The ultimate SharePoint Online migration checklist

Use this checklist to help guide you through your SharePoint Online migration project, to ensure your organization receives the most benefits with a minimum of disruption.

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November 24, 2023
The ultimate SharePoint Online migration checklist

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When implementing Microsoft 365, you’ll most likely want to migrate all your data into SharePoint Online. The cloud-based file storage system built with MS365 is a powerful collaboration, communication, and document management tool for digital workplaces.

But the process of migrating files to SharePoint Online isn’t always straightforward, especially when you’re shifting from on-premises systems to SharePoint Online — so planning for the content migration is essential. This checklist will help guide you through your migration project to ensure you get the most benefit from SharePoint Online with minimal issues. But first, let's examine what a migration project involves.

What is data migration?

Data migration is the process of transferring data from one computer system or application to another. The term is commonly used when discussing cloud migration or moving from on-premises to online storage, but the reality is that any sort of mass movement of files is a data migration. It can be a complex and time-consuming process, but improving the efficiency and security of data storage and retrieval is often necessary.

Data migration is also platform agnostic. So whether you’re shifting records and document libraries from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online, or from FileCloud on-premises to cloud-hosted OneDrive for Business, you’re still going through a data migration process. There needs to be planning involved, with the migration manager building an understanding requirements, preparing for the move, and ensuring a smooth migration process.

What is SharePoint Online?

SharePoint is a web-based collaboration platform that allows users to store, share, and manage documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files. SharePoint Online is often shipped as part of Microsoft 365 E3 and above licensing, offering substantial power for document management and improving employee experiences.

Why migrate to SharePoint Online?

There are many reasons to migrate to SharePoint Online, including:

Cost savings: SharePoint Online is a cloud-based solution, meaning you do not need to purchase or maintain hardware or software. This can save you a significant amount of money over time for reasons including not needing to acquire expensive equipment like servers.

Improved security: SharePoint Online offers a variety of security features to protect your data and reduce security risks, such as encryption, access control, and auditing. These can also be centrally managed and monitored, allowing your security team greater visibility into document defenses.

Efficiency: SharePoint Online can help you to be more efficient by providing a centralized location for storing and managing your data. Unifying everyone onto SharePoint Online ultimately streamlines collaboration and ensures a better employee experience finding the needed records.

What are the different types of SharePoint Online migration?

There are three main types of SharePoint Online migration:

In-place migration

This is the simplest type of migration, as it does not require any changes to your existing SharePoint environment. However, it is not always possible to perform an in-place migration because of technical limitations. An in-place migration involves completely replacing the old file structure, which is expensive and time-consuming

Side-by-side migration

This migration approach involves creating a new SharePoint Online environment and then migrating all your data to it slowly. A side-by-side migration may be necessary for a more complex type of migration if you need to make significant changes to your SharePoint environment. This method means you’ll replace your on-premises file-sharing system with SharePoint Online’s cloud-based file system.

Hybrid migration

This type of migration involves keeping your existing SharePoint environment and then migrating some of your data to SharePoint Online. A hybrid migration can be a good option if you want to take a more gradual approach. With a hybrid migration, it’s feasible to continue using SharePoint on-premises and add SharePoint Online to your workflow.

Pre-migration checklist

Establish your goals for the migration

Before you begin your migration, it is essential to establish a migration plan, starting with your goals. Proper planning will reduce the risk of issues during and post-migration. What do you hope to achieve by migrating to SharePoint Online? Some common goals include:

Capitalizing on the M365 stack: SharePoint Online is a part of the Microsoft 365 suite of products, which means you can integrate it with other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Teams and OneDrive.

Upgrading to a supported environment: If your current environment is out of support or end of life (EOL), you must migrate to a supported environment, such as SharePoint Online.

Reducing ongoing support and maintenance costs: SharePoint Online is a managed service, which means that Microsoft takes care of all of the maintenance and support for you. This can save you a significant amount of time and money.

