Office 365 is a highly sophisticated system with a vast array of features, so administering and optimizing it's essential to make the most of its capabilities. Beyond simply keeping the system ticking over, it's useful to think about how an administrator can really bring the best out of the platform.
In this blog, we’ll look at what a good administrator should be doing to really add value to their work. As with all types of admin, best practice is about planning and monitoring. A good administrator needs to complete a routine checklist of daily, weekly and monthly activities to really take ownership of their domain.
Office 365 management is no different in this aspect - applying the tasks detailed below to workflow not only helps make the most of the tools at hand, but also avoids nasty surprises.
1. Monitor usage
Each Office 365 Site Collection provides a report on unique users and hits. This is a monthly report and as a result, after thirty days, the data is deleted and a new report for the following thirty days begins. Office 365 admins should remember to capture that data from the Excel export in order to record data going back further.
User searches should be checked on a daily basis and can be accessed via the SharePoint Admin Center | Search | View Usage Reports. There are a number of ways of visualizing these reports - the most obvious being to select ‘top queries’ and to export to file.
Other interesting measures to consider and report on include ‘abandoned queries’ and popular searches with no results. In this way, your Office 365 management moves from passive maintenance to active monitoring.
2. Security auditing
Another daily task is Security Monitoring. Office 365 allows administrators to see who is doing what - in both SharePoint and Exchange. For example, from the Exchange Admin Center, users can visit Compliance Management | Auditing and see which mailboxes have been opened by someone other than the owner.
Audit activity should also be checked weekly and is accessed from SharePoint Collection Administration | Site Settings | Audit Log Reports. From here, it's possible to see any changes to security and editing, viewing and deleting of content.
It’s essential to keep an eye open for unusual activity here and if not checked regularly, it’s hard to gauge what actually constitutes unusual activity. Once again, monitoring should be pro-active - there’s no point seeing a security issue once it’s too late.
3. Check permissions
Knowing who's accessing what's important from a security point of view, and the number one cause of security issues is users. Users tend not to realize they have broken permissions, resulting in permissions added above no longer getting passed down, so permissions may not reach items below either.
Despite its many strengths, SharePoint can’t really tell you where inheritance has been broken. IT Support tend only to hear about such issues when a call comes through to say users have been granted access to something they still can’t view. The main culprit in these situations tends to be broken inheritance.
Communication, knowledge transfer to content owners and training are important here, but a vigilant administrator can nip any issues in the bud.
4. Understand storage usage
As with the tasks already mentioned, storage must be monitored daily. Users occasionally decide to dump vast amounts of data into Office 365, so looking out for spikes in storage usage should be done as regularly as possible. In the SharePoint Admin Center, administrators can see the quotas and space used for each site collection. This should be recorded weekly - even if just as a screenshot showing the rate of growth over time.
If a spike in storage allocation is spotted, the admin can go into Site Collection | Administration | Storage Metrics to see exactly how much space is used in every list and library and see who’s dumping data.
Since storage costs money, it makes sense to monitor any sudden increases. Quotas are useful to keep users clearing out junk, but spikes are a sign an individual has decided to transfer in a stack of files, videos or images.
It’s also worth considering whether SharePoint is really the best place for such data - especially considering the cost of storage in comparison to something relatively cheap like a file share.
Finally, admins should also keep an eye on recycle bins. These empty by default regularly, but they can still hold a lot of junk. Administrators are like good janitors, making sure those bins are not overflowing - it’s worth remembering that Microsoft will charge towards this kind of build-up.
5. License usage
Finally, licenses are another essential to manage Office 365. Under the Users tab, admins can see how many active users there are to show who's getting value from their license. If this number is shrinking over time - or not rising - it could be a sign of stagnating or dropping usage.
Once again, without checking this weekly or monthly, it’s impossible to spot issues or trends in time. By monitoring Billing in Office 365, administrators can also see licenses that are valid and assigned, a useful way to ensure that Office 365 is being fully rolled out.
Finally, in the Exchange Admin Center, administrators can see inactive email users to get an indication that certain accounts aren't being used.
Office 365 Management: Vigilance will prove beneficial
Organizations might feel tempted to think that with Office 365, there is no need for management or administration at the level outlined above, simply assuming that Microsoft now takes care of this kind of leg-work. However, Office 365 still does not track trends over time, so looking out for and spotting issues will really help make the most of the platform.
The tasks outlined in this blog can help administrators focus their work, ensure security and help them be more pro-active in their duties, not only adding value to their work, but helping optimize Office 365 for their businesses.
But tell me, what Office 365 management tactics have you got in place?