Crucial questions to ask before a SharePoint Online migration

03 Coul Sharegate Bt 1

Preparation and planning—including taking an inventory and assessment of your source data—are crucial parts of an effective migration strategy. We cover five questions you really need to ask yourself before migrating to SharePoint Online.

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 five questions you really need to ask yourself before you migrate to the cloud.

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

Crucialqs 1

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 of a 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.

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 one, from SharePoint ‘on premises’ or files shares 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. 

When you have a clear audit of the functionality you wish to move, you need to think about 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’ll want to carefully consider the unique nature of the Microsoft 365 cloud platform. Not all functionality and code are 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. 

We advise looking at the Microsoft documentation: Plan customizations, solutions, and apps for SharePoint. It provides great insight into the modern SharePoint tools and solutions regarding any legacy customizations made to SharePoint on-premises.  

Are you a SharePoint developer for SharePoint on-premises? If so, it’s time to get familiar with the SharePoint Framework. It’s the way forward for SharePoint custom development. 

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? SharePoint Online 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 SharePoint Online?

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 Microsoft 365
  • Taking advantage of new features to innovate and streamline business processes 

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.

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?

#4. Do I have a governance strategy in place?

Governance describes the set of rules, policies, roles, processes, and procedures around using SharePoint Online for your organization.

A successful governance strategy for SharePoint Online contains the following topics: 

  • Governance Steering Committee 
  • Roles and responsibilities 
  • Site templates and settings 
  • New features and updates 
  • Employment process 
  • Back-up and restore 
  • Compliance 

Do you already have a governance strategy for SharePoint on-premises? If you do, that’s great! That means you only need to update the governance topics that are exclusive to SharePoint Online. You don’t need to start from scratch.

#5. Did I check my security and compliance regulations?

Because SharePoint Online is easier to access, we highly recommend you apply the following security measures to create a productive and secure SharePoint environment:  

On the topic of data security, there’s a good chance your organization must meet government and industry compliance standards. Security and compliance are crucial to safeguarding your SharePoint Online environment. Microsoft understands that effective security governance must be implemented consistently across an organization and hopes to allay concerns with the functionality on offer in the Compliance Center. 

Therefore, it’s recommended that you use one or more of the following Microsoft 365 Compliance Services: 

  • Information Protection (sensitivity labels): Sensitivity labels from the Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) solution let you classify and protect your organization’s data while making sure that user productivity and their ability to collaborate isn’t hindered. Sensitivity labels in Microsoft 365 can help you take the right actions on the right content. With sensitivity labels, you can classify data across your organization, and enforce protection settings based on that classification. 
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): This is another way of preventing accidental or unwanted exposure of your sensitive info. DLP uses a content analysis engine to scan the contents of email messages and files looking for sensitive information. In Microsoft 365, DLP works across many locations and services – Teams, Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, Office applications, Windows 10 endpoints, on-prem file shares, on-prem SharePoint, and even non-Microsoft cloud apps. 
  • Information Governance (retention labels & policies): Retention policies are designed to address a specific compliance requirement by preserving or deleting data after the expiration timeline that you’ve set. Depending on the type of content you want to retain, you can apply retention org-wide or to specific Microsoft 365 products. 

How ShareGate can help you tackle complex SharePoint migration projects

Migrating to SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365 is in part a technical exercise and in part good planning and organization.  

A handy multi-tool like ShareGate can help with the physical and technical lifting. But before this stage, you really need to think about content, site structure, and functionality. And we can help with that too! 

ShareGate’s Plan section was built to guide you through the planning stages of your migration project, whether you’re moving to a new version of SharePoint or reorganizing your existing environment. We believe that being proactive in identifying and fixing potential issues will help you get the job done faster and with less of an impact on your business operations.

Sgm Public Source Analysis
ShareGate helps you create a migration plan so you can avoid potential errors, reduce downtime, and ensure that your SharePoint migration project runs smoothly. 

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? 

Features in the Plan section of the ShareGate software can also help you prepare for a migration: 

  • Use the Source analysis report to get a complete understanding of your environment’s inventory and usage. Knowing exactly what you have—and where it’s located—will help you assess what should and shouldn’t be moved. 
  • Our Permissions matrix report uncovers the access permissions your users and groups have for a given site—quickly telling you who has access to what and the various users who may be inside. 
  • Site report: View crucial information (e.g. owner, size, date created, date last modified) about the sites in your source environment to help organize and streamline your migration plan. 
  • Site collection report: Assess your environment with insights on your top-level site (e.g. site collection admin, size, date created, date last modified). 
  • Workflow report: View all your list and site workflows. 

But maybe most importantly of all, you need to prepare users.

Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online can appear and behave slightly differently to ‘on-premises’ software and file shares. 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. 

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Karuana Gatimu

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