The idea of migrating to Microsoft Office 365 might seem daunting, especially if you don’t have a clear understanding of the platform and its many capabilities. For example, a client recently asked, "When I move to Office 365, I'll get my own server, right?"

Well, no. Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based platform that allocates infrastructure capacity based on your needs and the plan that you purchase. There are no servers but rather a large array of cloud services.

Select the Right Workloads

The first key to easing your migration to Office 365 is to understand the concept of workloads and how they operate in Office 365. A workload is simply a discrete set of technical functionalities bundled into a package.

Many of Office 365’s cloud-based workloads have parallels to on-premises software you may already be using. For example, you can send emails via Microsoft Exchange Online and store files in OneDrive for Business, just as you are currently sending emails and storing files using your current on-premises services.

SharePoint, Social and Beyond

Another important workload — and one of the key parts of the Office 365 platform —is SharePoint Online. Again, it has similar capabilities to on-premises versions of SharePoint but there are important differences to know about before you migrate.

Microsoft releases new workloads regularly. Recent releases include Office Videos, a tool to manage and stream corporate videos; Office Planner, a social task management tool; Office Groups, a key component of Microsoft’s approach to the future of collaboration in Office 365, as well as other add-ons such as Power BI and Dynamics CRM.

Once you know what features Office 365 offers, you’ll need to map them onto your existing system to understand which Office 365 tools will replace which systems you are currently using and which will be new additions.

Consider Security and Compliance

The security and compliance implications of your migration are also vital concerns. Will you use just a username and password to authenticate users or require two-factor authentication? Which content will you store online and which will stay on-premises? Will you need to encrypt any of your content? Addressing these questions in advance can help you migrate safely and securely.

Migrate in Stages

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to sequencing your own Office 365 migration, but there is a sensible path that many organizations follow which involves accomplishing the easiest parts of the migration first before moving on to the more difficult tasks. When planning your path, consider this priority order:

  1. Migrate email: Many organizations find that a good place to start is by migrating email. This task should be relatively straightforward if you already use Microsoft’s hosted email service, Exchange, or a similar on-premises system.
  2. Move files to the cloud: Next, you’ll need to move each of your users’ personal files to the cloud. Because Microsoft is aware of how vitally important this step is, it provides considerable guidance to help manage this part of the migration.
  3. Transfer your intranet and collaboration tools: Finally, come the trickier parts of the migration — moving your intranet, other social collaboration tools and any additional on-premises productivity applications you use.

Execute Your Migration Sequence

Once mapped out, it’s time to execute the migration itself. Microsoft provides tools to automate large parts of the migration, so you don't have to manually copy data to the cloud. Third-party tools are also available.

Be aware that Microsoft provides free onboarding and migration services for organizations with at least fifty users. For smaller user groups, options include taking a DIY approach, hiring a contractor to manage the migration or a taking hybrid approach. For example, your company might choose to manage some parts of the migration itself while hiring a consultant to help with the newer or more challenging portions.

Planning Is Everything

Migrating to Office 365 can be a challenge but it doesn’t have to be frustrating. By investing the time upfront to educate yourself about which aspects of the platform are right for you, deciding on a migration sequence and lining up the implementation help you’ll need you can handle your migration seamlessly and be up and running in record time. 

Title image by Ryan McGuire