Inventory your source system data

Once you have established your goals, you can begin the next stage of your SharePoint migration planning by creating an inventory of your source system data. This will help you to determine the size and complexity of your migration. Some of the things you will need to inventory include:

- Site collections

- Sites

- Documents

- Lists

- Libraries

- Workflows

Determine the size and complexity of your migration

The size and complexity of your migration will depend on many factors, such as the amount of data you need to migrate, the number of business users you have, and the complexity of your current environment.

These factors also include the relative risk profile of various systems used by different departments. If you have multiple departments using different systems, you must consider the risk of migrating these systems to SharePoint Online. For example, suppose you have a department that uses a highly customized version of SharePoint. In that case, it may be riskier to migrate this department to SharePoint Online than to migrate a department that uses a more standard version of SharePoint.

It might make more sense to migrate data to an archive as an intermediary step in a complex migration. This staged migration allows you to slice and dice data into self-contained chunks so they can be migrated one at a time, creating a minimum of disruption to the day-to-day operation of the business. With complex migrations, this approach allows you to shift the documents in a phased approach.

Clean up your source environment

Before migrating your data, you should clean up your source environment. To do this, you need to remove any unused or outdated content. This should be easy to determine based on usage statistics or records management policy. Data clean up ensures you won’t transfer unneeded information to your new environment.

You should also optimize your source environment for performance. Doing this allows you to ensure enough horsepower for the migration to proceed without any delays.

Prepare your new SharePoint Online environment

Once you have cleaned up your source environment, prepare your new SharePoint Online environment. This process involves creating the necessary site collections and sites, configuring permissions and security, and installing and configuring any required customizations. Permissions are especially vital to get right for SharePoint Online. It’s too easy to give someone too many admin rights unintentionally. If permissions are wrong, you open the organization to a cyber attack.

Communicate with your users

It is essential to communicate with your users throughout the migration process. Such employee engagement will help to ensure that they are aware of the migration and prepared for any changes it may cause.

You will have to create a communication plan to inform users about the migration, get their input, and answer any questions they may have. Remember that this data migration will change their daily workflows; people may be very anxious about finding the information they need to complete their day-to-day work.

This communication plan should also involve training and change management. Users may need substantial training to get comfortable with the new system. Change management will be crucial to ensure everyone is onboarded to and using the new system. If you’re migrating content from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online, this should be simpler because users are already used to the tool.

Lastly, you should consider any new governance rules within your communication plan. This includes the rules for creating a new SharePoint Online site, a new library, and other tasks. Knowing these things ahead of time will be necessary.

Migration checklist

Now you have established your migration goals, your migration approach, and you have built a migration plan, you can start your migration process.

Select an appropriate SharePoint migration tool

Although there is still an element of extract, transform, and load in data migration, you should consider finding a third-party migration tool to streamline the shift between your current file server and SharePoint Online.

Test on a subsection of your data

Any third-party tools you find need to be tested using a small subsection of your data. This also means developing test cases, as it’s easier to streamline data migration if you can test how the process would operate. Once the subsection of data has been moved to SharePoint Online with no issues, it is time to start the migration.

Post-migration checklist

Test to ensure your migration was successful

Following a successful data migration, you must conduct a test to ensure that all the data has adequately transitioned to the destination environment. Test your migrated environment and ensure everything is functioning correctly.

Train your users

You must also train your users and ensure they’re adequately skilled in the new environment. This will increase user adoption and allow them to feel they have been brought on the journey.

Conuct ongoing monitoring

Lastly, there’s a need to monitor the migrated data to ensure a successful migration with no lingering issues following the process. If you have performed the previous steps correctly, any problems should be minimal.

SharePoint Online migrations require planning and thought

Migrating to SharePoint Online is a good move for organizations seeking to effect a digital transformation and ensure better availability and data access. That said, organizations must take a thoughtful approach to migrate this information and ensure everything is communicated, effectively scoped, and performed accurately.

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