Product Review: Cogmotive Reports

 

Product: Cogmotive Reports

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Introduction

Cogmotive is a London-based company that aims at simplifying and automating technology processes. Its main focus is on Office 365 reporting with its Cogmotive Reports product. This tool provides simple but powerful reports in order to help organizations monitor their compliance and security, or understand how employees use Office 365 through usage trends and logon or mobile devices statistics, for example.

Two methods of collecting data from an Office 365 tenant are used: Remote PowerShell and Office 365 Reporting Web Services. This collection is done using a tenant account, usually dedicated for this task, which is a member of the View-Only Organization Management and Service Support Administrator roles. Since it does not require an Office 365 license, it does not incur any extra cost. Every 24 hours, Cogmotive Reports connects to the tenant using this account and gathers data. This data is currently kept and made available, for most reports, for 12 months. However, keeping data for longer is an option that Cogmotive is looking into at the moment.

The main concern with any product of this nature is security. More specifically, exactly what data gets collected and where this data stored. Cogmotive Reports is built to OWASP security guidelines:

  • It runs within a Secure Private Network on the Amazon Web Services cloud, which is physically located in the North East coast of the USA (tests with European datacenters showed no performance improvements);
  • Customer data is logically segregated in back-end databases and is only accessible by senior Cogmotive Administrators;
  • User account passwords are securely stored encrypted;
  • Two-Factor Authentication can be used in order to access the service (free of charge);
  • All components in Cogmotive’s infrastructure communicate over an encrypted SSL channel.

Requirements / Configuration

Cogmotive Reports is a cloud service completely web based, which means organizations do not have to install anything on-premises. However, as previously mentioned, administrators need to create a service account on their Office 365 tenant so that Cogmotive Reports can gather data. But let’s go through the entire process which is easy and only consists of a few steps.

First, we need to sign up for the service, which is as easy as specifying an e-mail address, a password, our name and telephone number:

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Figure 1: Signing Up to Cogmotive Reports

Next, we need to create and configure the service account that will be used to collect data from our Office 365 tenant. For this task, we have two options:

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Figure 2: Setup Methods

The Automatic Setup uses an existing administrative account in order to automatically create the service account, while with the Manual Setup an administrator has to manually create the account. For this second method, detailed and easy to follow instructions are provided and in less than 3 minutes anyone can create the account.

The final step, in case we select Manual Setup, is to provide the details of the service account:

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Figure 3: Manual Signup Final Step

Reports

Every time we login to Cogmotive Reports, we are presented with a dashboard summarizing all kinds of useful information such as statistics regarding mailboxes and mobile devices, as well as generic information about the tenant itself:

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Figure 4: Cogmotive Reports’ Dashboard

On the left hand side, there is a navigation pane with links to all reports provided by the service. These are grouped into 8 categories:

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Figure 5: Reports Navigation Pane

Expanding each category will expose all the reports available in that particular category. For example, if we expand Mail Traffic Reports we can get access to Mail Traffic Overview, Spam & Malware Traffic and to the two brand new reports (still in beta) Top Senders & Receivers and Mail Traffic by User (note that reports have different icons before their name according to the way they display information):

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Figure 6: Reports Navigation Pane – Expanded

Let us explore a report, the Mail Traffic one for example. When we click on this report, the dashboard gets replaced with information regarding mail traffic with a nice pie chart displaying information regarding inbound and outbound traffic:

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Figure 7: Mail Traffic Report

A description below the title tells us what the report shows and that we are looking at data between January 20 and February 9. This can easily be changed by using the dropdown box on the top right hand side of the window and selecting a pre-define timeframe or even selecting a custom range:

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Figure 8: Selecting the Timeframe for the Report

We can even change the type of graph using the buttons right below the graph. This option, however, is not available for every report as some types of graphs are just not suitable to display certain types of information. In this case, we can also easily choose to include or exclude from the graph certain information. In this example, I chose to not show Outbound Spam & Malware:

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Figure 9: Customizing the Graph

At the bottom of the report we are presented with a table regarding all the information consolidated in the graph. Furthermore, we have several options to search the table (this is useful in reports such as Mailbox Sizes where we want to search for a specific user), export the table into a CSV, print the entire report, save the report into the Saved Reports section, e-mail the report in CSV or PDF version or chose which columns to display in the table. The Schedule option is also very useful as it allows us to automatically send reports by e-mail (in CSV or PDF format), once, daily, weekly or monthly.

