Product Review: Nintex Analytics – Business Insight into SharePoint Adoption

Written by Joel Oleson. Posted in Administration & Infrastructure

You've been there, you're looking for good analytics, but every tool you seem to run only tells you what it can find in the IIS logs. You are interested in the content and users together not just by itself. It's not that hard to find out who your top users are, you want to know if they are doing good things or malicious things. You want to know how the environment itself is performing. Just because people are hitting the pages, doesn't tell you how adoption itself is going. With Adoption and engagement being the ultimate goal, Nintex Analytics is peering directly into what is being stored, used, searched, checked out, by whom, and where we are in the workflow.

Figure 1: Nintex Analytics: Users Report: Active Users per Month

It comes down to your ability to understand your environment and properly reflect what is actually going on. It's best if you can start out with the questions to ask, but even if you don't know what to ask, in Nintex Analytics you can quickly get up to speed on what's going on with common dashboards that can give you an Overview of System Usage, or a broad overview of the Content & Collaboration that's happening across the environment. Common questions that the business has… How many total sites are there, how many were viewed in the last 30 days, modified in the last 30 days, how old are they on average? Out of box charts will give you the top storage by site, including number and size of content database and more easy to read charts. Because Nintex is written on SharePoint, any chart can be added into a SharePoint site as a webpart. Now that's great portability.

Figure 2: This System Usage Dashboard is one example of a report providing trends with both metrics and charts blended into a rich report that can easily be exported into a variety of formats including PDF and Excel. You may want it in email. Just subscribe.

Figure 3: The Chart designer allows you to pick chart types, colors, gradients, axis, and see it change before applying it.

Understanding the Challenges Today

1. I want to better understand the real business value I'm getting out of this SharePoint Deployment – Today it's a real problem trying to figure out if the platform is growing. Most will focus on the unique users as a method for determining if the platform is being adopted. What's the problem with that? Well what happens when HR puts a link to the time tracking application on the home page of the Intranet. Does that equal adoption? Some would say stop looking at Unique Users and start looking at number of visits. Well that's a good suggestion, now we can count the number of visits to the time keeping app, but we're also tracking the number of visits to the cafeteria menu. Until you really start digging into what the users are *really* doing with SharePoint, and what they are searching for, you'll be spinning your wheels on determining if you're platform is meeting a business need, filling a gap, or missing the mark. You've invested in your platform, is it working.

2. You've invested in SharePoint as a Document Management or Records Repository, can you trust it?
What about Trust, privacy and security? There's a lot of concern around SharePoint as a potential dumping ground that pushes data from file shares or even potentially more secure sources into a more accessible, heavily indexed, and exposed environment. A lot of people stripped out the security when they did their migration. Are you worried about certain files or libraries? I am. I've invested in that area. I am concerned about people who don't know what they are doing. The killer feature in this box is email subscriptions for files or sites I care about. Imagine getting emails about sensitive files. I can see exactly who is accessing those files. I can schedule reports, I can run one on demand, but most important I can report when someone is accessing my files I don't have to jump out to some reporting interface, I can get the email and know what's going on.

3. Canned reports, are ok, but I'm still going to have to create custom scripts to gather the data I need… right? Actually, the extensibility in the box is pretty rich for building customized reports, charts, with backed access to all of the data that's being collected. You can also take the data and build reports to your heart's content in Excel. They can also be reported and displayed on the sites where the data should live. The data can be quickly retrieved and displayed in a webpart. In fact you can empower your users to create, configure and customize reports. You decide who has access based on privacy requirements. Worried about the backend performance hit or waiting around for reports to render? There is report cache to help you avoid the wait times. Need fresh data? No problem, you can also retrieve fresh results on demand. The data is collected real time as the system is being used, so there is no heavy process trying to pull in logs. The data is loaded into a data warehouse for reporting or compiling reports that are cached for fast access. Any existing investment in Nintex Workflow also pays off with rich reporting on workflows and activity reporting.

Figure 4: How integrated is it really? Check it out… manage it right in SharePoint Central Admin.


Figure 5: Pick from available data columns based on data to build custom charts. Auditing data is gathered and you decide what is important. If you don't want to customize it, you'll find many reports are designed for the most needs and environments right out of the box.

