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Microsoft Previews Free Power BI Dashboard for Tracking Office 365 Use

Microsoft this week announced a preview of a free visualization tool for IT pros called the "Office 365 Adoption Content Pack in Power BI."

The tool, designed as an aid for viewing Office 365 use by end users, is a free service for Office 365 tenancies. It can be activated from within the Office 365 Admin Center portal via the "Usage Reports" page. Only Office 365 global administrators or product administrators can turn it on. The service will take "between 2 and 48 hours" for the data to get collected. After it's been activated, the service will provide access to Office 365 use data going back to the last 12 months, which IT pros can tap for analysis purposes.

Despite its name, the Office 365 Adoption Content Pack in Power BI does not require having Power BI licensing. Organizations just need to set up a free Power BI account to use it.

It might seem that this tool was already available, since Microsoft had introduced a "Power BI Content Pack" last year to show Office 365 use data. However, this new Adoption Content Pack appears to be a more prepackaged service, so it's possibly easier to use. IT pros also can customize it if they want. The Office Admin Center shows the same information as the Adoption Content Pack, but it just displays information "for the last 7/30/90/180 days" instead of 12 months, Microsoft explained in its FAQ document.

The Adoption Content Pack has four main dashboards. The "Understanding Adoption" report shows Office 365 adoption trends, including the number of actively licensed users. The "Communication" report shows which services are used for communications (Exchange, Skype and Yammer). The Collaboration report shows the use of tools such as OneDrive for Business and SharePoint. Lastly, the "Activation" report shows activations of "Office 365 ProPlus, Project Pro and Visio Pro," including mobile use.

It's possible to use the Adoption Content Pack to show regional or departmental use of Office 365 services. The service's out-of-the-box displays can be modified, and it also has data filters within the reports.

IT pros can build a new visual display using the data that gets collected by the Adoption Content Pack service. Such customizations involve using a ".PBIT file," which is Microsoft's name for Power BI Desktop templates that are available from the Microsoft Download Center, according to the FAQ document. The data also can be used in other applications via Office 365 APIs, but that's at the preview stage right now. Microsoft plans to ship production-grade versions of those APIs in future "Microsoft Graph reporting APIs," according to the FAQ.

IT pros can also share dashboards with others, both inside and outside the organization. In general, Microsoft sees the Adoption Content Pack as a tool for understanding how Office 365 services are used across an organization, and even for identifying "power users" who could help with training.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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