Understanding file server migrations to Microsoft 365Alex Fields
In my opinion, there is only one viable migration path to move data from old file servers to Microsoft 365: it has to be a user-engaged migration. IT people always ask me about tools–stuff like the SharePoint migration tool or Microsoft’s recent acquisition of mover.io, and there are even fancier tools like those made by ShareGate and AvePoint. But you must understand: copying files is a really small piece of the overall puzzle.
Tools is the easy part. Your biggest hurdles are going to be related to people. Yet it is imperative to get users engaged from the start in order to accomplish a few things:
- Clean out old, dead data
- Identify the best structure and corresponding governance for collaboration moving forward
- Help everyone learn the new apps: OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint
- Migrate the (active) files they care about most into the new structure
IT has a slightly different role here than in other migrations, and it is nothing like when you moved Exchange On-Prem to Exchange Online.
User-engaged migrations are the right approach because nobody knows the data better than the people who work with it every day. End users also have a responsibility to learn the new information system that they will be working in from here forward.
If you do not involve the data owners up front then you will not have a successful migration, or, more importantly, a successful adoption. Adoption occurs when everyone “gets it” and loves the experience of working with their new technology. They adopt it as their own. This takes time–there is a learning curve that everyone has to move through for themselves.
When IT does everything for you, the chances of successful adoption are very low. And as an end user, you can easily blame IT for everything that is “wrong” with the new system.
The adoption process should be spearheaded by the business leaders–the management team and other top stakeholders. “Digital transformation” works best when leaders are doing their job and leading the efforts among the general employee population.
Now that is not to say IT has no role to play—they do! For starters, they have to lead the leaders! They must help the stakeholders understand the capabilities and limitations of the new tools, the governance options, and the parameters around relocating data into one of four major buckets:
- Dead files should be deleted*
- Personal data lives in OneDrive
- Departmental and project-based files will live in Teams
- Company-wide files generally live in SharePoint
If it is static (unchanging) and hasn’t been used in years (especially if nobody can even recall what it’s for), it’s dead = delete. You can direct users to start on this task immediately, before moving one bit or byte into the cloud. That makes migration of useful files easier, later.
Personal data locations such as a “home drive” or “user drive” will go right into OneDrive for Business. This is actually the most important piece of the puzzle, and we’ll talk about why in an upcoming post.
If it is active and undergoing regular updates, or it is a core piece of current workflow within or between departments, then Teams is probably the best home for it. But since this is a chat-based work-space that will likely have a slightly different structure than your file server, migration is often done manually, by the people who own (and understand) the data.
Company-wide files are usually more static but still referenced from time to time; these are probably better suited for SharePoint (and are dealt with later in the migration process, most often using a migration tool).
But do the users really have to get involved?
Yes. The cloud is all new, and completely unlike your old file server. It isn’t possible to swap this system out overnight and have essentially no change in the end user experience.
Question: What happens when we introduce a ton of changes without any warning or context?
Answer: Pain! So much pain!!
Now many IT people will say, “But my users are too dumb/lazy/insert other excuse here…” or “I can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink…“
—Sorry, all I heard you say was that you are an ineffective leader.
The fact is, every person who works with data is a participant in building the best system that works for them. Users are already data owners—they are responsible for their data and therefore they need to pick up the reins. It’s up to you, the technology leader, to guide them.
Selling the dream: STOP/START mentality
Your first responsibility here is to help the leaders in the organization and by extension the general user population understand how the new collaboration tools are better than that dusty old file server. STOP doing it the legacy way and START using the new hotness. Why is it important to make this shift?
It starts with cultivating an understanding of “What’s in it for me?“
Remember: this is a marathon, and not a sprint. Therefore, think of the migration as a team sport: you’re simply passing the baton. IT is going to help get everyone started down the right track, but it is ultimately up to the end users to finish the race. Having them participate in the migration process from the start is one of the best ways to do that.
This was just an overview to get you oriented in the new space. This same framework, along with more particular step-by-step guidance, will be included in my Microsoft 365 Business Migration Guide–which will be a significant update and expansion on my previously published guide centered on Microsoft 365 Business for the SMB. Stay tuned for that.
*Did I stutter? No. I said delete (unless subject to specific compliance requirements that state otherwise). People may want to archive other old data files to external media or NAS if they enjoy hoarding, or keeping themselves open to unnecessary risk. Either way, dead data doesn’t belong in the cloud.