Archive for the ‘Office 365’ Category

Microsoft adds business intelligence to Office 365

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Microsoft is adding a set of BI (business intelligence) tools to its hosted Office 365 service, including some capabilities not yet offered in stand-alone Microsoft software products.

Power BI for Office 365 “brings together our entire BI stack and offers it as a service,” said Eron Kelly, general manager for SQL Server product marketing.

Power BI will offer users what Kelly calls “self-service BI,” or “the ability for the end user closest to the business problem to bring together data and information.”

Microsoft will unveil this service at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) this week in Houston.

Office 365 already offers some BI capabilities. Office 365 ProPlus offers both Power View and Power Pivot through the online edition of Excel.

With this new service, users are given a landing page, provided by SharePoint, along with a catalog of data sources and a set of analysis tools. Excel serves as the starting point for analysis.

The data sources, chosen by an administrator, can be taken from either the organization itself, or from public data sources such as Wikipedia tables.

The user can load one or more data sources in an online Excel spreadsheet, and analyze them through a number of new tools.

One tool, called Power Query, formerly called Data Explorer, allows a user to pull external data into an Excel spreadsheet. A user, for instance, could create a spreadsheet from a Twitter feed, dividing the Twitter messages, dates, locations and users into separate columns.

Another tool, called Power Map, can place geographically coded data on a map, provided by Bing Maps. It could visually summarize, for instance, how many Twitter messages originated in each city in a country, indicating the number of messages by the height of a bar that rises above the location of the map. Power Map debuted as a beta Excel 2013 plug-in called GeoFlow.

Once a user creates a report, it can be published back to the organization’s data catalog, where others can view it. Microsoft is planning on releasing a Power BI mobile app for Windows 8 and iOS devices. Reports, which are published through Power View, can also be rendered in HTML5, in addition to Power View’s default Silverlight format.

Power BI will also come with a new natural language query engine. A user can type in a query into a search box, such as “How much revenue did product X generate last year?” and Power BI would return a graph, based on existing data, showing the revenue data for the past several years.

The natural language query engine “makes it easier for an average user who doesn’t know how to structure a proper SQL query,” Kelly said.

Pricing for Power BI has not yet been finalized, though it will be based on per-user, per-month model. Microsoft did not set a date for general availability of the service


Trigger word: E-mail monitoring gets easy in Office 365, Exchange

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

It’s now simpler than ever for the boss to watch what you send in e-mail.

Exchange 2013 and Office 365 (O365) include a new feature that can peek into e-mail messages and enclosed documents and then flag them, forward them, or block them entirely based on what it finds. This sort of data loss prevention technology has become increasingly common in corporate mail systems, but its inclusion as a feature in Office 365’s cloud service makes it a lot more accessible to organizations that haven’t had the budget or expertise to monitor the e-mail lives of their employees.

As we showed in our review of the new Office server platforms, the data loss prevention feature of Microsoft’s new messaging platforms can detect things like credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other content that has no business travelling by e-mail.  Because of how simple it is to configure rules for Microsoft’s DLP and security features, administrators will also have the power to do other sorts of snooping into what’s coming and going from users’ mailboxes.

Unfortunately, depending on the mix of mail servers in your organization—or which Exchange instances you happen to hit in the O365 Azure cloud—they may not work all the time. And they won’t help defeat someone determined to steal data via e-mail.

In tests we performed with DLP and security features, we found that Exchange and O365 were pretty good at catching credit card numbers and other personal identifiable information. However, some of the rules we set for testing didn’t take for all of our users. That in part may have been because of the limited rollout of the new Exchange within Microsoft’s O365 infrastructure when we were performing the testing. When setting rules, we got a warning from the Exchange Administrative Console:

So in other words, if you’re rolling out Exchange 2013 in your organization or are using Office 365 from multiple locations, your mileage with DLP may vary. And even when the rules do work, there are some limits to what you can stop from going out the SMTP gateway.

Exchange 2013 and Office 365 allow rules to be applied to direct mail flow. Those rules can be used for all sorts of things, like rerouting inbound e-mail from one mailbox to another based on the sender, keywords in the subject or contents, and a number of other parameters. For data loss prevention, those rules can be triggered by filters checking for keywords or specific patterns. Those patterns can require some calculations to be made with the text. For example, you won’t set off the credit card detection filter provided by Microsoft out of the box unless the numbers properly validate as “real” credit card numbers based on the rules for each issuer.

Exchange and O365’s filters can read both message bodies and common file attachments by scanning their content. The filters can also check compressed files for content. We ZIP-compressed documents with content banned by rules put in place to stop them from getting out, including credit card numbers, and the filters caught them with no trouble.