My experience with Nintex Analytics

I'm personally always skeptical whenever I look at any reporting tool. I've been looking at web analytics reports for over 15 years, so any tool that tries to tell me it looks at analytics in a new way makes me furl my brow. When I really started digging and didn't find the common usage reports I was looking for I realized… Hey there's a different approach here! So what is it? Essentially Nintex Analytics is not trying to be your web analytics tool. It's not trying to be your Google analytics or your latest IIS reporting tool or the latest real time usage analytics tool. Nintex as a company has been there with SharePoint since the beginning. Really there were one of the first if not the first that brought third party tools to the SharePoint platform. As a result they have heard a lot of complaints from business users over time, and the web analytics piece is a crowded Market. What there isn't a lot of, is SharePoint specialized analytics tools. Nintex starts with understanding the platform. They start with gathering everything that can be gathered around how files are being used, how the workflows are being processed and getting at items that your best web analytics tool wouldn't ever be able to touch. What does a web analytics tool know about your site collection or your database?

That in mind, I find it humorous just how many custom tools I've seen built over time to collect the total number of site collections, grovel data to find out the largest sites, the most used sites, and pulling data from SQL to pull in content database size reports. This data is such a pain to gather from so many different places.

What I do know is that Nintex has a niche in Workflow, this need extends to people wanting to get analytics on their workflows. If you're already reporting on workflows, why would you not want to know everything you could know about your users, files, file types, databases, your storage, and the ability to answer those things you don't even know to ask.

Something that I have been noticing is the great relationship that Nintex has with Microsoft. A lot of former employees of the SharePoint team have made their way to Nintex. Why is that? Full disclosure… I spent some time doing some consulting with Nintex when I first left Microsoft. They've got a great operation, and the management team is the friendliest bunch you'll ever meet.

What's the Downside?

Make sure you know why you are buying this tool. Some people are just fine with the SharePoint reports out of the box. I'm NOT in this camp. Even the free tools you can find on the web only start to scratch the surface. Nintex did not build Nintex Analytics to report on web usage. Nintex Analytics can give you reporting on storage usage by database, by site, by file type, there are reports they are not trying to give you in the areas of usage reporting. I mentioned above that Nintex Analytics is not trying to compete with the Webtrends of the world. You are not going to get "referrals," or "country, city" reports, you're not going to get "pages not found" reports, or "orphaned sites". This tool is literally gathering what it can from a number of sources and builds an impressive data warehouse of data that can help you understand the data, lists, and sites in your environment more than most other tools and display it in some of the more impressive charting that you'll find. It is important to note that Nintex Analytics has provided an SDK where you can pull in data in other databases to create new data set templates to query any database. There are tools that Nintex Analytics is not. It's not an Admin tool, it's not a recovery tool either. First understand what auditing reporting, adoption and usage reporting looks like in the box, then you'll be able to have an intelligent conversation… as those areas are definitely lacking. There are some management tools that do try to do some reporting, but Nintex Analytics really does focus squarely on putting the data they can gather at your fingertips so you can decide what is important. Understand the tool, explore it. The data collection possibilities are pretty wild. The real diversity of reports is vast.

How well do you understand your requirements around reporting and analytics? Ask yourself that question, look at the out of the box usage reports, and health reports, and then come back with a good list of what you'd like to know. There is a lot to choose from.

Figure 6: The first screen of many of available datasets to choose from for designers building reporting data set templates.


Nintex has put together a very rich set of data right out of the gates. The canned reporting data you get is rich and useful for IT and the business. Those responsible for ensure that adoption is happening are definitely going to be interested in getting their hands on these reports. They are exportable to PDF and Excel, so you can even print them. If you don't know what you're looking for, that's ok, they've got most of what you're looking for and a lot more that can be easily put together in data sets and templates. Invest as little or as much time as you'd like. In my mind the quickest ROI is on telling your people with highly confidential data that they can subscribe to a report or even better "Watch a document" or site and when people start hitting those documents the emails will help them understand why they moved to SharePoint in the first place. This feature is golden. Hope you're excited about that one as well. I hope it does settle the question about how well we can manage what is really happening in SharePoint… and I think that's really the value out of what you'll get out of Nintex Analytics. A better understanding of what really is going on in our environment.

Joel Oleson
Author: Joel OlesonWebsite:
Joel was the first dedicated SharePoint Administrator ever. He's been working with SharePoint nearly 11 years and worked at Microsoft in both IT and the product teams including architecting the first roll-out of Microsoft's own global intranet.

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