Office 365 admins get spreadsheet search help

The new capabilities are aimed at companies struggling to manually maintain a comprehensive inventory of critical spreadsheets

Microsoft has switched on special search features in Office 365 designed to help IT administrators keep tabs on employees' spreadsheets, a task becoming more difficult and more important in enterprises.

The new capabilities are aimed at Office 365 customers who are having a hard time manually maintaining a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of critical spreadsheets used for sensitive business processes.

By porting functions from the Office 2013 Discovery and Risk Assessment on premises server to the Office 365 cloud search engine, Microsoft expects to automate Excel "spreadsheet management" tasks, including identifying and categorizing important ones.

After crawling a company's files looking for spreadsheets, this new tool analyzes them and rates their complexity, impact to the organization and risk.

"In addition to giving you new insights about your spreadsheets, this capability combines with SharePoint Search and other Office 365 features -- like eDiscovery, archiving, and data loss prevention -- to give your organization much greater control of your information," wrote Steve Kraynak, Microsoft program manager for Excel spreadsheet management.

Spreadsheet elements that the Discovery and Risk Assessment software analyzes include the number of unique formula sets, individual formulas, sheets, data connections and linked workbooks, along with the path and file name of all linked workbooks. With this information, IT admins can become aware of spreadsheets whose integrity depends on access to files on someone's local hard drive, and spreadsheets that, when altered, trigger changes in others linked to them.

They will also get a snapshot of spreadsheets that tap external sources of data, and of spreadsheets with the highest complexity, which are probably also the most important to the organization.

These search properties are accessible via any search box in SharePoint Online, as well as on the Office 365 eDiscovery Center in the suite's admin console. Eventually, Microsoft will create a "search experience" specifically for these types of queries.

By strengthening security, data prevention, information management and compliance features in Office 365, Microsoft caters to the needs of CIOs and their large enterprises. It also differentiates the suite from competitors that don't focus so much on security and IT management, like startups that are trying to carve a niche for themselves by building next-generation mobile and cloud word processors, spreadsheets and presentation apps.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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