Moving to Office 365 Top 10 Things You Should Know

There is a lot to take into consideration, but these 10 talking points should help you explain your recommendations to management.

1. The Advantages and Challenges of a Public Cloud

Office 365 is a SaaS (software as a service) offering, hosted by Microsoft. This is a public cloud service, so it comes with a number of potential concerns -- availability and security being the two biggest ones.

There are a number of benefits to a SaaS offering like Office 365: you pay a monthly subscription for your site and nothing more, you get most of the standard SharePoint features, and you can work with external partners much more easily than in an on premises SharePoint implementation. Plus your employees can work anytime, anywhere.

But you are playing by Microsoft’s rules, which means there are some things you can’t do -- like install your own custom solutions. And you have to trust that Microsoft will secure your content appropriately and have your site available whenever you need it. It’s not unusual for SaaS services to become unavailable for periods of time, so make sure you understand what Microsoft’s terms of service are and decide if you can live with them.

2. The Hard Costs: On Premises vs. Cloud

There’s a big cost to SharePoint on premises, including hardware and software -- SharePoint is not exactly an inexpensive option. Add to these costs the resources required to maintain and administer SharePoint and you can clearly see dollar signs in your eyes everywhere.

Office 365 is subscription based, so you pay a monthly fee to use it. There are different subscription levels, depending on your needs, so make sure you know what each level provides in terms of services.

For example:

  • Office 365 Small Business (up to 25 users): $5.10/user/month
  • Office 365 Small Business Premium (up to 25 users): $13.25/user/month
  • Office 365 Mid-Sized Business (up to 300 users): $15.40/user/month -- adds desktop versions of Office apps
  • Office 365 Enterprise (3 different levels) ranging from $8.20 - $25.50/user/month

Each level gives you a few more things -- it might be more space, desktop tools, Exchange Online, enterprise social networking with Yammer, etc. Note that all Office 365 subscriptions include a OneDrive for Business account.

Which brings us to the Exchange part of the equation. Have you implemented Exchange on premises for email? Then you might not want a version of Office 365 that includes Exchange. Or you might want to migrate your Exchange to Office 365, eliminating those hardware, software and resource costs. But what happens if you continue to use your on premises Exchange? How does that affect your Office 365 subscription?

3. Migrating Your Existing Content

It’s unlikely you will start your Office 365 site from scratch. It’s reasonable to assume you will have a lot of content you will want to migrate into the new environment, which means you have some planning to do.

I strongly recommend that you don’t do a straight copy unless your environment is exactly the way you want it. It’s more likely you have some changes you want -- or need -- to implement. So take some time to plan how the migration will occur and what tool you will use to do it.

When you are selecting migration tools, take into consideration how fast the tool will work, how many (and what types) of changes you can do to your content during the migration process, and also what objects might not be supported through migration.

That’s right, there are unsupported objects in Office 365 -- like templates -- that you will have to look at and decide what to do with.

Migration is not a simple process, so plan carefully.

4. Backup Your Office 365 Content

Once you move your content to Office 365, you’ll need to employ a backup process. Microsoft does offer a degree of backup and restore for Office 365, so take a look at what they offer out-of-the-box and decide if that’s enough for you.

More likely it won’t be and you will want to employ another solution for ensuring your data is backed up and protected outside of Office 365. It’s possible you might want to backup to another cloud environment, or you may want to backup to an on premises server. It’s also possible you might want to do local backups to your desktop for certain team sites, or site collections.

The key is to know what how often content will change, what content is the most critical to have local copies of, and whether you are happy with incremental backups or need daily full backups.

5. Office 365 Security

Security is a major concern of every organization. You want to be sure your information is well protected and accessible only to those who need it. When you plan your Office 365 environment think about the content you have and how it’s created and shared. This will help you plan how to structure your sites and libraries/lists. If there’s specific content you need to share with outside parties, such as partners, suppliers, agencies, etc., you’ll need think about where to place that content, what type of permissions to set on it and what kind of IRM policies will need to be applied. In addition, consider how DLP (data loss prevention) may be required, especially if the information you want stored in Office 365 is highly sensitive. Here are some guidelines I put together for managing your Office 365 permissions.

