pack which are also worth noting.

  • The content pack only reports on licensed mailboxes, which doesn’t include:
    • Shared mailboxes
    • Group mailboxes
    • Archive mailboxes
  • There is no way to schedule and automate reporting.
  • It removes you from the Admin Center experience and requires learning a new interface.
  • The pivoting functionality is currently limited to ‘department’, with no other options available.
  • It is an adoption pack, so it cannot be used as comprehensive reporting solution for the Office 365 environment as a whole.
  • Other key areas of Office 365 reporting and management are not covered in the content pack, include:
    • Security and compliance
    • Mobile device management
    • Permissions or storage management
  • The labelling is pulled directly out of the API, which means that it is not always translated into useful, insightful information, for example a lot of the fields are populated with ‘TRUE’ and ‘FALSE’, with no clear meaning.
  • There is some overlap with the usage reports in the Admin Center, but the data is gathered at different rates and timelines, so the reports often won’t match, which could be confusing.
  • Power BI isn’t part of the Admin Center; it’s a standalone tool (once the data is loaded). This means that admins must switch between views and in some cases, different data collection regimes to fully utilise all capabilities of the tool.


Final Thoughts
The Office 365 Adoption Content Pack has clearly been developed by people who understand data. The level of detail and range of reports make this abundantly clear, and the content pack is a huge improvement from built-in reports in the Admin Center. That said, there are a handful of usability issues which, once addressed, will further improve how people can consume or leverage their data using this pack. All in all, it’s a welcome addition, and a great start. We look forward to seeing how the feature evolves based on customer feedback gathered during the public preview.
Cogmotive is the leading global provider of enterprise level reporting and analytics applications for Office 365. Find out more now.

Doug Davis is the Product Owner of the Radar tools at Quadrotech. Doug's career in Product Management spans over 20 years. During this time, he has managed products around the Microsoft technology stack for Quest Software, Dell Software and Cogmotive, as well as a stint in Big Data with Assent Compliance. Based out of Ottawa, Canada Doug is a graduate of Carleton University and an avid cyclist.