Hurry Up and Wait to Migrate to SharePoint 2016

Maybe it’s the fact that I no longer have any skin in the migration game, but I don’t get the sense that there’s urgency around migrating to SharePoint 2016 as we saw in other cycles. Of course, there’s a steady stream of customers making their way to the cloud and Office 365, so maybe that movement has taken some of the action away from on-prem, or maybe it’s the maturity of SharePoint overall – and the fact that people have a much better understanding of what this upgrade cycle is really all about. My two cents: if what you have in place today works for you, then don’t migrate. Of course, if you’re on a really old version of the platform (2007, for example), don’t mess with moving to anything else but the latest and greatest, whether on-prem or cloud. Do not double or triple-hop through other versions – just pass GO, collect your $200, and get onto the latest version with the help of one of the leading migration solutions, whether it be Sharegate, Metalogix, or whatever else meets your requirements.

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For those organizations making the tough decision on when and how to move to SharePoint 2016, don’t worry – you have a little bit of time. We’re waiting for the RTM version (release to manufacturing) which is due sometime before the end of the calendar year. Of course, deciding to migrate/upgrade is just one of many decisions you’ll need to make. While there definitely continues to be a lot of hype around the cloud, SharePoint on-prem may still be the right answer for your business. You’ll also need to think about what you have built out, what 3rd party solutions you have in place, how many workflows and forms you’ve built, and whether you test and try to move all of these things, or just start from scratch, move your content, and rebuild from there. There are many options available, from architectures to hosting options, and from social collaboration solutions to workflow tools to integrations with core business systems outside of SharePoint. As Tony Byrne from analyst group Real Story Group puts it, we can "extend SharePoint, supplement it, or complement it." All of these possibilities give CIOs and their SharePoint administrators options and flexibility in how they design their platforms, allowing them to focus on the needs of their business.

These are not easy decisions. I talk with customers regularly who are trying to decide how to move forward, and my advice is purposely broad: make your decisions based on the needs of the business, not based on industry buzz. My guidance to customers is to do whatever you can to get the most out of what you have in place today – and only make the move when the features you are missing cost more (through workarounds, custom development, etc) than making the move. This is my pro9ject management / pragmatic approach to the upgrade question. In a webinar this week with partners Intlock (creators of CardioLog Analytics for SharePoint) I shared some of the deployment activities around Beezy solution deployments and how we always advise our customers to pilot first, experiment, and iterate several times. A migration should be managed much the same way: come together as a team and discuss your requirements and priorities, and then based on this shared understanding of what you want to accomplish, develop a migration plan that includes a formal pilot and an iterative change management model.

Based on this advice, I thought I’d provide an update to guidance I gave when SP2013 was the new kind on the block on the options you should consider now that we’re on the eve of SP2016 RTM:

  • Remain on-premises with your current version of SharePoint
    There is nothing wrong with making the most of your existing SharePoint investments. Let’s face it — SP2010 is a stable platform, and may be delivering solid value to your business. And SP2013 is still too new to really be thinking about a move to SP2016. While you should definitely weigh the costs of managing the infrastructure, maintaining the necessary support and development expertise in house to keep things running, and any other 3rd party or educational costs, the numbers may lean in the direction of keeping things where they are — at least for the time being. As your end users begin asking for features and capabilities not available out of the box — such as social collaboration, or deeper line of business application integrations — make sure you adequately identify the costs of enhance the existing toolset, either through custom development or through the partner ecosystem. For example, Beezy provides a fully integrated social experience that works natively with SharePoint (and provides everything Yammer does, and more, but for on prem as well as for the cloud). Or you can subscribe to Yammer, which provides some integrations into the platform, allowing you to embed your Yammer feed into your team sites.
    I do recognize that there are still some customers on older versions of SharePoint, such as 2007 or 2003 (I haven’t run across many SPS2001 installations for quite some time). In these cases, I’d say that there is even less of a reason to stick with your current system, and to consider jumping ahead to 2016 as soon as it is available.
  • Move to Office 365
    imageWhile there may not yet be complete parity between on prem and Office365 versions of SharePoint, you can bet there soon will be — and Microsoft is putting all of their muscle behind adding innovations to the platform. There seems to be something new happening inside of Office 365 every week – which, from a change management perspective, could be viewed as a training and support nightmare for a large enterprise. But there are some options to control this release cadence through the First Release program, which gives you up to 5 months to release non-security features to your end users.
    If you find yourself trying to convince management to move to the cloud, ask them a couple key questions: is their business goal to develop and maintain SharePoint hardware and software expertise, or to run their business? Do they want to constantly test and deploy patches, updates, and new features — or let the system handle these remotely? That is the power of cloud.
    Of course, for some organizations, the lack of parity between platforms is key. For others, there are very real security concerns. Many companies extended SharePoint to meet their unique business requirements, using it as their central collaboration hub. The costs of re-architecting these platforms via the app model or Azure may be expensive, or not yet possible due to limitations of the SharePoint APIs. Before you run head-first into talks with Office365, take the time to understand what workloads, customizations, and features are essential to your business so that you can accurately map them to Office 365’s available features. And to understand the security issues and answer those concerns, do your homework. I wrote a couple ebooks for backup vendor Datto that do a great job of walking you through the end-to-end details of Office 365 security practices, and how to defend your data beyond Microsoft security. Both worth a read.
  • Move to on-premises SharePoint 2013 or 2016
    Microsoft recognizes that a percentage of organizations will never be able to move their SharePoint activities to the cloud — whether because of compliance and regulatory issues, or out of perceived (or real) data security issues. In these cases, there will continue to be an on premises version of SharePoint available. As with organizations who plan to stay with their existing environments, there are advantages (customization and integration flexibility) and disadvantages (slower update/new feature release cadence from Microsoft). As you review your SharePoint strategy, make sure to discuss your requirements and concerns with your Microsoft rep, as they do listen to feedback from customers on which features and capabilities within SharePoint Online (Office 365) should be prioritized for release to the SharePoint 2016 on premises version (or beyond).
  • imageMaintain a hybrid environment, with both SharePoint on-premises and Office 365
    Hybrid will likely be a popular solution for the next few years as the online platform matures, and as organizations slowly migrate their on prem assets toward the cloud model. In fact, much of the hype around SP2016 is around its ability to link cloud services with your on prem environment, or, as Microsoft puts it, brining cloud experiences to your on prem environment. It is fantastic that Microsoft has come around to this line of thinking – and the number of options for your organization to maintain your current infrastructure will only grow. Some advice for organizations considering this model: be sure that you thoroughly understand the governance and administrative overheard of managing two platforms, because this one little fact escapes many: there is no single tool or dashboard for managing both. For example, Office 365 provides some great tools and reporting for management of your SharePoint Online environments, but the granularity of this data — and your ability to dig into log files — is very different than what is available on prem. As part of your platform requirements and planning, be sure to map out your reporting and governance requirements in detail, and thoroughly understand the gaps between platforms. I’ve presented on this topic (compare and contrast management between on prem and cloud) numerous times over the past couple years, and while the content is not updated for SP2016, it may still be relevant to your organization.

As you begin to think about your SharePoint 2016 upgrade and which aspects to move into the cloud, remember to reach out to the expert community and partner ecosystem to learn from them, ask questions, and test out their solutions. And I’ll say it again — you should only migrate to the latest version when it makes sense for your business to do so — not because a vendor tells you its time to move. The reality is that security or regulatory issues may require you to keep certain assets on premises, while other assets and workloads can easily fit into the cloud model. No rush. Take your time.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.