Decipher Microsoft 365 device inconsistencies


Earlier this year, I wrote an article exploring the new Microsoft 365 inventory feature. At the time, the inventory feature was still in preview and had some issues. Although the inventory feature is no longer considered a preview feature, you may find that the information it displays is inconsistent with what you see in the real world and inconsistent with what Microsoft 365 reports elsewhere. As such, I wanted to take the opportunity to show you some of these inconsistencies, explain some possible reasons why these inconsistencies exist, and discuss some possible workarounds.

For those unfamiliar with the inventory feature, it’s a relatively new Microsoft 365 feature designed to help admins determine where Office apps have been installed. This tool also provides other useful information, such as Office versions used, add-ins installed, and when a particular device most recently communicated with Microsoft 365 servers.

You can access inventory reports by opening the Microsoft 365 admin center and choosing the All admin centers option. From there, click on the Office Setup option and then on the Inventory tab. If you find that the Inventory tab is missing, verify that you have a supported Microsoft 365 subscription. Inventory reports are included in Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Business Premium subscriptions, as well as A3, A5, E3, and E5 plans. Inventory is not available in German subscriptions, subscriptions managed by 21Viant, GCC, GCC High and DoD subscriptions.

You can see what the inventory report looks like in the figure below. As you can see in the figure, the inventory dashboard shows you the versions used within your organization, the devices on which the applications are installed, the channels used and the add-ons currently installed.

This is what the inventory dashboard looks like.

So where do these inconsistencies I mentioned come into play? Well, look what happens if I click Show All Devices. Clicking the link takes me to a screen showing all the devices in my organization that have Office apps installed. This screen provides the device name, Office version, build number, architecture, update channel, etc. You can even click on the device name to see more detailed information. In the figure below, you can see that only one device is listed. I clicked on the device name, which resulted in the information displayed on the right side of the screen.

This is the type of information that is displayed when you click on a device.

The problem with this information is that the list of devices is incomplete. In my organization, Office is probably installed on at least a dozen different devices. So why are these devices not shown in the list?

If you find yourself in this type of situation, there are several things that could happen. The device may not meet the minimum system requirements. According to MicrosoftIf a device is to participate in inventory, it must have a supported version of Windows 10 or Windows 11, a supported version of Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise or enterprise (version 2008 or later), and the device must be able to reach various URLs associated with Microsoft 365. This means that a device will not be listed if it is running a copy of Microsoft Office from another source (such as a retail version).

Another possible reason why some devices may not be listed is that in order to be included in the inventory, devices must periodically communicate with Microsoft 365 servers. If a device has not been registered in the last 30 days , it will be removed from inventory. However, if the device comes back online, it will be added to inventory.

You can change this behavior if you want. Simply click on the Settings tab, shown in the previous figure, then use the scroll bar to adjust the inventory cleanup period. You can set the inventory cleanup period up to 180 days.

You can make the inventory cleanup period much longer.

Devices may still not be included in the inventory, even if they have met all of the requirements described so far. To show you what I mean, watch what happens when I go to My Account and click on Apps & Devices. The Apps & Devices screen shows Office apps being installed on 8 different devices. This is for my account only, not for the entire organization, and yet the inventory for the entire organization only lists one device.

The Apps & Devices screen shows eight different installations for my account.

Incidentally, there is some inconsistency even on the Apps & Devices screen. You will notice that some of the devices listed are duplicates. In one of those cases, I had to uninstall and reinstall Office, but Microsoft 365 left me with two listings for that machine on the Apps & Devices screen. In another case, I backed up a machine and restored it to dissimilar hardware, which also left me with duplicate entries.

The bottom line is that I can explain the inconsistencies that exist on the Apps and Devices screen. The devices listed on this screen represent all devices on which I have installed Office applications even if these devices are no longer in use. Unfortunately, I can’t find an official explanation as to why these same devices aren’t listed in the device inventory. I can confirm that all devices meet Microsoft’s requirements. Despite the lack of an official explanation, I think I know what’s going on.

The only difference I found between the machine that appears in Device Inventory and the other devices is that the device listed in Device Inventory is configured to sign in using a Microsoft account. Other devices are configured to log in using a local account. This may very well explain the absence of these devices in the inventory. To put this theory to the test, I set up a few virtual machines and installed Office. The virtual machine that signed in using a Microsoft 365 account was added to inventory, while the other was not.

My test VM has been added to inventory.

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