People Hold the Keys to a Successful Office 365 Migration

Too often organizations don’t plan properly for a migration to Microsoft Office 365. They don’t plan for potential pitfalls. So what are the keys to a successful Office 365 migration?

People—and not IT—should lead Office 365 migrations.

Many Office 365 migrations are viewed as technical exercises, led by the Information Technology function in a company, rather than involving all of the people who understand the value of information to the business. IT can lead a migration from a cost perspective, but not from a data perspective.

Of course, the opposite also is true. Many information management people don’t understand the technical aspects of Office 365 migrations.

So what’s the recipe for success? Indeed, both groups must work hand-in-hand. Otherwise an organization won’t even come close to a successful implementation. (It was my father, the Director of Virginia’s 30th District Family and Domestic Court, who used the old adage: Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing.)

I’m a little geekier than my dad: I prefer, simply, the “Five P’s”: Prior planning prevents poor performance.

In an Office 365 migration figure out who should be involved and how it affects the business.

There are two key factors to be considered when migrating: who should be involved and how the migration affects workers and the business.

First, you need a migration committee with representatives from information management, IT, InfoSec, change management, corporate communications and legal / compliance. (Yes, records management should be part of that group, but these days records usually lives within information management or legal. Also, the privacy people often work within the legal team.)

All committee members should be involved in terms of scope, cost, timeline and assessing risk. Together they should define the type of migration. Is it “lift-and-shift” or a more managed approach which allows your organization to rid itself of obsolete and redundant items?

Managed migration means eliminating or storing outdated information.

I’m a big proponent of managed migration. That’s because your new system is an opportunity to eliminate—or store off-line or remotely—data and information that’s outdated or at risk if compromised. See a recent post on the topic, by my colleague, Jim Polka: In Content Migration, One Size Doesn’t Fit All.

Think of what happens in your own home. Your TV is something you use everyday (at least with my family, the classics like PAW Patrol, Thomas & Friends, and Peppa Pig.) The TV is usually front-and-center in the house.

By contrast, most people physically (or electronically) store mortgage records, copies of tax returns and marriage license(s.)

But what should you do about that leisure suit from 1975? Toss it!

If you’re going from operating SharePoint on-premise to SharePoint on-line, you’ll want to know the answers to many questions: Do you want to organize yourself around the same site collections? The same document libraries? The same collection of department or project or demographic metadata? The same site structure or template? For more on how to address these questions, see Joe Shepley’s post, How to Succeed with Office 365.

An Office 365 migration is a chance to improve your information governance.

It’s almost always better to migrate with more managed metadata and more compliance rules in place. Take this opportunity to become a little more governed when it comes to how you store, manage, protect, use and delete data. For instance, you might get rid of old project sites, but you also might add a new employee engagement center.

When you scope an Office 365 migration, use a managed approach that takes into account data clean up, how the organization functions and how it will function in the future. Take into account the impact of better information governance to the business.

What types of changes are there as you migrate to Office 365?

You’ll want to assign specific resources to manage Office 365 functional changes with  people who are technically capable of doing so. Office 365 is a fluid platform. The people helping with the migration should understand that:

  1. There are changes that you can turn on or off.
  2. There are changes that you can temporarily turn on and off.
  3. There are changes that happen regardless administrative input.

Indeed, things can change daily across the entire Office 365 platform whether you use Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, Yammer or all of the above.

Because of the impact on the end-user, corporate communications should be involved.

There’s an important reason why I recommend that corporate communications also have a seat at the migration table. Too often enterprises don’t think about the impact a new, pervasive platform such as Office 365 has on the way people work, as well as on each end-user.

In Exchange, for instance, users may be accustomed to having a tool that’s managed behind the scenes. In Office 365, the end-user has the ability to delete e-mails themselves. This has an enormous impact on litigation or potential litigation. You risk spoliation.

There’s also an impact from a regulatory perspective. There’s a world of difference—witness GDPR privacy rules in the EU—between storing data on-site and keeping information off-premise in a cloud provider's servers.

A migration allows the enterprise to reflect and act on three key areas: how you clean up, the nature of the organization itself and the impact to the business.

Understanding the link between cleaning up data and an Office 365 migration.

Clean-up is pretty straight forward if you have the right people in the room at the governance level. You can greatly reduce cost, pump up the speed of migration and lower your risk during the transition. You want to clean up in a compliant and defensible manner.

(Note, however, that the longer you’re in a transitional, hybrid state—part “uncleaned” on-prem, part “cleaned” Office 365 off-prem—the more risk you’re exposing yourself to with some data that is “cleaned up” and some that is not.)

An Office 365 migration also is a change management issue.

Migrations are important from an organizational perspective because a system as pervasive as Office 365 affects the way people work. Ultimately, a migration of this magnitude becomes a change management issue.

If you don’t have good communication and good planning and scoping, then regardless of how successful the migration is from a technical perspective, users will see it as a failure. Users won’t understand their role in the migration. There will be pushback, which causes delay and inconsistencies.

Early, consistent and accurate communication is key to reducing peoples’ fear of change. Let them know their responsibilities within the migration.

A migration will impact the business and business processes.

Finally, there’s the impact to the business during and immediately after a migration. Some companies aren’t able to provide users with core business functionality if users are unsure or are not told where and how they should be working. The ultimate risk: business functions shut down.

Recently I worked with a group that used SharePoint to do core transactional work to meet customer needs. One step in the process served as an input for the next step. When the Office 365 migration happened the workflows, document libraries and tags didn’t work properly. There wasn’t sufficient user testing. The operation shut down. Customers complained. Twitter went crazy. It was not a fun week for anyone.

So remember. Create an Office 365 migration committee that’s interdisciplinary. Work hard to communicate and pre-plan. Understand the users’ roles. And use the platform to improve processes—not shut them down!


Rich Medina
Matt McClelland
I’m a Principal Consultant at Doculabs, with expertise in file analytics, taxonomy, litigation research, and enterprise search.