Inside SharePoint

The SharePoint Online Admin Experience Is Maturing

Microsoft is making progress in streamlining tasks for Office 365 administrators.

As Office 365 has matured, one of the primary complaints from admins has been the lack of parity in auditing and reporting with what has historically been available on premises, compounded by the fact that related partner solutions for the cloud have also been fairly limited due to immature APIs. The reality is that moving to the cloud overall has been an adjustment for most organizations, both in how systems are backed up and supported -- which now includes working through Microsoft's service level agreements (SLAs) in addition to their own internal or customer SLAs -- and how/if end user requests for advanced capabilities and integrations are/can be provided.

Large SharePoint customers with strong compliance and administrative requirements have had valid concerns for holding back on the move to the cloud. Early versions of SharePoint Online simply lacked the depth of controls and reporting that many administrators have been used to. For example, admins have no access to correlation errors, with no ability to troubleshoot without having to contact Microsoft. If you receive an error, the logs don't provide much help because it can take Microsoft days or weeks to come back with a correlation ID. The continual updates to the site can also cause strange errors. For example, a while back there were a couple of weeks you couldn't save a template of a site.  This was caused by some code changes the developers had made on the server which obviously needed to be rolled back or fixed, but required the entire Office 365 environment to be hot-fixed.

Granted, change is happening quickly within Office 365, and there have been major improvements from an admin standpoint. However, with recent expansion of auditing, reporting and storage capabilities in Office 365, and with the rollout of the new Office 365 admin center that makes it easier to monitor and maintain what is happening with your Office 365 environment, the question becomes: are these customer concerns about the lack of administrative control still valid?

Microsoft has been working to streamline most administration tasks, providing a "simple mode" admin experience for high-frequency tasks, such as password or user profile changes, or site quota settings, while still offering an "advanced mode" for more complex controls. However, the real value add has been the streamlining of those admin tasks so that the end-to-end administrator experience is greatly improved. And increasingly tasks such as creating information management policies and setting up audit log reports are covering not just SharePoint, but across multiple Office 365 workloads.

A great example of this continued streamlining of administrative tasks is the announcement of the new Office 365 admin center, which according to Microsoft "makes it faster, easier and more efficient to manage Office 365." The admin center focuses on the frequent tasks, providing most of the tools you need right from the dashboard view. Microsoft is also rolling out improvements to reporting, providing insights across all workloads, as well as detail at the user-level. On the roadmap for the admin center is the ability to customize dashboards and tailor your experience based on your most common tasks, as well as built-in contextual help throughout the system.

There is also the Office 365 Service Communications API (still in preview) which enables you to access Office 365 service communications the way you want. This API gives you the ability to create or connect your tools to Office 365 service communications, potentially simplifying how you monitor your environment, allowing you to monitor the following in your environment:

  • Real-time service health. New and ongoing service incidents and ongoing maintenance events that impact you can be queried for status updates.
  • Message Center communications. Find Message Center communications that are applicable to your Office 365 environment.
  • Planned maintenance notification. Advanced notification of planned maintenance enables you to develop appropriate communications and operational strategies for your organization.

Yes, moving to Office 365 means giving up some level of control. For example, you won't have any control over the patch management process, software upgrades, and other similar administrative tasks. While some will tell you to "simplify your requirements" when it comes to SharePoint Online and other Office 365 workloads, my feedback to customers is always to identify and "own" your business requirements first and foremost, and only then to take the next step and review those requirements through the lens of the technology (in this case, Office 365). If you attempt to reverse the order, viewing your requirements through the lens of your chosen technology, you're bound to miss some important business needs.

Your admin expectations should be part of your requirements. It's always best to first define what policies, procedures, and metrics are needed to manage your environment, and then look at what is possible across your various tools and platforms. Clarify and document your permissions, information architecture, templates, content types, taxonomy -- and ownership of each. You'll then be better prepared to understand and discuss what Office 365 can and cannot meet from your requirements.

I do believe Microsoft is on the right path with this steady trickle of administrative capabilities. The new Office 365 admin center is rolling out now, and will become the default experience for all tenants in the coming weeks. Remember to check the Message Center regularly to stay in the loop and up to date with what is going on in your own Office 365 environment, and be aware of any notifications on potential issues with your environment, changes to your service, and other communications from Microsoft. 

About the Author

Christian Buckley is an independent researcher, technology evangelist and Office Servers & Services MVP with more than 25 years of experience working with collaboration, social and supply chain technology.


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