Tag Archives: Customization

How Can I Use Microsoft Data to Optimize My Office 365 Environment?

For IT administrators, gathering data about user experience and application utilization can be a daunting task. There are many sources of user related data available; however, I will focus down on the data concerning a hypothetical organization’s Office 365 subscription and how SysTrack can help both show and give context to this data. The IT administrator of this organization (let’s call her Samantha) is looking to analyze data concerning the usage of each of the Office 365 products that they have licenses for. In doing some searching online, Sam finds that Microsoft has some data available through their Admin center on the Office 365 portal. This data, however, is limited in scope—it doesn’t tell much about the actual licenses that the organization has, and it doesn’t cover user experience with specific products. She also finds in her search that there are Powershell modules that allow access to organization data, but that would require significant setup and some knowledge on how that scripting works, which would require a significant investment of Samantha’s time in order to get data to a format that would be useful to her.

So, how can SysTrack help Sam with this problem? SysTrack’s normal data collection covers some of the things that Samantha wants, namely the general user experience with specific applications through Health and Black Box data, as well as app focus time. However, to gather the data on specific utilization of the Office 365 products, we need to augment the normal collection with collection from some of Microsoft’s cloud based APIs. This gives us the ability to collect daily activity reports for users of the organization, broken down for each Office 365 product, and from this we can generate data trends over time of how the products are used. For example, with the reports Samantha could monitor how many emails a certain user sends and receives each day. Combining this with the data already available about app focus time for Outlook as well as Health data on latency and network connection, gives a big picture look at how a that user generally uses their email.

Example Office 365 monitoring dashboard utilizing data from SysTrack and Microsoft

In addition to collection based on user activity, SysTrack also collects data on active product licenses for each user. This feature gives Samantha the ability to compare a user’s usage of each of Office 365’s products with what they are licensed for to see if the organization is getting the most out of their subscriptions. There is also collection of Service Statuses for each product, directly from Microsoft, so if there are service interruptions that are affecting users, then Samantha can track that as well. Overall, SysTrack gives a very comprehensive coverage of all the available Office 365 data without having to go hunting for it on multiple pages, easing the job of IT administrators looking for this data.

SysTrack Basics: Build a First Dashboard

With the recent launch of SysTrack 7.0 it’s a perfect time to introduce one of the newest (and best, in my opinion) features: SysTrack Dashboard Builder. Even though it’s currently still just a tech preview it’s fairly feature complete, and there are some cool ways to present and customize data from SysTrack or other sources. The basic idea is to build a dashboard from some component pieces. You start with a set of data you’d like to work with (e.g. software utilization, health, vCenter system stats, etc. . .), and use this to create a query with the report builder. This then gets connected to a series of presentation tools. You can pick from standard (boring) tabular views, charts of a number of types, heat charts, bubble diagrams, and basically any way you’d care to think of to show some data points. To illustrate the process we’ll go step by step through the creation of a basic software inventory dashboard.

The first step is to create a new dashboard.

NewDashboard

Give it a name (I’ll pick Software Inventory because I’m not a very creative person), and then we’re ready to start dragging objects in. I’ll start with the Query object:

QueryDataBlock

There are some key areas here:

  1. Name and Description – Yep
  2. Query – This is the critical part of the dashboard, and the heart of the entire process. There are a few options (we’ll explore more in later posts), but because I’m pretty familiar with the data we’re working with here I’ll just put together a quick query (we’ll cover the report builder later, but it’s pretty easy to work with):

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT SystemId) AS [System Count], PackageName AS [Package], Version

FROM RPT_Software

WHERE (Flags & 16) = 0 AND Version <> ”

GROUP BY PackageName, Version

ORDER BY COUNT(DISTINCT SystemId) DESC

  1. Connection String – Here an alternative data source can be specified.
  2. Hierarchy Setup – Basically a method for developing groupings within the datasets. This will also be covered later.

With this, we’re ready to add in some objects to view the data. I’ll pick a table and a bar chart:

GraphandTableParts

By dragging in the presentation objects and connecting them to the data source I’ve finished up a basic dashboard. From here I can specify some settings for my chart (column type, what appears on the X-axis, what the title is) and save. This is now a complete dashboard ready for use:

SoftwareInventoryDash

With that we’ve completed a very rudimentary dashboard. We’ll have some more blogs covering much more detailed nuances of how to work with the Dashboard Builder in the near future, but that’s all it takes to get started. Give it a shot.