While visiting the offices of Sharegate earlier this year, a leading SharePoint migration and administration ISV based in Montreal, I was able to meet with globally-recognized evangelist and fellow MVP Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin) to record several community videos on the topic of SharePoint and Office 365. One of my favorites was recorded with a whiteboard behind us, allowing us to discuss and draw out some of the key considerations for moving to Office 365. At Beezy, many of our customers are planning a move to the cloud now, or in the not-too-distant future, and so this topic is very relevant. Having spent several years working with customers as they migrate between SharePoint versions, as well as those trying to manage the complexity of their environments, Ben and I wanted to share some of our insights and experiences with the community.
Moving to the cloud is not always the same as moving from one on-premises environment to another. The majority of customer may have initially made the move because of email, and are now thinking about how to move their collaboration assets and workloads over to Office 365. While SharePoint is part of the larger Office 365 platform, there are some nuances that you should be aware of — and prepared for, which was the basis of our whiteboard session and video.
Our Top 10 Considerations
No time to sit and watch the video? No worries — let me summarize the points we made during our whiteboard session:
- Clean up your sub-sites
The danger with sub-sites is that many people treat them almost like folders. The more subsites you create, obviously the more complex your environment becomes — and the harder it becomes to manage SharePoint and the more issues you can encounter. While it is always good to be cleaning up your sites on a regular, ongoing basis, the reality is that most companies don’t do a good job with this task. A migration is always a great opportunity to go through and assess what is there, and then to clean up before making your move to the new platform.
- Have a Governance Plan
I’ve written extensively on the topic of SharePoint governance over the years, and it is essential for the success of your move to Office 365. While we are getting closer to parity between on-premises and online versions of SharePoint, things can evolve very quickly in the cloud — and having a change management system with governance standards in place will go a long way to helping your employees understand how to use the platform, and the value your organization can achieve.
- Standardize Your Sites, Lists and Libraries
Historically, SharePoint grew from the ground-up, with end users discovering its many rich capabilities and leveraging the platform to meet their own unique business needs. But as the platform has scaled to the entire enterprise (as opposed to small teams), it is important that there be some standards – by default – for your sites, lists, and libraries so that people can be trained and supported. Design changes and additional functionality (such as 3rd party widgets and tools) should be the exception, not the rule, added when and where needed.
- Understand your Compliance and Auditing Requirements
While not every business has strict auditing and compliance requirements, these capabilities play into how you administrate the day-to-day activities in Office 365. There are some key differences between what is available online and on-prem, so you need to first understand your requirements, and THEN understand the capabilities and limitations of the platform.
- Know Your Administrators and Their Responsibilities
Understanding roles and responsibilities should be a core component of your deployment strategy — and should be documented as part of your governance strategy, as well. A key difference in Office 365 is that you can have role-based administration, so it becomes essential that you know who does what, and where to go for support. Remember that Office 365 includes several different workloads, not just SharePoint, and so ownership of those administrative tasks could be distributed.
- Know Your Support Model
When an employee does not have access to a team site due to a permissions change or some other problem, do they know how to get help? Your support model should be a combination of offline policy and online help, allowing people to quickly and easily get the support they need so that they don’t lose productivity. Most SharePoint teams are small (doing more with less is a major benefit to SharePoint) and can become bogged down in support issues if they do not have a clearly defined support model. I recommend publishing a company-wide service-level agreement (SLA) to help set appropriate expectations.
- Change Management and Communication
In addition to having a solid support model, moving to Office 365 can also benefit from having a firm change management methodology in place, allowing the SharePoint team to react quickly, and with the right level of organizational transparency, to requests as they come in. One of the biggest employee complaints — and dangers to SharePoint adoption — is not responding quick enough to change requests. If people are unable to get the functionality they need in a timely manner, they will go elsewhere. But when you make the change process transparent, helping people see the requests coming in, the status of work being done, and the priority of new requests, they are more accepting of the change process — even if their request is delayed. Faced with a black box process, people will rebel. Give them visibility, and they will be generally understanding and supportive.
- Avoid SharePoint Master Pages
SharePoint 2007 through event 2013 allowed people to modify the look and feel of SharePoint through the use of Master Pages. With the move to Office 365, the model has changed. If branding is important to your organization, try looking at the various patterns and practices offered by Microsoft to understand the approved methods for branding your sites without modifying the Master Pages.
- Manage Your External Users
In the video, Benjamin talked about this briefly in our auditing discussion, but the need is there to regularly audit and better manage External Users and Anonymous Links, including when to use them and how. Ben’s advice is to make it clear just where it is ok for external access to be available, and then turn it off by default everywhere else — and when in use, audit them regularly, as this could become a major security risk if left unchecked.
- Understand the Modalities of Collaboration
The idea here is that different teams collaborate in different ways, with some teams preferring email-based collaboration toward the more process and workflow-centric capabilities in SharePoint. Office 365 provides additional tools not offered within your on-premises environment, giving you more tools in your tool belt — however, giving people too many options can also lead them to abandoning the platform and going back to what they are most comfortable with. Understanding the many different styles or “modalities” of collaboration in your organization is key, and then developing a plan that meets both your business needs and the cultural needs of your employees. At the end of the day, if people don’t have the tools they need, they won’t use the platform. Begin with a shared understanding.
Thanks again to Benjamin and the Sharegate team for hosting me for two days — and please do visit the Sharegate YouTube page to watch the other videos we created on my visit, as well as the other great content they have available.