6. Administration

Every SharePoint implementation needs at least one Administrator. It’s important that you keep track of the sites and content added to your implementation to ensure you:

  • Track the growth of content, both overall and per site/library.
  • Track who uses content and who should have permission to use it.
  • Track how content is being used.

You need to determine what the best information architecture (IA) should be for Office 365, focusing on the content in your organization and how it’s used. Content is the driver of innovation for any organization today, so it’s really important to understand what you have, where it lives and how it’s being used.

And keep in mind this isn’t a one time deal, it’s something you need to monitor, measure and report on regularly. Your Office 365 will evolve as it’s used, so regular administration is critical.

Here are some tips to help with your administration planning.

It’s important to understand that you don’t have full access to your Office 365 implementation like you do with on premises SharePoint environment. Your administration rights are focused on creating and managing Site Collections, managing metadata, assigning site collection administrators, setting up access for partners and other external parties, set up user profiles, and set up InfoPath Forms services (if used).

As an administrator you can monitor and manage the storage capabilities of Site Collections. What you can’t do is change how the technical environment is set up as Office 365 is a shared environment (SaaS), customize SharePoint, or do anything that has the potential to affect other customers. While Office 365 does offer a good deal of management capabilities, it does not provide you with all the tools you need to manage your tenancy properly.

7. Content Located in Other Systems

If you are like most organizations, your content can be found in more than one place. Sure, you might have an on premises version of SharePoint, but I’ll bet some of your employees are also storing and sharing documents in Google Drive and Dropbox. There’s likely still a ton of documents maintained in file shares.

You need a centralized content strategy. If that central location is going to be Office 365 moving forward, get your IA defined and then find the right tool to help you migrate content from all these disparate locations into your Office 356 implementation.

You don’t have to move all your content to Office 365 though, only move the content you currently use. Archive the rest.

8. Search - Classification, Taxonomy

Search is a popular and well-used feature within all content management applications. Office 365 offers search administration and you can apply specific configurations to individual sites or site collections or to the entire tenancy (which is the default).

There are some features with search that aren’t available on all or certain levels of subscriptions (advanced query rules being one example), so make sure you look at those.

Prior to migrating, you will want to consider your taxonomy. Reevaluate how your content is organized and classified and take time to plan how you really want it done in Office 365. Making the changes during the migration is easier than moving all of your content and trying to organize later on.

9. Collaboration vs. Cloud Storage (Team Sites vs. OneDrive)

Before you make the move to Office 365, ask yourself what you really need. Do you need a place to work and collaborate with a team of people? Or do you simply want a location in the Cloud to store and share files?

Depending on your needs, you may not need the full functionality (and therefore cost) of Office 365, but the simple file storage capabilities of OneDrive for Business. OneDrive for Business gives you the ability to co-author documents in real time, create, view and edit documents online, and share documents with people outside your organization. You also have automatic versioning and history, a mobile app to use OneDrive on the go, and the ability to sync with the desktop -- even when you are near your desktop.

OneDrive for Business is much cheaper than the basic Office 365 small business account. It costs $2.50/user/month (it will increase to $5/user at some point). That gives you 25GB of storage. You can purchase extra storage for $0.20 per GB.

OneDrive also gives you a strong security support, including auditing and reporting, SSO/ADFS/Directory sync support, multi-factor authentication, built in compliance and more.

If you’ve looked at OneDrive and you really like it, but also want the advanced functionality offered in Office 365, your Office 365 account comes with a OneDrive subscription for each licensed user.

OneDrive for Business makes sense if you only want a way to take your documents with you wherever you go, and share them with others quickly. But if you are looking for email integration, more collaboration tools, including social networking, then you have to consider Office 365 and the value you get from Office 365 Team Sites.

10. Customization

Office 365 is a SaaS application, which means you share the environment with other organizations. This means that if you want custom features, you cannot develop them directly within Office 365 -- unlike SharePoint on premises.

But Microsoft’s approach to customization has evolved a lot since the release of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365. Customization typically comes by way of third-party applications that connect into your environment (in this case Office 365).

Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager, Mark Kashman, gave us some great insight into the Cloud App Model for Office 365 and SharePoint which should help you with your planning.

Title image by Everett Collection (Shutterstock)