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Crucial questions to ask before a SharePoint Online migration

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As many of the posts on this blog have shown, Office 365 is a great way for companies to get involved with the cloud, SharePoint Online, and the very latest Office 2013 apps. Office 365 and SharePoint Online are a real focus of the new “Satya Nadella lead” Microsoft, and offer a whole host of benefits over the more traditional “On-Premises” world of enterprise software.

Of course, many customers are currently operating these more traditional “On-Premises” SharePoint systems. Though they work well, the lure of the cloud is proving too much for many. Coupled with the high chance that the next version of SharePoint will be the last, businesses are now looking in earnest to move to SharePoint Online.

But as any experienced IT professional will know, migration projects can be tricky. There is something about the combination of content and technology that often combines to create great complexity. Migrating content from existing applications to SharePoint Online is often no different.

Yet the biggest part of any migration project to SharePoint Online actually occurs before any content is moved, and is the prep and pre work that goes on upfront. Experience has taught us that there are three questions you really need to ask yourself before you migrate to Office 365.

#1. What state is my current SharePoint content in?

Before any migration project starts, have a look at the state of your current content. If files and documents aren’t structured properly right now, a one-on-one migration to SharePoint Online won’t really be much benefit to anyone.

Migrating an existing system, in a poor state of organization is affectionately known as “garbage in, garbage out“. The end results can only be as good as the current system.

Clean your SharePoint environment

So think carefully about what content to migrate, and why. What can be archived to another system, or simply left where it is? Leaving content on old systems, marking it as read only, and maintaining it for a fixed period of time is a good way of not having to move everything in one go.

One great way to approach this type of work is to organize workshops with key stakeholders – people who understand the content and structure of things on the current system. Talk to them about what they have, and how they use it. Investigate the ways in which content is stored, and think about how this information architecture can be reworked.

Once you have a new structure, and a set of content you actually need, you are in a much better position to perform some sort of automated migration. To make sure everything goes smoothly, you might want to run a Pre-Migration checkup before launching the real thing.

#2. Am I migrating content, functionality or both?

When moving from an old system to a new, from SharePoint ‘On Premises’ to SharePoint Online, are you just migrating content? Or are there features and functions that you also want to move? Migrating content alone can be hard, migrating functionality as well requires extra care.

What is the purpose of your SharePoint Online migration?

When you have a clear audit of the functionality you wish to move, you need to think how it will work in SharePoint Online. Is any of the functionality custom written? Is it app based? What standards are used?

At this stage you need to carefully consider the unique nature of the Office 365 cloud platform. Not all functionality and code is compatible with SharePoint Online. For example, full trust farm solutions cannot be migrated one-to-one to SharePoint Online. Microsoft only supports its new “App” development model, so changes might need to be made to how code is written and structured.

Migrating from an older SharePoint version, or a totally different system, is also a good time to rethink the use of any custom functionality. Can it be replaced with ‘out of the box’ features in SharePoint Online? The latest cloud version of SharePoint offers a lot of new features, and more are being added regularly. Perhaps your custom functionality is no longer needed?

#3. Do users know how to use the new Online system?

There are many good reasons to move to SharePoint Online. More than likely these are documented in a business case, and include things like:

  • Cutting costs for IT infrastructure
  • Improving system performance
  • Requirements for new functionality available only as part of Office 365.

One thing that is often forgotten, especially when dealing with new features, is that a new system can initially confuse. Those used to a particular way of working, an existing file structure, or a certain look and feel might need a little help.

SharePoint online migration

Human beings are typically not good at dealing with changing environments. This is not only true for IT systems, but for any new product that comes into their lives. Twenty years ago a number of technology surveys asked people whether they would use a mobile phone outdoors in the open air. Almost everyone replied they would never do such a thing. Unthinkable today! In short, change takes time.

So before you start any migration project think about how users might react. Is any sort of communications plan in place to tell them what is happening? Do they need training? Have you accounted for a minor productivity loss in the first couple of weeks of using the new system?

SharePoint Migration projects are some of the most complex to tackle

Migrating to SharePoint Online and Office 365 is in part a technical exercise, and in part good planning and organization. Tools like our own can help with the physical and technical lifting. But before this stage you really need to think about content, site structure and functionality.

Is this a good time to sort out old documents and files that are no longer needed? Can you restructure the ‘Clients’ folder before moving it? Can the functionality you are currently using, as part of your SharePoint ‘On Premises’ system, even be used in the cloud?

But maybe most importantly of all you need to prepare users. Office 365 and SharePoint Online can appear and behave slightly differently to ‘On Premises’ software. Even the savviest users may require a little adjustment helper. These people are, after all, ultimately the most important part of any SharePoint Online or migration project.

Here at Sharegate we believe this complexity isn’t worth dealing with when migrating as well as managing SharePoint. This is how we came to offer our own SharePoint Migration & Management tool, with full support for SharePoint Online and Office 365. We think it offers a really simple and compelling means to move content to the cloud.

Two handpicked articles to help get you to the cloud:

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