In the past week, Microsoft released a new version of Office 2013 and a new home subscription version of Office 365. The next big release will be the general release of SharePoint 2013, even if we still don’t know when. To help companies that are planning to move to SharePoint 2013, or migrate from an earlier version, Dell has put together a few tasks that should get you into the right planning mode.

While many enterprises may be tempted to wait and see what the new version of SharePoint throws up -- and in some respects this make sense as we still don’t know all the details despite getting a look at the preview edition last summer -- the planning stages of the process can be done now once the company is sure that SharePoint 2013 is the path it is going to take.

Taking early initiatives will save time in the future once the process of migration actually starts. In the meantime, Chris McNulty, SharePoint Strategic Product Manager at Quest, which is now owned by Dell, outlines some of the things that companies can be doing in the white paper entitled "5 Ways to Prepare for SharePoint 2013".

Business Goals

The key in migrating successfully to the new version of SharePoint, or migrating from an earlier version to a later version is ensuring that you have a clear, business goal-oriented plan before proceeding.

By that, McNulty says, enterprises need to have a clear idea of what business outcomes they want to achieve be that achieving operational efficiencies, or simplifying current business practices. Failure to do so, or failure to implement a solid governance policy during the migration, can lead to major headaches later on. In terms of migrations, enterprises should keep in mind that:

  • Migrated content needs to be searchable
  • Migrating custom legacy applications and custom code is expensive
  • Identifying what content is to be migrated and where it is to go is a key element of the migration
  • Large migrations can lead to inflated databases that are expensive to keep
  • Migrations place a heavy burden on IT

But, if SharePoint 2013 is likely to achieve a number of business goals then don’t be put off. Enterprises can prepare their environments immediately so as to be ready to make the best of whatever new or improved features comes in the new version.

It is important to remember, and we have seen this before, that planning, rather than technology, is key to successful deployments of any new platform, possibly even more so with SharePoint. With this in mind McNulty recommends doing five things:

1. Develop a Governance Plan

For any SharePoint environment, governance is important; for the upcoming version it is absolutely key. Microsoft describes governance as a set of policies, roles or responsibilities that direct and control an organization’s business and IT department to achieve set business goals.

To do this, businesses need to define what business outcomes they wish to achieve. Moving everything onto SharePoint is not a business goal. Businesses need to examine what it is they want to achieve and see if the new platform can do that for them.

Quest SharePoint governance cycle.jpg

They need to consider where they want to be 18 months down the road and consider whether the new platform can bring them there. Businesses also need to examine whether current governance polices support business goals and whether they cover both SharePoint and non-SharePoint issues.

Finally, governance programs need to be continuously assessed to see if they are achieving the initial goals as set out in the governance plan. A systematic way of measuring results needs to be applied along with the plan from the outset.

2. Code-free Customization

Last year, in part of our coverage of SharePoint 2013, we saw that Microsoft is recommending that in this version of SharePoint, enterprises should avoid customization. However, it is unlikely that enterprises will be able to avoid it completely.

McNulty takes a more pragmatic approach and advises users to avoid complex customizations, arguing that, in general, if you “stay in the box”, migrations and upgrades will run better.

But many companies have customized and, he says, the more customization that has been done, the more testing you will have to do with your environment before migration can take place.

The result is that organizations need to know how much customization has been done and where exactly it has been done in order to understand where the risks in migrations actually lie.

If there is too much customization, it may be necessary to avoid migration and upgrades completely for risk of loosing too much in the move. Companies should also start planning what customization they are going to do now, so as to avoid these problems when later versions are released.

3. Inventory and Analysis

To upgrade or migrate successfully, enterprises need to know exactly what is in their SharePoint environment, as well as their non-SharePoint environment, in order to see what should be moved to the new platform.

This is an opportunity par excellence to assess what content is needed, what should be stored away in first-line storage, what can be stored in the less expensive off-site repositories, and what can be eliminated.

While IT clearly has an important role in this, it is not for IT to decide on the importance, or not, of content. This is a business decision and must stay in business hands.

But there’s more to it that just that and it is here that IT has a really important role. McNulty gives the example of an organization that has a vision of SharePoint as an application platform, but that it is not being used in that manor.

Other scenarios may be that business processes are still being initiated and signed-off through email, even though SharePoint was brought in to do just that.

The results is that the business and IT ends of the enterprise need to sit down and collectively decide on what is good, what is bad, and how it can be improved. Enterprises need to assess their migration readiness in three areas: technical, operational and business.

4. Data Externalization

From the previous three steps, the business will have identified what content can be destroyed, or what must be kept for regulatory or compliance reasons. It will also have identified the content that can be moved out of SQL Server content databases to less expensive locations. To simplify migration this should be done before the migration process starts.

According to McNulty, testing has shown that for Dell, performance increases of up to 40% can be achieved by externalizing data. When you offload old and unused data, your databases become smaller and more of them fit in memory, reducing processing overheads every time anyone writes or reads from those databases. Both small and large SharePoint installations benefit from data externalization.

Apart from performance gains, it also means that you have less data inside SharePoint to migrate, speeding the process and reducing the risks involve. It also enables the company build up an externalization skillset that will be applicable once the new environment is up and running.

5. Perform Content Consolidation

Managing the migration of disparate SharePoint versions and other legacy systems can place a heavy burden on IT staff. Just as with content, the decision to migrate is the ideal opportunity to clean up the environment.

The first thing that can be consolidated is the multiple SharePoint installations scattered randomly across the enterprise. This will reduce the amount of moving parts that needs to be move in the migration process.

However, SharePoint islands are not just the result of poor planning; they can also be the result of mergers and acquisitions when two companies join together bringing all their legacy information with them.

Microsoft has already said that it will support migrations from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013. In the waiting period before the 2013 release, it would be good idea to move what can be moved into SharePoint 2010 -- if you have it that is -- which will simplify migration when the time comes.

Enterprises should also have a look at other collaboration platforms in the enterprise and see whether it will be possible to move these into SharePoint using SharePoint features like lists, libraries, metadata, content types and workflows.

This is only the start of the process and one that will require a lot of planning. There is no date for the general release of SharePoint, but there is no rush either as the five steps above are going to take a lot of work and planning anyway. But it’s worth it for those that are looking at SharePoint 2013.