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5 steps to complete a SharePoint Online migration

Microsoft Office 365 MVP David Drever discusses SharePoint Online migration tips for an easy transition during the SPTechCon user conference in Boston.

BOSTON -- As Microsoft adds new features to SharePoint Online, many organizations are considering a shift from their old on-premises legacy system to the cloud.

Some reasons businesses may consider a SharePoint Online migration include the following:

  • running old versions of SharePoint that are no longer supported;
  • IT overhead costs;
  • enhanced security;
  • better collaboration capabilities;
  • consolidating content;
  • superior mobile access; and
  • improved user experience.

A SharePoint Online migration can be a big undertaking, especially for large organizations with an abundance of content, configurations and customizations to move.

"When you're doing big migrations, there's no nice and easy way to do it; some people will get left behind," said David Drever, a Microsoft Office 365 MVP and senior manager at Protiviti, a management consulting firm, during a session here at SPTechCon. "But the key is communication to let people know what's going on."

Here are five steps you can follow to ensure a smooth transition during a SharePoint Online migration.

1. Analyze. The first step is to create an inventory content and decide what to move. Relevant content that is still in use can move to Office 365, and you can toss outdated, nonrelevant content.

You should also take stock of what customizations are in place in the on-premises system.

When you're doing big migrations, there's no nice and easy way to do it.
David Drever Microsoft Office 365 MVP and senior manager at Protiviti

There are five types of customizations:

  • Branding: colors, fonts, logos and themes.
  • Functional: computations, web parts and navigation.
  • Workflow: approvals, moving content between systems, updating content based on events and timer jobs.
  • Forms: surveys, service requests, HR forms and polls.
  • Reporting: dashboards and reports for sharing and printing.

Figure out what you really still need. Just because you needed the customization once doesn't mean it's still necessary in the migration to SharePoint Online.

If you're unsure whether a customization is still in use, try turning off the functionality in the old system to see if users reach out to IT saying they can no longer access it, Drever said. If this happens, you can simply turn it back on and move it during the SharePoint Online migration.

David Drever, Microsoft Office 365 MVP and senior manager at Protiviti
David Drever, Microsoft Office 365 MVP and senior manager at Protiviti, a management consulting firm, discusses tips for migrating to SharePoint Online during a session at SPTechCon in Boston on Aug. 27.

2. Design. You can't do a SharePoint Online migration with no infrastructure in place, so the second step in the process is to set up the Online environment. Ask these questions: What will the future state look like? How will the old application map to the new? Do you need to update existing content? Do you need new governance?

At this step, you should also decide whether to use SharePoint classic or modern sites. Modern sites offer more contemporary, mobile-friendly experiences and are also the default in SharePoint Online.

It's important to note, however, that classic sites will eventually go away, Drever said. 

"Who knows when, but at some point [they will go away]," he said.

3. Migrate. After deciding how to set up the new environment, it's time to make the move. However, it's imperative to have a plan to minimize the effect on SharePoint users.

  • Break down the migration into logical, manageable chunks.
  • Create a migration schedule to minimize the effects on users.
  • Communicate with users on the status the migration.

4. Verify. Once you migrate everything to the cloud, be sure to test the content and customizations to uncover any issues early on.

5. Decommission. Once you are satisfied with the SharePoint Online migration and the application is working to your liking, it's time to bid adieu to the old system and recover any licensing costs, if possible.

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What issues have you run into while doing a SharePoint Online migration?
I would add after Verify:

Mitigate... identify what needs to be replaced or recreated in the new site to continue operations and communicate the UI or process differences.

Train... Communicate the benefits of the new environment and differences in the UI to complete common actions, such as editing properties, getting a link to a file or sharing one - as well as new useful functionality.