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The new Office 365 Admin Portal has arrived

Mar 21, 2016 by Emma Robinson

Microsoft, under Satya Nadella’s leadership, has truly embraced the “Move fast and break things” motto that most companies now live by in today’s buzzword-filled ‘cloud first, mobile first’, SaaS based software development industry.

The Microsoft we grew up with, the one that released a “Service Pack” every other year and a full version upgrade every three years, has evolved into a company that ships new features across hundreds of products on a daily basis.  Nowhere is this more obvious to their customers than on their Office 365 platform, where the landscape shifts, iterates and improves almost every time someone logs in.

An example of this is the recent announcement that customers will now see the new Office 365 admin portal by default when they log in. The transition has been made amidst some concerns about its readiness for duty, with critics claiming that the portal is lacking in features and only half baked, despite the ‘jazzy’ new look. I’ve got similar opinions on how this is being rolled out, but today I’m going to focus on the improved reporting interface within this new portal.

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Office 365 Reporting is obviously something that I have a keen interest in, and over the past three years, I’ve had great meetings with the Microsoft team who are behind these changes. I have a huge amount of respect for what they are doing and how they are going about it.  They are very focused on not just hearing but also implementing customer feedback.

When Microsoft builds a service like this they need to find a way to address the majority of the needs of the majority of their customers as easily and efficiently as possible. This new reporting platform looks like a fantastic way for Microsoft’s small and medium business customers to gain insight into how their services are being used.  Understanding service usage is incredibly important and also the topic of our latest white paper. These reports are a great starting point for companies to gather intelligence on whether what they are paying for is actually being used.

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Unfortunately, they will not satisfy the more specific needs that some of their larger enterprise customers have when it comes to flexibility and functionality.  Historical information is now available for up to 180 days and native reports can now break this down into 7, 30, 90, and 180 day periods.  This will give most customers a high-level understanding of their Office 365 usage, but as the comments on the Microsoft blog post show – people want more granular information.  What if I started a campaign to increase Skype for Business or Yammer usage in the middle of the month and want to compare two specific time periods?  What if I want a calendar month by month breakdown of reporting data?  It doesn’t look like there are any plans to extend the native Office 365 reports beyond the pre-defined time periods.

There also doesn’t seem to be any functionality to filter the data – you either get all or nothing.  Whilst this is probably fine for smaller organizations, enterprise customers require fine-grained controls to slice and dice the data into logical groups.  It’s rare that someone in a company of 70,000 employees wants a spreadsheet of all the company’s employees and their usage statistics.  More than likely a department or country head wants specific and detailed information about just users or services they are responsible for.
The people who require this type of reporting information usually do not have Office 365 Admin rights so they’ll need to log a ticket to the IT department to access any of this information.  There doesn’t seem to be any way of giving standard users access to the Office 365 reporting information directly, either by allowing them to log in or via some sort of scheduled reports functionality.

The reports also seem to be 100% focused on Service Usage information.  There doesn’t seem to be any reporting on Security settings or Compliance and Audit related information.  Large companies often have to adhere to strict data protection and regulatory controls, backed up by regular audits to show compliance.  When I worked in the finance industry we would manually generate dozens of security, compliance, and policy reports for auditors and regulators using scripts we hacked together.  Many of Cogmotive’s customers have similar requirements and we’ve worked with them to create a platform that allows anyone who needs audit or compliance information to quickly generate a report without hassling the IT department.

Some of these needs may be addressed by the Office 365 Reporting Power BI Content Pack, but if you’ve ever tried to use Power BI you’ll know that it can often be frustrating and cumbersome to initially populate and massage the data until it is in a useable form.
Microsoft is very aware of these limitations and addresses them by empowering a thriving community of partners and ISVs like us to ensure that these customers aren’t left behind.  Behind the glossy exterior of these news reports are some very powerful data warehouses and API’s that we are going to be leveraging to improve our own Office 365 reporting products.

But on the whole, Microsoft has done a great job of making this usage information available inside the Office 365 Admin portal.  No doubt a large number of their customers will see an immediate benefit from this change.  As for those customers that need a little more – well, you know where to find us!