This content is part of the Essential Guide: The pros and cons of SharePoint continue to divide users

Migrating to SharePoint Online is a tale of two realities

Some users are wildly enthusiastic about SharePoint Online, while others are more than a touch reticent about it. Whither the gap?

Microsoft is paving the way for a future that is all about cloud computing and mobility, but it may have to drag...

some SharePoint users there kicking and screaming.

SharePoint enables document sharing, editing, version control and other collaboration features by creating a central location in which to share and save files. But SharePoint users aren't ready -- or enthused about -- migrating to Microsoft’s cloud-based version of the application, known as SharePoint Online. According to a Radicati Group survey, only 23% of respondents have deployed SharePoint Online, compared with 77% that have on-premises SharePoint 2013.

The hesitance comes from the burden of history. Many companies have expansive SharePoint estates that encompass years of aggregated information and many terabytes of data. Migrating these fiefdoms to the cloud is easier said than done. Users sending data to SharePoint for the first time have had a better experience than those who have had to migrate data from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online.

"People whose first exposure to SharePoint was the Office 365 environment were wildly enthusiastic. It was a big jump up for them," said Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and BI expert. "On the other hand, the companies that were using SharePoint [on-premises] … their expectations were not met."

The story of migration to SharePoint Online may be a tale of two realities: Companies like Kelly Roofing have come to SharePoint Online anew, with no prior SharePoint deployment, and have enjoyed a honeymoon period; but others like Dynamic Systems represent that hesitant majority of enterprises that aren't willing to move to the cloud because of user issues, existing architecture and data security.

Kelly Roofing: Is the sky the limit for cloud-based SharePoint?

Ken KellyKen Kelly

For Ken Kelly, president of  Kelly Roofing in Naples, Fla., SharePoint Online has opened the door to data sharing that saves time, but more importantly, money. The company came to SharePoint Online anew and Kelly said that may be part of the reason he's enthused by it.

We put the wrong color roof on a house because a sales guy forgot to update the server version of a file.
Ken Kellypresident, Kelly Roofing

Kelly Roofing uses Microsoft Dynamics Online, the cloud-based version of Microsoft's customer relationship management (CRM) system. Before the company installed SharePoint Online, Kelly's salespeople would draw up roof proposals, listing materials and pricing for customers on-site, then save those proposals on servers at the office. But if sales reps made changes to the laptop version without saving that file to the server, it could cause havoc, with the wrong materials logged on the "definitive" server version.

"If the sales guys forgot to update the server version, we would order material from an out-of-date file," Kelly said. "We put the wrong color roof on a house; that was an $8,000 mistake." With SharePoint Online, a file now syncs with the SharePoint Online version, preventing versioning errors.

SharePoint Online features that are more than cool

Although SharePoint Online is still slow to take hold, some features—when compared with the on-premises version -- may garner points for the application in terms of ease of use and worker productivity.

  1. Browser-based Office Online apps. Users can open applications from the Web, which can be convenient in mobile situations.
  1. Real-time coauthoring of files. The ability to share files also requires that files can be updated in real time, especially if they are being edited by multiple users. This enables users to make changes without concern about overwriting others' edits.
  2. Recycle bin. SharePoint Online offers network recycle bins for all content in the application, so users can retrieve mistaken deletions with a few clicks.
  3. Unlimited file versioning. Although companies don't necessarily need unlimited versions of files, SharePoint Online provides the ability to have many versions so critical changes don't get lost.
  4. Easy sharing capabilities. Many companies have concerns about rogue versions of documents being emailed around -- creating data security issues, version control problems and even email storage concerns. SharePoint Online can generate a link directly in email or in other applications with which SharePoint shares data, such as an ERP, CRM or financial applications.
  5. Integration with Office 2013. Many workers still rely heavily on their desktop version of Office, and SharePoint Online integrates well, with link sharing and co-authoring capabilities built in.

Kelly's sales people are often in the field, and SharePoint Online gives them access to various files without requiring them to log into the VPN. For example, a sales person can simply click on a SharePoint link in his email to gain access to photos of the job location, diagrams that will be necessary for the job and the job proposal -- often faster than if he were accessing attachments.

But Kelly does have a wish list. One item on it is better use of analytics in SharePoint. For example, he would like to learn, automatically, that a high-selling project manager, Tony, generally has more photos and other documentation associated with his clients' jobs than do other salespeople. As a result of those metrics, Kelly might be able to coach other members of the sales team on best practices with documentation based on the metrics derived from SharePoint. But, Kelly said, those kinds of insights are still in the distance. "We don't know what we don't know," he said.

Taking SharePoint users to school

At Dynamic Systems in Austin, Texas, Jim Adcock, director of enterprise systems, has presided over a migration from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2013. Despite the company's need to share documents, identify a definitive version and use those documents in mobile scenarios, SharePoint Online wasn't a consideration. Because users are at a relatively rudimentary place in their use of SharePoint, the company needs to create a shift in culture before considering the cloud, he said.

The first step has been getting users to think about SharePoint in a more collaborative fashion.
Jim Adcockdirector of enterprise development, Dynamic Systems Inc.

"The primary reason for not moving to the cloud now is that we're dealing with people who haven't fully embraced using SharePoint in the first place," Adcock said. "They don't use SharePoint collaboratively, but essentially as a big file share," he said. "It's just a place to store documents." So, despite the fact that users can save a single version of a file with version control and iterations saved for that single file, users instead save files as version 1, version 2, version 3, thus proliferating documents.

"The first step has been getting users to think about SharePoint in a more collaborative fashion," Adcock said." They are changing the perspective on how the tool should be used." Next, Adcock said, is to get on-site workers to use SharePoint to access files such as diagrams for the air and water systems they install. Instead of printing those documents in the office -- and potentially accessing the wrong version -- workers could access the file from tablets on-site.

The burden of existing IT architecture

Even if users can be acculturated to collaboration in a cloud-first world, Adcock said, his company has other reasons for staying on-premises -- at least for the time being.

The company has concerns about the security of information in the cloud. "If the content is no longer under your direct control, it doesn't feel like it's as safe as locked up in your own house," Adcock said.

Kelly Roofing's president has a wildly different view. "I think people need to think about the cloud like a bank storing money," Kelly said. "People used to store their money under their mattresses, but they now see banks as safer -- and they pay you to keep your money there."

Adcock conceded that although some concerns about data security may be a matter of perception, the cloud may augment risks for small fish in a big pond. "If you're a small company, you're a small target. But if you're a small company whose data is housed in a big data center that is a target for hackers, your data might get swept up in the process of hackers trying to accomplish some other goal," he said.

Adcock noted, though, that given his company's IT architecture, user training and data security aren't the only things preventing migration to SharePoint Online. Dynamic Systems has made a substantial investment in software to virtualize applications like Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint. Given the dollars sunk into virtualization, Adcock said that migrating to SharePoint Online wouldn't have ROI until at least a couple of years down the road.

Adcock emphasized, too, that his company's goal "isn't to get folks to the cloud but how to provide tools to get their job done in the most easy and transparent manner. If that turns out to be the cloud, it turns out to be the cloud."

Next Steps

SharePoint usability still a sticking point

The trouble migrating with SharePoint

When SharePoint Online makes sense

Dig Deeper on Enterprise information management (EIM) strategy and best practices