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Figure 10: Working with the Report

With Microsoft constantly releasing new cmdlets for Office 365, Cogmotive Reports provides a new report to customers almost every month. There are simply so many useful reports in this tool that it is impossible to cover them all in this review. For example, the following are five examples of reports that are popular with costumers I have worked with.

The Inactive Users report shows how many users have not logged on for the past x amount of days compared to how many users have. We can also see who they are, their Office 365 plan and when they last logged on:

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Figure 11

The Mailbox Sizes over Time report allows us to see the growth of mailbox sizes or the number of its items. While this is probably one of the most popular and useful reports for on-premises deployments, it is still useful for Office 365. Although, for now, the report is limited to the past 30 days, we can export it to a CSV file in order to keep this data longer and build a broader report.

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Figure 12

By default only the first 20 mailboxes are displayed, and we can easily exclude or include certain mailboxes simply by clicking on their display name under the graph (in the example above I have excluded the Sales mailbox). As you can see from the screenshot above, some reports provide Report Filters to help display only the information we are interested in:

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Figure 13

Recipient Count over Time is another similar report that shows the evolution of the number of recipients, and their type, over a period of time:

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Figure 14

Once again, we can easily exclude what data to display in the graph. In the following example I decided to exclude the recipient types of User Mailbox, Dynamic Distribution Group and Shared Mailbox:

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Figure 15

Mobile Users is a report I always found useful, both for on-premises environments and in Office 365. It allows us to see how many users are using mobile devices, when they last synchronized, details about their device, etc.:

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Figure 16

The final example are the User Mailbox Security and Shared Mailbox Security reports. These are useful in terms of security and auditing to find out exactly who has access to a certain mailbox:

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Figure 17

Cogmotive Reports is not only all about Exchange Online, although it is its main focus. There are also Lync Online reports that show the number of Lync logins per day, the number of conferences, the total time of all audio and video sessions or the number of Lync session by type:

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Figure 18

The License Reports section provides four reports around the type and number of licenses used, licenses used by service or user and a list of users without a license. As to the Security Reports section, we already looked at two reports. Two more examples are the User Password Settings which shows details regarding strong passwords and passwords set to never expire:

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Figure 19

And the Administrative Roles report, which lists all the tenant admins such as View-Only Organization Management, Organization Management, Company Administrator, etc. This is an example of a new report added recently in response to a vulnerability found in Office 365 by Cogmotive where users could gain admin rights to the tenant…

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Figure 20

Customization and Partner Program

Another useful feature of Cogmotive Reports is that it allows organizations to customize reports with its own logo. A useful feature when reports are sent to Directors, for example:

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Figure 21

Cogmotive also offers a Partner Program which provides resellers a way of offering Office 365 reports to customers. Through this program resellers can:

  • Manage all their customers through the Partner Portal;
  • Add extra value to customers’ Office 365 subscription;
  • View historical trending and usage patterns;
  • Identify potential up-selling or cost saving opportunities;
  • Increase revenue by cross-selling to existing customers;
  • Provide reports with their own branding.

Limitations, Improvements and Competitors

For some strange reason, there are practically no competitors to Cogmotive Reports out there. Message Stats from Quest (or Dell should I say) does provide some basic statistics for Office 365, but their suite is more guided towards migrations and has on-premises dependencies, such as a SQL database, not to mention its price…

Any organization could develop their own scripts in-house to collect data from Office 365, but this is no easy task, and the amount of time and skills involved rarely justifies it.

Office 365 portal provides a variety of useful built-in reports, some similar to the ones provided by Cogmotive Reports. However, they lack the number, flexibility, features and options this service provides, like exporting data or filtering. On the other hand, Microsoft does provide reports around SkyDrive and SharePoint, which Cogmotive does not at this stage. However, it is probably a matter of time until these are included.

Another thing I would like to see is the option to customize the dashboard. Different administrators/organizations have different requirements or preferences on what they would like to see at a glance when logging in, and the option to customize it might reveal useful for some.

Summary

All in all, this is a great service in my opinion. It provides a myriad of useful scripts in beautiful user interface that will definitely help most organizations manage and ,ake the most out of their Office 365.

MSExchange.org Rating 4.7/5

Learn more about Cogmotive Reports or download the Free Trial here

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