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How to streamline a migration to Office 365

Microsoft may want users to move to Office 365, but there are challenges to prepare for, advises expert Shawn Shell. First, ease user adoption; then, look at content migration.

Microsoft is heavily promoting its Office 365 services to small and large enterprises. It's clear that Microsoft's intent is to move all of its customers from on-premises collaboration tools to its cloud-based equivalent. Though many small organizations will have little trouble making the transition, large enterprises are likely to encounter challenges.

Office 365 is not a singular product: It's a collection of numerous tools. Consequently, firms must handle challenges product by product. Fortunately, many new Office 365 products don't have on-premises equivalents, and migration challenges will be limited. When it comes to mainstays like Exchange, SharePoint Online, Skype for Business and OneDrive, on the other hand, organizations will find that mitigating implementation challenges and focusing on user adoption surrounding cloud-based tools will be the key to success.

Migration to Office 365 may be different for each firm. However, there are some general principles that firms can use to mitigate user adoption and content migration challenges, as well as to bolster success.

The importance of easing users into apps

User adoption is a critical success factor for any project. Migration to Office 365 means users will have new tools, like Sway, Flow, Delve and PowerApps; cloud-based legacy applications, like SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business; and new ways of accessing their content. This change is not trivial.

Larger enterprises should focus on legacy applications first. Changes in applications that users are already accustomed to will be the most jarring. Fortunately, differences between on-premises and cloud-based products, like Exchange and Skype for Business, are minor. Most of the changes are completely transparent to the users.

In many cases, the most severe consequence may be a client application restart or, at worst, restarting a client application's PC. In these cases, the goal is to clearly articulate any new processes and procedures. For example, if access to email or instant messaging previously required a virtual private network, migrating to Office 365 may eliminate that requirement. If it was previously impossible to use personal mobile devices, like smartphones, with on-premises services, Office 365 may allow for new mobility opportunities. However, users may need to recognize the need for specific mobile device policies for personal devices or more restricted mobile use when compared to their personal device usage.

Microsoft has published an adoption guide, which is a good start. Keep in mind, though, that the vendor's approach may be too product-centric, and companies must "translate" Microsoft's guide into an approach that is both organizationally and culturally appropriate.

Content migration and collaboration

Another big challenge to migration is content. Content is most commonly housed in binary files -- Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and Excel workbooks. These binary files may be stored on existing internal collaboration tools or in more simple file shares. Either way, potentially moving terabytes of content requires good planning.

First, start with cleaning up. Redundant, outdated and trivial (ROT) content exists everywhere. This useless content could occupy significant storage space, and it should be removed before beginning any migration effort. A content inventory, combined with a content audit, is the best way to find where ROT might exist.

Frequently associated with website projects, an inventory is a useful tool for binary content. It provides a very detailed content overview and enables good decisions regarding your migration. If a full-scale inventory is impractical, reducing the inventory scope to broad, common content repositories is a good alternative. As an example, focus on group shares or sites that contain department-level content. By ignoring personal or informal team content, an inventory should be achievable. Personal or team content review responsibilities can be shifted to a distributed set of "owners," who can make retention decisions outside of broader efforts.

After an accurate inventory has been created, plan for the Office 365 migration. Depending on the source repository, start with mapping content organization and metadata. The SharePoint and OneDrive parts of Office 365 provide advanced search functionality that's improved when content is tagged properly.

To make search effective, you should develop a site architecture within SharePoint and a folder architecture within OneDrive to properly organize all incoming content. Metadata is usually nonexistent on files stored in traditional file shares. However, the file share folder structures that many people use to organize content can be just as descriptive; this structure can provide a basis for metadata, as well as folder or site structures.

Finally, after the mapping between the old storage location and the new SharePoint and/or OneDrive structures is complete, you can begin the migration. Most organizations will opt to use a tool from firms like Metalogix, BitTitan, Dell or AvePoint. Most of these tools support simultaneous file movement with metadata applications. In this way, files can be tagged and moved into their new locations without separate operations.

However, it's unlikely that the migration will be complete in one operation. Often, several test migrations are required before the final migration. Consequently, you must carefully plan the migration to include several migration tests; since many migration tools are licensed based on content volume, include test runs in the volume calculations.

A migration to Office 365 can be a challenge. From adoption to migration, there are numerous steps to complete. However, Microsoft has published several adoption guides to assist organizations. In addition, commercial tools can help firms quickly move content from traditional file shares (or other enterprise content management tools) into Office 365.

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