When the dust began to settle after the rush to SharePoint 2010, Microsoft decided to throw in a new consideration for the SharePoint 2013 wave: how to make the transition from an on-premise SharePoint to a cloud-based SharePoint. While the underlying technology of SharePoint in Office 365 is broadly similar to the version that you can install on-premise, there are a few unique differences that could derail your migration. With that said, it’s worth bearing in mind a few things when considering the migration to Office 365 or SharePoint Online.

1. Do you need to move SharePoint to the cloud? Just because SharePoint is now available in the cloud, you still must ensure it makes business sense for you to make the move. There is no doubt that there is pressure to embrace the cloud coming from a variety of sources. Regardless, you have to make sure it is the right move for your organization. It’s not solely Microsoft Office 365 that you should consider either, as SharePoint in a “Private Cloud” could also be the right option for you.

2. Your move to the cloud is going to take much longer than you think it will. I’m not saying that you should estimate how long you think it will take, then double it, but the reality is the migration will take longer than you first thought. SharePoint is complex, things can go wrong and connections to the cloud can be slow or break. As some of the following points illustrate, there are ways to help mitigate these; however, it’s important that you realize that this is the case.

3. Identify what you need to migrate and what you should leave behind. There is no point spending time (and therefore money) migrating content that is no longer useful to your business. It’s important to work with the content owners and business users to identify the relevant content. It’s not just what content is new or being accessed; it is also important to understand how it is being used.

This will help you to validate that cloud-based SharePoint is going to meet the business needs. You can then start to build a plan for an updated information architecture and carry out your move to the cloud. This is also the stage where you can identify any customizations that you made on your existing SharePoint and formulate a plan for how to deal with them.
4. Test your migration. It sounds obvious, but you should test out migrating to your SharePoint in the cloud. Try to use content and a SharePoint structure that is as close to a representation as possible to your final planned environment. Once you have carried out one test, try another. And another. It’s important that you extensively test, as there are limitations with what can be moved to the cloud.

If you are moving to Office 365, then you are probably using a third-party migration tool, which will have different capabilities for migrating; maintaining metadata, workflows and permissions are capabilities that often differ. These are likely important for your migration, and it is imperative that you understand any limitations related to these. Multiple tests will also verify an approximation of the speed to help you plan a migration schedule. Notice I said “approximation,” because it’s often a good idea to add some extra time to give yourself some additional wiggle room.

5. Verify the results with the business. Once you are happy with your testing, you should show the results to some key business users. Remember that these are the people that ultimately need to be happy with the move. Make sure that the content has been migrated in the way that they expect, and that any new information architecture that made sense on the whiteboard or blueprint now makes sense in the real world.

Steve Marsh is the SharePoint migration expert at Metalogix, where he has worked since 2010.